3 Main factors contribute to a wine’s depth or intensity of the colour / hue:
- The type of grape and its skin characteristics.
- The length of time the juice is in contact with the skin.
- How long it has aged or been cellared.
Where does wine get its colour from?
If you guessed from the fruit, thanks for playing, but that’s not the whole answer. If you said wine colour comesfrom the skin, you are today’s winner!
Each grape variety has different skin characteristics. Some grape skins are thicker and impart a deeper in colour in the wine, such as Malbec and Shiraz. Thinner skinned varieties, like Pinot Noir and Gamay, tend to be lighter in colour.
Interestingly, colour also changes with aging or cellaring. Red wines start to develop brick or brown colours as they grow older. A fresh, young red wine will often have a purplish, bright rim around the edge. This is easily spotted in young Beaujolais (Gamay), Malbec, or Shiraz. With bottle aging or cellaring, the wine will slowly lose its colour, falling to the bottom of the bottle in the form of sediment. The hue will shift from purple to garnet to mahogany and eventually a tawny brown. Oxidation plays a role in this colour shift.
What Does the Shade of Colour Tell Us About the Wine Style?
The brighter and more vibrant the colour of your wine, likely the flavour will be lively, candied or vibrant in its own right. If your wine is showing hints of garnet or mild orange hues, it may have a more savoury flavour profile and offer a complex and interesting story with all its secondary flavour characteristics.
Generally (but of course, not always) you can count on this:
- Dark hue characteristics: Big, full-bodied, deep on the palate
- Light hue characteristics: Shimmer of acidity on the edge or rim, light on the palate
Are there exceptions to the wine colour rules?
Of course. There are certainly typical characteristics when it comes to wine, but always exceptions. The vineyard is a living thing with many factors affecting the grape varieties. Winemaking practices also affect the final outcome of the wine. Here are a couple of common exceptions:
- Rosé wines are often not a blend of red and white wines, but rather red wines that have had minimal skin contact during the wine-making process.
- It is not always black and white (or light red and dark red): Barolo and Barberesco wines may appear light, but they are extremely big bodied due to the highly flavourful thin-skinned Nebbiolo grapes and many seeds (which add tannin and the texture). Likewise, Sangiovese and Brunello di Montalcino appear medium to light “looking,” but are among Tuscany’s most powerful and long lived wines.
Need More Wine Info? Here’s another great article from Sommelier Mike Roberts.
(*Edited for style and clarity, May 2018)