Red wine vs white wine: what’s the difference?
Do you have a favorite wine? With so many to choose from in terms of grape, sweetness and flavor, it can be difficult to choose just one. Some people simply prefer red wines over white, and vice versa, while other people prefer one over the other depending on what they’re eating. But, what actually makes for the difference between the two? The answer is in the actual production of the wine, specifically how using different parts of the grape can create new flavors.
The difference between red and white wines goes beyond just taste, it includes differences in the maturation process and also on a molecular level. As a general point, red wines are made with red grapes like Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Shiraz and Zinfandel, and white wines are made from white grapes like Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon blanc, Moscato and Riesling. However, some red grapes can also be made into white wines, and some white grapes can be made into reddish wines, so the rule is not set in stone.
After the grapes are picked and are on their way to the cellar for production, the red and white grapes go on different pathways to create their unique flavors. Learn more about the different wines below:
What Gives Red Wines Their Color?
Red wines tend to fall on the more bitter side and taste more bold and complex – they often pair well with beef, pork, chocolate and cheese. Tannin, which is a plant compound that binds to proteins and amino acids, gives red wine a pucker feeling when enjoyed. Tannins also give red wine a more bitter taste and are responsible for the heavier mouthfeel in the back of your mouth. They have less sugar and tend to be more acidic, while also containing flavonoids and complex flavors.
Red wines get their deep ruby color from fermenting grape juice with the skins and seeds of the grape, allowing all the grape parts to ferment together creates the deep pigment that colors the juice, while also giving it a tannin flavor. The grapes are soaked before and after fermentation and the skin is mixed into the juice throughout production, then they are matured in oak barrels, which increases oxygen and allows the wine to breathe. This also adds oaky flavors and changes the structure of the tannins, making them stronger.
Flavors and Benefits
Red wines are typically soft, rich and velvety, and have more beneficial properties such as lowering your risk of heart disease, lengthening your lifespan, increasing good HDL cholesterol and slowing brain decline. They also offer a higher amount of vitamins and minerals, though they contain slightly more calories than white wines. Many of these beneficial properties are found in the skins and seeds of the grapes, and fermenting the juice with these parts is what allows for these to be present in the wine. This being said, not all red wines are created equally, so not all wines are as healthy as others.
Why Are White Wines White?
White wine, on the other hand, only uses the pressed juice from the grape, and leaves out the skins and seeds during the fermentation process. This yields a much lighter and clearer wine with minimal tannin – yielding a refreshing wine made for relaxing. White wine has little to no tannin, which helps the sweeter and lighter taste come through easily. Overall, they have a higher sugar content and a lower acidity level, while also being less complex and easier to drink. White wine is also less likely to cause headaches or migraines to drinkers – this is mainly because some people are sensitive to the tannins in red wines which can trigger headaches.
During production, the grapes are squeezed as little as possible to remove the initial tannins, then the juice is mixed and squeezed with the skin, as little or much as needed depending on the sweetness of the wine. Finally, fining agents are added to create the desired taste.
White wines are usually aged in stainless steel vats, though a select few such as Chardonnay are aged in oak barrels and yield a more nutty, creamy taste. Using stainless steel tanks helps white wine retain its fruity and floral flavors. Even if some tannin makes it into the wine, these are removed by adding fining agents at various times in the production process.
Flavors and Benefits
White wines are typically zesty, acidic and floral, offering a more fruity flavor. There are both sweet and dry options, and they pair well with fish, poultry, pork and fruit. White wine also offers health benefits, including a lowered risk of some cancers, osteoarthritis and neurodegenerative diseases.
Exceptions to Production Methods
Some wines do not follow the traditional methods of creating red or white wines. For example, Blanc de Noirs and White Pinot Noir are red grapes produced with a white wine method, yielding a light wine with a unique flavor. On the other hand, an Orange Wine is made by fermenting white grapes along with the seeds and skins of the grape, producing a lightly colored wine that offers some tannin and an overall heavier taste.
Red or White Wines
Whether you like red or white wine is totally up to preference, and there’s a lot to choose from on either side for reasons of taste, flavor, benefits or occasion. With so many to choose from, you may want to explore wines with different grapes, production methods and flavors to discover your favorite, as no two wines are alike!
Wine is made in many countries such as France, Italy, Spain, Chile, South Africa, Moldova, Australia, and the United States, and location can have its own impact on the type of wine produced. Maybe you have a favorite because of the country it was produced in, because climate can impact the nutrients and taste of the wine too.
Red and wine wines have a lot to offer in their own unique ways, pour a glass and enjoy!