how does wine get its color?

Colors of Red Wine – Day 4

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How does wine get its color? That is what we’re here to talk about. We are back in action and today is all about colors of red wine!

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Mushrooms, dirt


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Video Transcript

Hello Everyone!

Today’s episode is brought to you by the color RED. (red sign?) Stay right here to learn about the colors of red wine.

Animation example from sesame street. RED dropping from above. Simple, a little pulse or sparkle or like it came unhinged and fell.

I’m Annie, a certified sommelier and wine consultant in New York City.  But today I’m with you, wherever you, are. 

DiVino Wine School is a way for me to share my experience of learning to taste and appreciate wine, with you.

Today is Day 4 and it is all about red wine.

So pour yourself something nice– if you want to – you can always just watch and listen, but of course it’s easier to grasp with a glass.

If you haven’t done so yet, hit that subscribe button down there. If you’re enjoying the lessons so far, click the enroll link in the description. It’s totally free and you’ll find out in advance what we’re tasting and smelling, as well as the class notes.

Those of you who are following along, did you find this bottle of Burgundy? Or a similar style of Pinot Noir?

As always, I’ve brought something to keep my scent vocabulary in peak form.

Mushrooms and dirt. As it ages, Pinot Noir develops earthy notes along with its high-toned red fruit. Not everyone has mushrooms around, but it you need to step outside for some dirt, press pause you dirty little student, you…

The more you smell the more you smell.

In the last episode I explained that grape skins impact not only the color but also the aroma, body and flavor of wine.  If you missed it, check out Day 3: Colors of White Wine

In red wine, the skins generally stay on much longer during the winemaking process. Thicker and darker skins produce more intense colors, more intense flavors and a lot of tannins. Aging in wood barrels can also impart some tannins.

 What are tannins?

We’ll talk all about tannins in another episode down the line but the easiest way to understand them is to think of the way a very unripe piece of fruit sucks up all the liquid in your mouth and makes your cheeks pucker in.  

You want tannins, in moderation, because like acidity, it gives the wine some lift, some energy. And long healthy life.  


Some scientists believe that tannins can give us longer lives too, by helping to clean our blood and prevent heart attacks.  

Do you need another excuse to drink red wine? As Cher Horowitz would say, As if! Also I am not a doctor.

Wine is good for your heart.

Remember how important it is to have something white to hold up next to your glass so you can really see the color and the way the light hits the edges.

Take a good look.  Shades of Red.

Is it Violet red? Ruby red? Garnet Red or Brick Red? You might be looking at your glass and thinking, how the heck do I know? It looks like red wine.  If you drink a lot of red wine, you should start paying attention.

As always, practice makes perfect. You can download all sorts of charts illustrating the colors of wine, or simply observe the colors of different red wines when you and your friends are enjoying them, although that could take you a very long time and you can’t forget that white background!

In addition to decoding the color of wine, you’re also looking to see how opaque it is.

Step one: What Color?

Step 2: How Dense?

Malbec, Cabernet, and Syrah are darker, denser and more opaque, whereas Pinot Noir, Nebbiolo, and Sangiovese are almost transparent in comparison.

As you can see, my wine is pretty transparent.

The color can tell you a lot about what the grape might be, as well what to expect.

Wines that look compact and dark are likely to pack a heavier body –that is, weightiness in your mouth –and darker, riper aromas like blackberry jam or chocolate.

Wines that look lighter in the glass will feel likely feel lighter on the palate.

The wine growing and winemaking process also affects the color, which gives you even more clues.

Wine growing and wine making both affect the color.

You may have read somewhere that wine begins in the vineyard. With the grape itself.

Modern winemaking standards, the DOC of Italy and the AOC of France – those little indications on the wine label – often dictate how many grapes per plant the winemaker can harvest.

This forces them to select only the ripest grapes, healthiest grapes (and of course the healthiest skin). That translates to pure, rich color, powerful aromas, and a lot more of sugar, which translates to higher alcohol and poli-alcohol and a silkier feeling on your palate. Think of the difference between water and honey.

Higher alcohol and polyalcohol content = smoother palate. It’s Science!

Wineries with a lot of money and a lot of land can afford to prune back their vines all season long.  This means fewer grapes, but big, fat, juicy ones. The resulting wines are also big, fat and juicy.   

The highest quality wines come from grapes that are healthy and bursting, but also harvested early enough to maintain tight skins and plenty of acidity and tannins for a long, fresh life.  Often winemakers blend the harvest.

Blending = balance.

We talked about white wines getting darker as they age. Red wines actually lighten up. Like hair.

White Wines Get Darker. Red Wines Lighten Up

After a few years, the color pigment from the grape skin starts to fade away.

First from violet to ruby red or garnet red and then to a more translucent brick red.  If you see a bright red with purple tints in the light, the wine is probably quite young and fresh.

In wines that age for decades, like a Bordeaux, you might not see those brownish, brick red colors for years.

Depending on the grape variety, these color changes can happen sooner than later.

Nebbiolo for example, the Barolo grape, turns brick red very quickly, but that doesn’t necessarily y mean it’s ready to drink.

Nebbiolo is an exception to the rule.

That color is, however, a great clue as to what the wine is, and what you should expect to smell, taste and feel when you drink it.  If it’s a Nebbiolo that means ripe cherries, black licorice, and even tar. WHAT?

That’s right. If you are lucky enough to drink a lot of Nebbiolo, you recognize the color almost immediately. And if you train your nose to recognize things like ripe cherries, black licorice and tar… that will be your confirmation.

Let me know what you were drinking today and what you noticed in the comments below.  And if you are enjoying these lessons, please subscribe to stay tuned and enroll to get a head’s up on what we’ll be tasting and smelling next time.

Cheers! Wine is a Language. Learn how to Speak it.

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