The Black and White of Wines: What’s the Difference Anyway?




Like many other newbie wine drinkers, at one time or another you have probably stepped into a grocery store or liquor store and made straight for the red wines in the aisle. After all, stars are always drinking red wine in most TV programs and movies, so you have to jump on the bandwagon, right? That is not necessarily so! There is a lot of contention on the whole “red wine/white wine” issue amongst wine lovers and wine makers, so let’s explore the black and white of wine a bit.

At some point or another, you may have taken a bottle of wine home and gotten a bit overwhelmed when you first tried it. It may have been too dry, too cold (if you put it in the refrigerator) or just simply not right for you. You may have not even finished the bottle you spent all that money on! What a shame!

While no one can deny that there is something simply sophisticated about a glass of red wine, you have to bear in mind that most people that regularly drink red wine are seasoned wine drinkers. These people usually have slowly worked their way up to red wines from white wines.

So what is the difference when it comes to the black and white of wine? What’s the difference between reds and whites? Does it have to do with the color of the grape that is used in the wine making process? What do red grapes have in them that white grapes simply do not?

Despite popular conceptions, a wine’s color is not based on the color of grape that is used when making it. Fermentation is a major color determinant, as not all grapes are fermented in the exact same way. The fermentation process and whether or not the grapes’ skin is involved gives the wine its color, not the actual color of the grape as it is pulled from the vine. Red wine is fermented with the skins from its grapes in close contact with its crushed grapes for a very specific period of time. Blush wines are fermented with the grape skins contacting the grapes only for a very brief period of time. White wine is created when during fermentation absolutely no grape skins come into contact with the crushed grapes.

Red wine, in general, will be much drier than your typical white wine because of the fact that the grape skins left on the grapes during the process of fermentation add tannin, a natural preservative, to the wine. When the grape skins are left on during the fermentation process, some of the tannin preservative leaches into the wine. Depending on the wine’s age, red wine with many tannins, such Cabernet Sauvignon, are either very harsh (in the case of younger red wines) or very smooth (in the case of older red wines).

As a nascent wine drinker, you may find reds a little too harsh for your palate. This is perfectly acceptable and expected! Many begin their journey into wine with sweeter white wines, then move onto rose wines, allowing them to develop a taste for the drier red wines.

How you serve your wine has a great affect on its taste. For white wines, always make sure that you serve it 10-15 minutes after removing it from your wine cooler or refrigerator (if you have been chilling the wine) in a tapered wine glass. For red wines, store it in a cool, dark location of about 65 degrees Fahrenheit – optimally, a wine cooler or cellar. For reds, always choose a wine glass that will let you swirl the wine in the glass as you drink it, allowing you to aerate the wine as you drink it, enhancing the flavor.

So don’t let the whole black and white of wine , i.e. the red versus whites argument get you down. Many folks work their way up to red wines and stay there, looking down their noses at the white wines and those that drink them. By and large, however, most will continue to enjoy both equally!

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