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Hue's Who: The Colorful Secrets of Wine

Updated: Jul 9

The color of wine provides vital clues about the wine's age, grape variety, and quality. Observing the hue and intensity of a wine can give you insights into its character before you even take a sip. Before tasting, look at how the light shines through the wine, and then tilt the glass in front of a white background.


 

🍇 Where Does the Red Color in Wine Come From?


The red color in wine comes from a pigment called anthocyanin, found in the skins of grapes. When the skins soak in the grape juice during fermentation, anthocyanins are released, staining the wine. This pigment is also present in other fruits like plums, blueberries, and cherries.


Different grape varieties produce varying levels of anthocyanins, leading to a spectrum of red hues. Understanding these hues can tell you a lot about the wine.




What Red Wine Hue Tells Us


Examining the hue of a red wine under natural lighting and against a white background provides clues:


  • Young red wines (under 5 years) range from red to violet to blue.

  • Bright Red hues indicate lower pH (higher acidity).

  • Violet hues typically fall in the pH range of 3.4–3.6.

  • Blueish tints (magenta) suggest a pH closer to 4 (lower acidity).


For instance, a bright red-hued wine might be a high-acidity Sangiovese, while a magenta-hued wine could be a lush, lower-acidity Malbec.


What the Intensity Tells Us


The intensity of a red wine’s color can be observed through its opacity:


- Deeply opaque wines have more pigment and phenolics, often indicating higher levels of tannin and antioxidants. For example, Syrah can have up to four times more pigment than Pinot Noir.

- Translucent wines generally have fewer phenolics. A lightly tinted wine like Gamay might be low in pigmentation and tannin.

- Color loss: Wines lose pigment as they age, with up to 85% of anthocyanin lost after five years.


image c/o winefolly


 

What White Wine Hue Tells Us


Examining the hue of a white wine under natural lighting and against a white background provides valuable insights into its characteristics:


  • Young white wines (under 5 years) range from pale green to pale straw to deep gold.

  • Pale green hues indicate a very young, fresh wine with high acidity and lower alcohol content, often associated with cooler climate varieties. Wines with green hues tend to have savory, grassy flavors like bell pepper, white pepper, green bean, and limes. Pinot Grigio, Muscadets, Vinho Verde or Albarino are generally in this color range.

  • Pale straw hues suggest a slightly older but still fresh wine with high acidity and balanced alcohol content. These wines might exhibit subtle fruit and floral notes. Sauvignon Blancs, Chardonnays, Chenin Blancs all also featuring yellow overtones

  • Light yellow hues typically fall in the pH range of 3.0–3.4, indicating balanced acidity. These wines might have more developed fruit flavors and a hint of minerality.

  • Deep gold hues often suggest a wine with higher alcohol content and lower acidity, potentially aged or oak-aged. Wines with golden-copper hues tend to have richer, fruity notes like apricot, peach, orange, and pineapple. These could be aged Chardonnays, Viogniers or Marsannes.

  • Golden-browns, ambers and orange tones are generally sweeter wines, skin contact whites or fortified wines like sherries.

For instance, a pale green-hued wine might be a crisp, high-acidity Vinho Verde while a deep gold-hued wine could be a rich, lower-acidity Chardonnay that has been oak-aged.


This wine on the left shows pale straw hues, so is most likely a young un-oaked wine made from an aromatic grape variety.


However, these clues must be corroborated by the tasting notes, aromas and mouth feel to confirm your suspicions.







What the Intensity Tells Us


White wines are made with very little skin contact, so generally do not have tannins. However color intensity can tell us a few things;

  • Age : As white wine ages, it becomes duller, more opaque, and shifts to an amber hue. Younger white wines, on the other hand, are brighter, more transparent, and typically display lighter colors

  • Oak influence: Barrels allow a small amount of oxygen to come into contact with the wine, and therefore darkens the color to make it a deeper buttery color.

  • Skin contact: Orange wine is made with white grapes, but the juice is left on skins for an extended period of time (like red wine). These wines will look orange in color and are often natural, meaning unfined and unfiltered with lots of sediment and tannin influence. Read more about orange wine here.



 

Next time you enjoy a glass of wine, take a moment to appreciate its hue and intensity. Observe how the color corresponds to its age, acidity, and potential flavors. This small step can deepen your understanding and enhance your overall wine experience.


If you are interested in finding out more, and putting this knowledge to the test, join us for one of our upcoming masterclasses.



One of the best resources for color identification from Bouchard Ainé & Fils




 


Mimi Giraud - Founder of A Wine Adventure

After completing an Executive MBA at INSEAD & passing her WSET level 3 (wine certification for professionals) with flying colors, Mimi's strongest motivation is to develop wine appreciation through games & share the amazing potential, complexity & beauty of the world of wines.

 Her gamification concept for masterclasses brings a refreshing and fun way to learn about wine tasting.

If you are interested in finding out more about wine pairing, join Mimi for a masterclass. 


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