Wines come in many different shades and intensities of colour. As wine consumers or wine lovers, we are quick to discover that there is more to a wine’s colour than just making it easy to tell reds from whites and rosés from dessert wines.
When tasting a wine, we look at the colour as a reliable indicator of quality, age and health. Its varying shades, hues and rim variations speak eloquently about its flavour, density, age, acidity and quality. The colour and opacity of a wine gives you many hints as to the style of wine you are about to enjoy.
Most places where we typically enjoy wine, such as a low-lit restaurant, are too dark to observe what we are about to drink! However, if you look at the colour of wine in a more appropriate setting, with clean lighting and best of all a white background, you will see how the colours of red wines are substantially different from one another. The world’s top connoisseurs can even correctly identify varietals based purely on a wine’s colour and opacity.
The colour of any wine is the result of a number of factors. For one, the wine colour is indicative of the type of grape and its skin characteristics. Obviously, every variety has its own colour. The second contributing factor in the formation of the colour is the length of time the juice is in contact with the skin. Another important factor is for how long it has aged or how well it has been cellared.
When grapes are pressed, the juice that is extracted is white in colour. White grapes, such as Sauvignon Blanc or local Xynisteri, are pressed and the skins of the grapes are soon after removed from contact with the juice. When red wine is produced, the skins from the grapes are left to ferment in contact with the juice. This, in turn, gives the wine its colour. The length the juice is left in contact with the skin, the thickness of the skin and where the grapes are grown all play a factor in the colour. In red wines, the skins of the grapes contain most of the pigment and during fermentation, a lot of this colour is imparted into the wine. Colour is the indicator that shows whether a red wine is healthy, well made and without any “fault”. The wine’s colour should be cleared and transparent, bright, and without sediment or misty.
A red wine’s colour spectrum can be red violet, ruby red, cherry red, crimson, red plum, red mulberry, red-brown, brick red, etc. If the wine is deep ruby or purple, this indicates that it is the product of thick-skinned grapes, relatively young, riper fruit, warmer climate, extractive winemaking. However, if it is light ruby or purple in colour then, it comes from thin skinned grapes, less ripe fruit, cooler climate and it is a young wine. A medium to light brown colour suggests that the wine has been exposed to oxygen or it is an old wine.
Looking at the shade of red wine in your glass, if the wine is light red, even approaching pink, it should taste light and bright. It may even be a little tart or “fresh” tasting and that is because the lighter the red of a wine, the less likely that it was ever aged in oak, and oak is what helps to create a round and mellow wine.
As the hue of the red wine gets darker and darker, approaching the colours of maroon and purple, the red will become much bolder and richer. For example, a Cabernet Sauvignon will taste and feel on your palate more bold, rich and spicy. Also, the darker the red colour, the longer a wine has been aged in oak which also imparts stronger flavours and textures within the wine. A pale red colour can indicate a flaw in the wine, but that can be considered true only for wines that are naturally dark, like Cabernet Sauvignon or Shiraz.
Generally speaking, Shiraz is known for having fantastic bottle aging potential. However, some vintages of this varietal will age better than others. By looking at the wine’s rim variations, you can gauge whether or not the wine is built for long-term wine storage. A Shiraz with a blue tinge on its outer rim usually indicates low acidity levels, which means you’re looking at a drink that’s best consumed within a few years post-bottling.
Furthermore, red wines get lighter with age. Young wines also tend to be more translucent and brighter in colour, while older wines will start to dull. Just think about how fruit eventually turns brown when exposed to air. The same is true as oxidation slowly seeps into a bottle through its cork, and over time, its colour changes.
A wine’s age can also be seen in what’s call the rim variation. Red wines will be darker at the core and gradually get more translucent, while white wines will be lighter at the core and become darker towards the rim.
A white wine that’s transparent and bright can be tempting to taste. And in contrast, a wine that’s pale and poor might raise the suspicion whether it’s a wine of good quality or not. From the visual aspects and colour, professional wine tasters can immediately establish the age of a wine, the style, and sometimes also the grape variety.
According to the wine’s level of evolution, the spectrum of white wines can be pale with green highlights, yellow pale-green, straw yellow, yellow gold, gold, old gold, brown-yellow, and brown.
A pale colour white indicates a young wine with little or no oak. Light and bright white wines that you can see through have had minimal contact with the grape skins and are usually crisp and refreshing.
A rich gold colour reveals that it is made from colourful grapes like Chardonnay. This is usually a good sign that the wine was aged in an oak barrel. It will have a smoother taste and will be much fuller and richer.
You call tell a lot about a wine’s body and flavour when you notice its colour. Take a look at the Xynisteri (Cypriot local variety) and Chardonnay. The Xynisteri shade of yellow is very light, bright and translucent. White wines with a lighter colour usually have minimal or no contact with the skins and typically taste very crisp and refreshing. The Chardonnay’s yellow colour, on the other hand, is deep and full, almost the colour of straw. This darker colour is a good sign that the wine was aged in oak, which means it will have a richer, creamier taste and full-bodied texture.
Vintage also plays an important factor in the colour of a wine. The older a white wine is, the darker its colour will be. The opposite is true for red wines which get lighter with age. Young wines also tend to be more translucent and brighter in colour, while older wines will start to dull.
Contrary to popular belief, a rosé or blush wine’s colour has little to do with the specific hue of the grape’s juices. The wine’s pink tint is actually dependent on the length of time the juice stays in contact with the fruit’s skin during the fermentation process. Prolong the wine’s contact with the skin and you’ll have a darker, purplish or magenta wine. Keep the contact as short as possible and you’ll get vino that’s pale pink, coral, light salmon, or light orange in colour. If the rosé has a pale lavender shade, then it usually just means that the wine is still in its young state.
Concluding, the colour of a wine tells you a lot. Of course, you cannot compare colour of wines produced from different categories and grape varieties. Some varieties are simply darker than others. To fully understand the implications of the colour, it helps to have an understanding of how a wine should look for its grape varietal, age and growing season. Colour is an important part of wine quality, and looking and examining what you’re about to drink will help you better understand what is in your glass and why you like it – or not.