Just like the game of football, the world of wine offers a multitude of options. Categorizing wine by red or white is the first level of understanding and appreciation of wine, but did you know that the differences go far deeper than merely color?
Let’s break down the differences between white wine and red wine by taking a closer look at some of the basics of enology – the study and science of winemaking.
Types of Grape Varieties Used
If you guessed that white wines used white grape varieties while red wines use darker varieties such as black grapes, you would be almost right.
While it’s true that most white wines use white grape varieties such as Riesling, Pinot Blanc, and Chardonnay, and red wines employ darker grape varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir, how the grape is processed and which part is used is the biggest determining factor in the resulting color of the wine.
For white wines, the grapes are pressed and the juice is collected and allowed to ferment – the seeds and grape skins are discarded before fermentation. For red wines, the grapes are pressed and the juice ferments with the grape skins and seeds, resulting in the distinctive darker color.
Beyond, specific characteristics of the resulting wines are inherent in the type of grape. White grapes have a shorter growing season, which means they have higher acidity and fewer sugars. If red grapes ripen naturally, they have lower acidity but higher sugar content. If white and red grapes are grown in the same location, red grape varietals may be restricted because red grapes require a longer growing season. It’s important to know where grapes are sourced because the location can tell you if the grapes had sufficient time to ripen naturally.
Preparing the Grapes
Different wine processes are used for making red and white wines. Once the grapes are picked, white grapes are pressed to remove all the juice from the grapes. Before fermentation, the white grape juice is allowed to settle so any remaining solids can be removed. (This process is known as racking.) Once the white grape juice is clear, it is ready for fermentation. Red grapes are destemmed and crushed, keeping the grape skins for the red color. Additionally, red grapes are not racked before fermentation.
Fermentation is the process that converts sugar into alcohol. A catalyst such as yeast initiates the fermentation process. White wines are fermented in a cooler environment than reds to preserve the fresh, fruity flavors of white wines. Many red wines are fermented until all sugars are consumed, making for a drier wine.
During fermentation, additives other than yeast may be used to produce a distinct flavor. For example, fermenting white wines in oak barrels adds vanilla flavors to the wine. White wines are not often aged; however, red wines are aged for as little as four months or for as long as four or more years. During the aging process, additives may be used to adjust the texture or flavor of the wine. After fermentation, the wines are filtered and bottled.
7Cellars crushes grapes before pressing the white grapes and preparing them for fermentation. The red grapes begin fermentation immediately after crushing. These processes take advantage of the differences between white and red grapes. Further, 7Cellars Chardonnay is aged in oak barrels, giving the wine its vanilla flavors and oak finish. Elway’s Reserve Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, aged in oak barrels, exhibits dark fruit flavors that intensify its minerality.
If you have an image of large oak casks where wine is slowly aged, you’re right when it comes to red wines. Red wines are allowed to age slowly within oak barrels or casks to increase oxidation. The natural oak wood allows the flow of oxygen to the red wine during the aging process. Oxidation of the red wine changes the flavor and tone of the finished product, reduces acidity, and creates a velvet smoothness without fruitiness, bringing out different, deeper notes of flavor.
White wines, however, are aged within steel tanks or vats which seal out the inflow of oxygen. This reduces oxidation to the wine and preserves the flavors that make white wine a popular choice during the hotter summer months, such as fruitiness and acidity.
Life of the Wine
Because of the different components used in the making of red and white wines and the different aging processes, red and white wines have a wide difference in their quality over time.
White wines lack the tannins found in red wines. The tannins in red wines are a result of chemical changes to the wine during fermentation and aging. The inclusion of the grape skins and seeds in the initial fermentation, as well as the high oxidation of red wine when aged in oak barrels or casks, creates tannins that help add structure to the chemical composition of the red wine that stabilize the wine and actually deepen the flavors and aromas of the wine over time. This chemistry is why red wines can actually taste better when allowed to age.
Enjoying White Wine and Red Wine
Understanding the process of turning grapes into wine adds another dimension to tasting the differences between white wine and red wine. Although every wine is unique, red wines generally invoke berry flavors with a hint of non-fruit flavors that add a spiciness to the wine. For whites, the fruit flavors are more citrusy with hints of pear and apple. More intense whites exhibit tropical fruit flavors with a touch of minerality. 7Cellars grapes are sourced from their vineyard in California’s Napa Valley, specifically the Rutherford American AVA, where the growing season is long. It’s a place where the vintner and not Mother Nature determines when the grapes are harvested.
7Cellars award-winning 2015 Chardonnay has a straw color with an oaky aroma of papaya. It is a crisp, light-to-medium body wine with well-integrated tannins. It is a Chardonnay that can stand up to a sauced fish or chicken; it could hold its own with a grilled filet mignon.
The 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon’s deep color reflects its bold and structured taste. Its dark berry flavors pair nicely with steak, lamb or venison. Finish with a dark chocolate dessert that nicely complements the Cabernet.
Shop for your next wine at 7Cellars for a wine to enjoy this fall!