50 Shades of Grapes

Today we will take you through the sexy world of wine colors (red, white, rose’, orange). Sexy you ask?

Yes, even borderline risqué, filled with tons of skin contact (seriously) and heat (for some). We even touch on the age-old question “is longer always better?”

At a high level, wine color beings with the two main types of grapes, white and red (think of them like human genders female and male). For the most part, red grapes make red wine, and white grapes make white wine. There are some famous situations where the red wines (for our purposes, we will call them males) can become white wines ( we will call them females). One is Champagne, which is traditionally made from a blend that includes two red grapes (Pinot Munier and Pinot Noir) along the with one white (Chardonnay).

How does a wine get its color from the grapes? Hit the Luther Vandross… The answer is skin contact. To start the winemaking process grapes are crushed (most of the time) to release their juice. If this juice is then left in a vessel with the grape skins, it begins to take on some characteristics of the skins (color, flavor, tannin) through a process called extraction. You may be asking, “Does this mean red wine starts as white juice and then becomes red as it sits with the skins?” Yes, exactly!

Now that we have a basic understanding of how each wine type gets its color let us dive into each wine’s physical preferences.

White wines generally like things clean and fast. Once white grapes are brought into the winery, the grapes are crushed, and the resulting juice is separated from the skins right away leaving little time for skin contact. This may seem like a cold experience, with very little time to cuddle or build up any heat… that is true. Generally, white grapes are not fans of heat. They kept as cool as possible as they come into the winery, are crushed, then pressed. Keeping the temperature low helps to preserve fresh light fruity flavors that everyone loves in white wine.

Red wines, on the other hand, are the Cassanovas of grapes. They like to lay with the skins until things get hot & heavy (fermentation) and sometimes longer! When red grapes are crushed, the juice is released like for white wines,  but instead of being separated the skins are pumped into a vessel with the juice where they mingle as the juice ferments. That is where things get hot and physical.

During fermentation, sugar is turned to alcohol producing both heat and CO2 which causes all of the grape skins to float to the top and form a solid layer (called the cap). It is essential to keep the cap moist so that it doesn’t dry up. As you can imagine, there are various ways to wet the cap. Things can get rough with wine can be pumped from the bottom of the tank and sprayed over the grape skins on top (used for grapes with thicker skins like Shiraz) or a gentle approach can be taken with the cap lightly pressed down into the juice (often used for delicate grapes like Pinot Noir). This hot and heavy process releases color pigments from the skins (fancy term for these: anthocyanins) which then turns the juice red. Occasionally, red wines like to sit with the skins well after the heat of fermentation has passed. Some may call this over time, we call it extended maceration (aka extended skin contact).

After red and white wines, there are orange and rose’ wines. These wines break the norm and forge their own distinct paths.

Rosé wines are made from red grapes(like red wines), but instead of the extended warm skin contact process, rosé wines are made in a cool quick similar to white wines spending as little as a few hours with the skins. Leaving the juice in contact with the red skins for a short amount of time allows some of the red wines fruit flavor and color to come out the skins while still keeping the wine light and delicate.

Orange wines are made from white grapes and are essentially white wines that want a little bit more lovin’. To make orange wines, white grapes are crushed and then, instead of being separated from the juice, the skins sit with the juice for an extended period (can be days, even weeks!). This process results in color being extracted from the skins and results in recognizable orangish color. This skin contact also gives the wines more body and bolder flavor than is found in most white wines.

Now, that we have covered the four basic types of wine, we get to the question of the day: Is longer always better?? Now we are asking concerning skin contact, and sadly the answer is the same you have heard many times, it is really up to personal preference! Some like the extended contact that creates a big bold red or a funky orange, others prefer brief contact that produces the delicate fresh characteristics of a white or rose’.

Whatever your style preference, next time someone tries to talk about 50 Shades of Grey, pretend you heard grapes and begin rambling about wine!

That’s it for now, until next time… Cheers!

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