Guide to Wine Color: What Does It Tell You & How To Evaluate It

by Hunter Robillard

When sipping a glass of wine, one of the first things you’d notice is the wine color.

The colors of red, white, and rose wine have subtle nuances that can be quite revealing! By examining the color spectrum carefully, you’ll get insights into the wine’s age, style, and taste.

Let’s find out all about wine color, including how to evaluate the different wine color variations like an expert. We’ll also show you how to build a collection of red, white, and sparkling wines effortlessly.

Further reading

What Does Wine Color Mean?


In general, there are five general wine color categories:

  • Red 
  • White
  • Yellow
  • Pink
  • Orange

These broader wine colors hint at what to expect from the wine you’re drinking. You’ll be able to assess the tannin levels, acidity, sweetness, and flavor profile just by observing the color of your wine.

For example, a dark red wine like Nebbiolo or Mourvedre usually has high acidity, a rich tannin texture, and more concentrated flavor notes. 

In contrast, a brighter red wine like Pinot Noir or Beaujolais indicates a lighter-bodied and fruity wine. 

Pale yellow or whitish wines like Chenin Blanc, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, or Sauvignon Blanc are most often dry. 

A golden-yellow wine indicates a fuller-bodied or sweet wine like Chardonnay or Riesling.

What about the more unusual orange wines? 

They’re made with white grapes, but their tannin levels are much higher, and the color more concentrated than regular white wines. That’s because the grape skins macerate with the juice as in red wine fermentation. 

Rose wine color (which can vary from pale salmon to intense pink hue) is largely determined by the winemaking method.

Let’s explore what creates the color of a wine

How Does Wine Color Form?

There are several aspects that affect the grape color, including:

  1. Grape Variety and Terroir
  2. Winemaking Techniques
  3. Aging

1. Grape Variety and Terroir


Wine color is greatly affected by the grape variety, growing conditions, and the terroir.

All wine grapes (Vitis Vinifera) contain pigments in their skins. 

For example:

  • White wine grapes contain flavonoids which give the wine its distinct yellow color. 
  • Red wine grapes contain anthocyanin compounds which give the wine a purple red color.

Red grapes can have about 20 types of anthocyanins (each with different pH levels.) 

The lower the pH, the lighter the wine. On the other hand, higher pH levels indicate a wine with a darker color, higher tannin and acidity levels, and a longer aging potential.

Usually, all colour pigments are contained in the grape skins while the grape pulp is transparent. That’s why it’s possible to make white wine from red grape varieties. For example, Blanc de Noir Champagne is made with Pinot Noir grapes.

Fun fact: Some rare red wine grapes actually have red-colored pulp. They are called Teinturier grape varieties and are a natural mutation of the traditional wine grapes.

Another factor that determines the wine color is the grape skin thickness. Thicker-skinned grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot lend more colour to the wine than thinner-skinned grapes like Gamay

The vineyard climate also determines the grape skin thickness. Warmer climates usually produce grapes with thicker skins (since the grape vine is trying to protect the fruit from the sunlight and heat.)

2. Winemaking Techniques


During winemaking, the color from the grape skins seeps into the grape juice. 

The color intensity at this stage is determined by: 

  • Maceration period: The maceration time frame for optimal color extraction is usually up to eight days. If maceration is prolonged beyond this, the color will be less intense.
  • Fermentation compounds: The color intensity might reduce if the wine is fermented with whole grape bunches or from extended contact with the lees (since they might absorb some of the colors.)
  • Winemaking techniques: The winemaker can implement cold maceration before fermenting the wine juice or use other methods for increasing the co-pigmentation (stimulating the release of phenolic compounds into the grape juice.)

3. Aging


The wine's color is also affected by the oxidation levels of the wine during aging

A wine can be aged in:

  • Stainless steel tank: This creates a reductive environment (the wine ages in the absence of oxygen), preserving the wine's color, freshness, and fruitiness.
  • Oak barrel: This environment is oxidative and might result in a slightly paler color.

The color and anthocyanin concentration in wine can, in turn, affect the wine’s aging potential. The higher the concentration, the higher the reductive strength of the wine (oxidation resistance) and the higher the aging potential.

Next, let’s check out the different color charts so you’re prepared for your next wine tasting experience.

Red Wine Colors

Red wine comes in over 40 different color variations. You’ll be able to picture the red wine color spectrum using the table below:


Keep in mind that the color might be slightly different for a young red wine and an older red wine of the same style. That’s because the intense red color of a young wine gets a pale brownish shade gradually over time.

Also, the color of red wine with high sulfite content might not be as bright since the sulfites bind with the color pigments and reduce the color intensity.

White Wine Colors

When it comes to white wine, the color spectrum is just as varied. You can stumble upon paler white, amber, or even golden-honeyed wines. 

Here are the main white wine colors to be aware of:


White wine color also tends to change with time. 

For example, a young wine made with white grapes might have bright yellow or even greenish shade. In contrast, an older white wine takes on a warm golden color.

Rose Wine Colors

Here are the main rose wine color nuances:


The color of the blush wine is determined during winemaking. 

Pink wine is made with red grape varieties. However, the color is not fully extracted. Usually, the longer the black grapes are in contact with the wine juice, the more concentrated the pink wine color.

So, how can you better understand the color of your next glass of wine?

How to Evaluate the Color of Wine


It’s a good idea to examine the color of your wine before tasting it.

During this stage of your wine tasting experience, look for the following:

  • Wine clarity: Ideally, the wine liquid should be clear. Any cloudiness or dust specs indicate the presence of segments in the wine. These are not harmful to you, but they might change the wine’s taste negatively.
  • Wine color intensity: Understand how dense the color is. You should have no more than half a glass of wine to do that. This way, you can tilt the glass without worrying you might spill it. Tilt the wine glass to observe the wine color or hue spectrum and how its intensity changes. You can put your glass against a white background so you can isolate the color of the wine from any external colors that might change its appearance.
  • Wine legs: These are the droplets that form along the edges of your wine glass after you swirl the wine. Some wine tasters interpret wine legs as an indicator of alcohol content, suggesting a richer texture and fuller body. However, there’s no evidence to suggest that legs indicate quality.

Observing the wine color can give you a general first impression of what you’re about to taste. With more experience in observing the different wine colors, you might even be able to recognize: 

While attending wine tasting events is fun, you might want to start building your own private collection of fine wines to do your own tasting events. 

This way, you can explore some of the best wines in the world (while also potentially reaping profits!)

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Explore the Breathtaking Rainbow of Wine Color Nuances

Wine comes in a variety of different colors and hues. If you’re a fine wine enthusiast, you definitely want to explore all of these subtle color variations and what they imply.

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