What Gives Wine Its Color?
Wine is most easily recognized by its color. We identify our favorites by whether it’s white, red, or rose, which also tells us what the wine will actually taste like. The more educated wine drinkers can also tell how acidic or tannic a wine will be based on its color.
So what gives wine its famous, telltale color? Well, that would be the skin of the grape from which it’s made. Think about it- what happens when you smash a grape? The skin separates and then you’re left with the juice, but the juice doesn’t have any color. So we distinguish red and green grapes from each other by the color of their skin (even though our moms always told us not to), and then we smash them to produce a deep, concentrated liquid that turns into wine.
It’s not actually that simple. The grapes have phenolic compounds (or flavenols) called anthocyanins, which are essentially the color pigments, so the longer the skins stay with the juice, the deeper and richer the color will be. Most of the coloring comes during the fermentation process because it’s the combination of heat and alcohol that leach the color from the skins. Without this essential process, you’d end up with just a slightly pink liquid that has skins floating around in it. Yum…?
Because of this, there are actually white wines made from red grapes, in which the winemaker kept the skins and juices separate to prevent color bleeding. A classic example of this is Champagne, which is made from Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, both of which are black grapes.
The skin of the grape also contains most of the tannins, which is why the deep red wines are very tannic, and white wines are not. Because the juice of the grape is already white, or clear, winemakers generally leave the skins out of the fermentation process of a white wine, to avoid adding any tannins, which are undesirable for a white.