What's the difference between red wine, white wine and rosé wines? Obviously the
color! But what you may not know is what makes these wines different colors? Is it the grapes - how
they're made - and what gives them different characteristics? We highlight the causes behind the
different color and what it means for how the wines taste.
What may not be a surprise is that red grapes make red wines and white wines make white wines. What
you may not know is that white wines can also be made from red grapes, so the division isn't as
clear as it appears on the surface. Grape juice is actually colorless, so the color compounds that
produce the spectrum of white to pink to red is driven by how much contact the fermenting wine is
allowed to have with the grape skins, where all the darkly colored anthocyan pigments are
What Makes Red Wines Red?
Red wines become red because the fermenting juice is left in contact with the skins.
In the production of red wines, rather than putting the berries through a press to remove the juice
from the skins right away, the berries instead are crushed, breaking the skin to release
the juice, which is fermented all together. The alcohol then acts as a solvent
extracting the darkly colored anthocyan pigments out of the skins, turning the juice red. In
addition to color compounds, the wine also gains other flavors and tannins from the skins. Tannins
are flavorless, but add to the wine's body in addition to a slight astringent
What Makes White Wines White?
White wines, on the other hand, can be made either from white grapes or from red
grapes. In both cases, the grapes are pressed right after harvest so there is minimal contact
between skins and juice. Generally, few still white wines are made using red grapes although it is
possible, but this is a common practice in the production of sparkling wines. Those bottled as
'blanc de rouges' (which translates to 'white from red') are made from made red grapes, such as
Pinot Noir. This style of sparkling wine will display more body and more red-berry
flavor than a 'blanc de blancs' made from white grapes, which will be more delicate and lighter in
What Makes Rosé Wine Pink?
Rosé wine is a middle ground between white wine and red wine. Made from
red grapes, the wine is left to have some contact with the skins so it can absorb a bit of color
but the skins are pressed off well before fermentation has completed. Typically, a rosé wine will
be left on the skins between a few hours, for a light style with a pale salmon hue, to up to 24
hours, where it develops a richer, strawberry light red tint. The more contact allowed and the
darker the wine, the more it will show the characteristics of a red wine in body, flavor as well as
White Wine that Tastes Like Red Wine?
I can't say that I've had the opportunity to try such a wine myself, but I have read
that a white wine made like a red wine - where the white grape skins are left in contact with the
juice all the way through fermentation - tastes indistinguishable from a red wine. While the white
wine skins don't contain the dark pigments found in red wines, they would contribute the same extra
body, flavor compounds and tannins that red grape skins add to red wine. Maybe some day an
experimental wine producer will start making a white wine this way - kind of makes you wonder what
a 'real' Chardonnay would taste like!
Next Article: Uncommon Red Wine Varieties