Where does wine get its colour?
Author: Tom Planer
Ever wondered what makes rosé pink? Or what makes orange wine orange?
If you're a wine lover, chances are you've pondered these questions while looking at your glass in between sips.
As we take a dive into the colourful world of wine, we’ll uncover the reasons behind these often striking hues and how they can impact the taste of the wine as well.
The Basics: Where Red and White Wine Come From
Before we start looking at rosé and orange wine, let's quickly explore the colour origins of red and white wines, which aren’t as simple as you might think.
Surely red wine comes from red grapes, and white wine from white grapes? Well sometimes, but that’s not the full story.
The colour of red wine is due to the grape skins. Red wines get their deep, rich colour from the pigments found in the skins of dark-coloured grapes, red or black, but it’s also to do with how long the skins stay in the mix. The longer the grape juice is in contact with the skins during the fermentation process (from days to months), the darker the colour of the wine. But if you squeeze these grapes and take the skins out of the equation immediately you get…white wine.
In fact - some of the most famous white wines in the world are made from red grapes. Two of the three common varieties found in Champagne are Pinot Noir & Pinot Meunier - both red / black grapes.
But Champagne isn’t red!!
That’s because the juice comes out clear and the skins are taken away before they have a chance to impart pigment. The other grape usually used to make Champagne on the other hand, Chardonnay, is a white / green grape. Again the skins are taken out pretty much straight away to keep the wines a shade of clear yellow - what we know as white wine.
So if you can make white wine out of red grapes, can you make red wine out of white grapes?
Unfortunately not - starting with white grapes is only ever going to get you so far - and that falls well short of red by anyone’s standards.
With that in mind, let's move on to the stars of the show: rosé and orange wine.
Rosé: Pretty in Pink
Rosé wines, with their eye-catching pink hues, have seen a surge in popularity in recent years. But what gives rosé its signature colour?
The answer lies in the winemaking process again.
Rosé wine is made from red grapes, just like red wine (and some white wines). However, the grape skins are left in contact with the juice for a much shorter period of time, from between 2 to 48 hours depending on the style.
This brief contact allows only a small amount of the pigment from the grape skins to seep into the juice, resulting in a delicate pink colour rather than a vivid red. After this, the grape juice is separated from the skins, and the fermentation process continues, similar to white wine production.
There are a few different methods for making rosé wine, including direct press, the skin maceration method, saignée, and blending.
Direct press is where the grapes are pressed, but enough to add a small amount of pigment into the juice.
The skin maceration method involves leaving the grape skins in contact with the juice, but for a limited time, hours as opposed to the days, weeks or months for a red wine.
The saignée (meaning "bleeding" in French) method involves "bleeding" off some of the juice from a red wine you’re making early in the process, creating a lighter-coloured rosé wine and letting your red wine become more concentrated thanks to the higher skin to juice ration there now is.
Finally, the blending method simply involves mixing red and white wine to achieve the desired pink colour. However, this method is less common and is generally not allowed in many wine regions (but it is how they make pink Champagne!).
Provence Rosé is the most popular - generally made from the skin maceration method or direct press giving an incredibly pale colour.
Orange: The old kid on the block
Orange wine, despite its name, is not made from oranges (although it can sometimes smell & taste of them). It's a type of white wine that gets its distinct colour from extended contact with grape skins during the fermentation process.
This winemaking technique, known as skin-contact white wine, has been around for literal millennia, but has recently gained popularity among trendy wine enthusiasts.
To make orange wine, white grapes are used, and instead of removing them immediately as is the case with a white wine, their skins are left in contact with the juice throughout the fermentation process.
This extended skin contact, which can last anywhere from a few days to several months, imparts not only the orange colour but also additional flavours, tannins, and texture to the wine.
The resulting orange wine is more robust and complex than traditional white wine, with a flavour profile that can include notes of oranges, flowers, dried fruit, honey, and even a slight nuttiness.
The extended skin contact also gives orange wine a more substantial mouthfeel, similar to that of red wine. The colour of orange wine can vary from a pale amber to a deep, vibrant orange, depending on the grape variety and the length of skin contact.
Pairing Rosé and Orange Wines with Food
One of the reasons these colourful wines have gained such a following is their versatility when it comes to food pairings.
Pale rosé wines, with their light, fruity, and refreshing qualities, are ideal for warm weather and outdoor dining. They pair well with a wide range of dishes, from salads and seafood to grilled meats and even spicy fare. Some classic rosé wine pairings include Mediterranean cuisine, sushi, or just sunshine & vibes.
Darker rosés are swinging back into fashion because there’s often a bit more flavour & texture to them than the pale Provence rosés - which makes them an incredible accompaniment to all sorts of food - charcuterie, poultry or lighter meats.
Orange wines, with their bold flavours, full bodies & tannins, love more robust dishes. They're an excellent choice for pairing with rich, flavourful foods and strong cheeses.
The complex flavours of orange wine also make them especially good with cuisines that feature strong fermented flavours such as Thai or Korean.
While they have a range of tannins even the heavier tannin versions are nowhere near to the heaviest red wines - so no need to cook yourself a rib of beef to get the most out of your orange wine.
So there you have it - it’s not quite as simple as red grape = red and white grape = white.
The enchanting colours of red, white, rose and orange wines are not only visually appealing but also a result of the unique winemaking techniques that give each wine its distinct flavour profile.
By understanding the process behind these colourful wines, you can better appreciate the nuances in taste and enjoy them even more.
You can check out the rosés we have on offer here, and if you like the sound of orange wine you can find them here. Got a question about wine you’d like answered? Just get in touch.
And remember that our monthly tailored wine club lets you get the exact mix of red, white, rose & orange wines that you want - every single month!