What Makes White Wine White?
As we mentioned recently in our “Colours of Wine” article, wine gets its colour from the compounds found in the skins and from the juice of the grape itself. It is more of a challenge to extract colour from black grapes for red wines, as it is necessary for the red wines to undergo a maceration period whereby the juice is kept in contact with the grape skins for a length of time. White wines, on the other hand, do not generally require any skin contact and so the colour can simply come from the juice of the grape itself. White wines can be made using either white or black grapes as both contain white juice. For example, a white Merlot is actually a white wine, despite the fact that it has been made using a black grape varietal.
Why are Some Whites Darker in Colour than Others?
You may have noticed that some white wines are very light in colour, whereas others are very dark. There are a few reasons for this colour difference and the most obvious of these will be discussed below.
Varietals Play a Role
The type of grape is a large determining factor in the colour that the wine will be. Light-bodied wines are typically very light in colour, like a Pinot Grigio or Pinot Gris. These can be described as “lemon” or even “lemon-green”. Slightly darker wines are generally medium-bodied and can be described as “lemon” or “lemon-gold” and these could be indicative of a Sauvignon Blanc or Chenin Blanc. Full-bodied wines like Chardonnay would probably be described as “gold” as these wines have typically been aged for a while in oak, which brings us to the next point.
Ageing a White Wine
Wines can either be aged in the bottle or kept in contact with oak, or even using a combination of the two. Both methods of aging can affect the colour of the wine. In order to age the wine using oak, the winemaker can decide to store the wine in oak barrels or add oak staves or chips to the wine after fermentation has taken place. The latter is a cheaper method and thus these wines tend to cost less.
Typically, the longer the white wine has been aged in oak for, the darker in colour it will be. That is why it is usually easier to spot a wooded Chardonnay or a Viognier as it has a noticeable “gold” colour, in comparison to a younger Sauvignon Blanc that may be “lemon” in colour. Aging a wine does not necessarily make it better than a wine that is unaged, but it does add some buttery or nutty flavours to the wine – it is simply up to you to decide which you prefer.
However, it is possible for wines to have been aged for too long. Wines that look “amber” or almost “brown” may have been oxidized, and unless this is deliberate, a “brown” white wine will most likely be faulty.
What about Sweet Wines?
Sweet wines have their own, unique colour, which is usually described as “amber”. This colour can be because of a number of factors, including which varietal was used, the sugar content, as well as the technique in making the wine. There are actually quite a few techniques one could use to make a sweet wine, such as; stopping the fermentation process, adding a sweetening component, concentrating the grape sugars, allowing the grapes to undergo a process of rot, drying grapes on the vines, drying grapes after picking, or, freezing the grapes on the vine. Each of these methods ends up with a similar result – less grape juice, but a more concentrated juice and thus sweeter. Sweet wines should be served chilled and are simply delicious when paired with blue cheese.