Red vs. White Wine: Is The Color The Only Difference?
If you couldn’t see the color of the wine you were drinking, would you be able to tell if it was red or white? Many people would say no, they can’t, but any wine connoisseur will immediately be able to tell the difference between the two. On top of that, how the wines are made, and their different food pairings, can be completely different. But they’re both made from grapes, so, how different can they be, really?
What Causes The Color Difference?
Let’s start at the beginning. It’s general knowledge that wine comes from fermented grapes and from that we can guess that white grapes make white wine and red grapes make red wine, right? Yes. And no. Actually, all grapes, when squeezed, produce an opaque, white color. It’s actually the skins that make a difference. Red grapes, with the skin peeled, are often used to produce white wines, known as “blanc de noir” wines.
The process of “maceration”, a long word for keeping the skins on grapes during fermentation, creates red wine’s color and flavor. The longer the fermentation process, the darker the wine and the deeper the flavor. Alternatively, lighter skinned grapes will produce brighter shades of red.
So, no grape skin equals white wine, while the presence of grape skin results in red wine. It’s important to store wine in a wine cooler.
Different Flavor Profiles
For those who really know their wines, they say wines often evoke fruity flavors on first taste, and can also have a “secondary” flavor underneath the fruity flavor. But if they’re both made from grapes, doesn’t that just mean they both taste like different types of grapes? Generally no. There are some wines that do have a very strong grape or raisin flavor, such as the oldest wine in the world, Cyprus’ Commandaria. But for the most part, red and white wines evoke very different fruity profiles.
Experts say red wines tend to taste more like berries, with lighter red wines tasting like strawberries or cherries, progressing up to blackberries with richer wines. Red wines also tend to have secondary flavors that are deep, rich, and velvety smooth. Some typical secondary flavor profiles that are commonly tasted include tobacco leaves, herbs, and leather.
As for white wines, their fruity flavors have a huge range, from citrus fruits (oranges and lemons), orchard fruits (pears and apples), and even tropical fruits (pineapples and mangos). Secondary flavors for white wine seem to differ between the lighter and richer varieties, though both give off floral aromas. Lighter ones may have a mineral taste while richer ones can evoke nutty or oily secondary tastes.
Different Wine Making Methods
If both red and white wines are made with grapes, why do they have such different flavors? It really doesn’t seem like just leaving the skins on can make that much of a difference. Well, that’s because the skins don’t factor in when it comes to the flavor. It’s actually the process in which the wines are made that gives them different flavors.
What really makes the difference is the oxidation, or the amount of oxygen that the wine is exposed to during the fermentation process. If they are exposed to more oxygen, they lose the floral aroma and develop the rich and velvety flavors. If they have less oxygen, they keep the floral aroma.
Oxidation sounds like it might be a complicated process, but it actually just comes down to using two different kinds of aging vats. Wooden vats, or barrels, allow more oxygen in. The majority of red wines are aged in these vats, which gives them their deep and smooth flavor profiles. On the other hand, white wines tend to be aged in stainless steel vats, which allow little or no air, so they can keep their light and floral flavors.
Of course, there are red wines that are aged in stainless steel vats, which allows them to keep their light and floral flavors, such as Beaujolais Nouveau, a red yet floral wine produced in Beaujolais, France.
Or, to give white wines deeper or creamier flavors, aging them in wooden barrels allows them to be exposed to more oxygen. Chardonnays, for example, are a type of white wine, with a creamy flavor, that are aged in wooden barrels.
So yes, red wines tend to be deep and rich, but some maintain their floral flavors. And yes, most white wines are lighter and floral, but can be made creamy and rich by exposing them to more oxygen.
Different Food Pairings
Pairing wine with food can be a hit or miss. Some wines with certain foods, really enhance the flavor, while others make the food taste horrible. And if you’re not a wine expert, you won’t know which situation you’ll be in until it’s too late.
Generally, people say white wines pair better with lighter foods like fish, fruits, and vegetables. Reds are said to be better for meats and cheeses. This is usually true, as heavy red wines can overpower the lighter flavors of fish and vegetables. White wines can also cause heavier foods to lose some of their powerful flavors, making them less tasty.
But again, there are some cases where that isn’t the norm. For example, a fatty fish that is cooked in a very flavorful sauce might taste much better with the velvety smoothness of a red wine. Or heavy foods with an exotic taste, like a hawaiian style burger, would taste much better with the more tropical white wine flavors.
So, Which Do You Prefer?
Do you like the dark and velvety smooth reds, or the light and floral whites? Or are you one of those rare people that likes both? Now that you know that color isn’t the only difference, are you willing to give the other kind another try? Maybe you won’t end up liking the other kind anyway, but you won’t know until try. And now have an excuse to go out and drink a ton of different wines! You’re welcome.