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What Makes the Red Wine Red?

By: WineLibrary Staff

Pinot Noir is a red wine, the juice in the glass is red, so that means the grape juice is red, right? This is a common misconception when it comes to wine.

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What Makes the Red Wine Red?


Pinot Noir is a red wine, the juice in the glass is red, so that means the grape juice is red, right?


This is a common misconception when it comes to wine.  When talking about what makes red wine red, we need to start with the grapes themselves.  Almost all varieties of grapes grown in the world have clear juice.  You read that correctly, if you were to pull a grape off the vine and carefully separate all the components that make up the grape, you will find that the juice itself is clear.  


What makes red wine red then?


Before anything is fermented, a process most known as maceration is applied to the grapes.  This is a the process of smashing and breaking down the grapes over time.  When you see the video of people smashing fresh grapes with their feet, that is the early stages of maceration!  Slowly the grapes are then pressed, and as the juice is pressed with the skins of the grapes, that is where it earns its color.

Some grapes have thicker skins while others have thinner skins which is where the density of colors come from.  In general, grapes like Cabernet, Syrah, and Merlot have thicker skins which is why they are darker wines.  Pinot Noir and Gamay are two examples of thinner skinned grapes which make for a lighter wine.  There are other components to a wine that come from the maceration process, but that can wait for a later date!


Can you make white wine out of red grapes?


You can!  While some may not make a great wine, there are some really great examples of this throughout the world.  The most notable is Champagne.  When you see a bottle of sparkling wine and it is listed as a “Blanc de Noir”, that means that the wine is made of all red grapes, but the skins don’t have the contact they normally world while making a red wine.

Rose is also one of the biggest trends in the wine industry and it is another great example of when you see the difference in how much they macerate a wine.  A slight pressing of the grapes on their skins, will allow the skins to slightly bleed into the juice which is what happens in traditional rose wine.  

A Provence style is much lighter in color because they don’t allow the juice to spend much time with the skins, but a Cerro from italy is two steps from being a red wine.  The intensity of color in the wine will translate as complexities in the glass.  A Rose from France is more likely to drink like a white wine expressing the deep mineral terroirs of the region, where an Italian style may express more of the quality and flavor of the grapes themselves.