As we mentioned in our recent “Colours of Wine” article, wine gets its unique colour from the skins of the grapes that were used to make the wine. Although white wines can be made from either white grapes or black grapes, red wines can only be made with black grapes as the colour is derived from their thick skins.
Why are Some Reds Lighter in Colour than Others?
Once the grapes have been pressed, the winemaker leaves the skins with the juice to allow the colour to start to seep into the juice. This process is known as maceration. The winemaker’s decision on the length of the maceration period will affect the colour and the intensity of the wine. For lighter reds, the winemaker may only allow maceration to take place for a few hours or days, whereas darker reds can have maceration periods of weeks or even months.
Varietals also Play a Role
It is not only this maceration process that determines the colour and intensity of the wine. Varietals also have a role to play. Pinot Noir, for example, produces a very light wine – you can almost see right through it. This is due to its thin skins and so, no matter how long the maceration period will be, the wine itself is unlikely to get very dark in colour. Cabernet Sauvignon, however, has very thick skins in comparison and therefore winemakers are able to extract loads of colour. Thick skins also mean more tannins, and thus you can generally assume that the darker the wine is, the more tannins it will contain. A wine heavily laden with tannins, coupled with a dark colour will most likely be a full-bodied wine, whereas the wines that are lighter in colour will be light- or medium-bodied wines.
Other Techniques and Processes also Make a Difference
The maceration period and the cultivar of the wine are perhaps two of the biggest or most obvious factors that affect the colour of the wine. But the techniques used by the winemakers also make a difference to the end result. These may include, but are not limited to: the temperature of fermentation, at which stage fermentation is allowed to take place (before or after maceration), the fermentation process itself, the maturation process and whether or not blending took place.
What about Rosé Wines?
Rosé wines can be made in one of three ways. The winemaker can either directly press the wine and then extract the juice, as is the case with white wine making, thereby only extracting a little colour from the skins. Or, the winemaker may choose to macerate the grapes for a short period of time in order to extract the desired amount of colour. Finally, the winemaker can actually blend a white wine and a red wine together, although this process is not permitted everywhere in the world. With all three of these methods, the winemaker can control how light or dark the rosé wine will be. One cannot say if one method is necessarily “better” than the other – it depends of the winemaker’s desired outcome. In the same breath, we also cannot say if a rosé that is light in colour will taste better than a rosé that is slightly darker in colour. Both can be very flavourful and well-balanced; it is up to you to determine your own preference.
Lighter Reds and Aging
Due to the fact that the lighter wines are typically made using grapes with thinner skins, these wines naturally have less tannins. They are therefore made to be drunk young and cannot necessarily age well in the bottle for long periods of time. Due to their lighter body, they can also be served at a cooler temperature, or even chilled, and therefore enjoyed in the summer months – just as is, or paired with a fresh, summer salad.
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