50 Shades of Grapes

50 Shades of Grapes

Today we will take you through the sexy world of wine colors (red, white, rose’, orange). Sexy you ask?

Yes, even borderline risqué, filled with tons of skin contact (seriously) and heat (for some). We even touch on the age old question “is longer always better?”

At a high level, wine color beings with the two main types of grapes, white and red (think of them like human genders female and male). For the most part, red grapes make red wine and white grapes make white wine. There are some famous situations where the red wines (males) can become white wines (females). One is Caitlyn Jenner, another is Champagne, which is typically made from a blend that includes two red grapes (Pinot Munier and Pinot Noir) anlong the with one white (Chardonnay).

How does a wine get its color get its color from the grapes? Hit the Luther Vandross… The answer is skin contact. When grapes are crushed, they release their juice. If this juice is left in a vessel with the grape skins, it begins to take on some characteristics of the skins (color, flavor, tannin) through a process called extraction. You may be asking, “Does this mean red wine starts out as white juice and then becomes red as it sits with the skins?” Yes, exactly!

Now that we have a basic understanding of how each wine gets its color, let’s dive into each wine’s physical preferences.

White wines generally like things clean and fast. Once white grapes are brought into the winery, they are crushed and pressed right away and the juice is pumped into a tank leaving little time for skin contact. This may seem like a cold experience, with very little time to cuddle or build up any heat…that is true. Generally white grapes are not fans of heat, they kept cool as they come into the winery and are pressed. Keeping the temperature low helps to preserve fresh light fruity flavors that everyone loves in white wine.

Red wines on the other hand are the Cassanovas of grapes. They like to lay with the skins until things get hot & heavy (fermentation) and sometimes longer! When red grapes are crushed, the juice is released like for white wines,  but instead of being separated the skins are pumped into a vessel with the juice where they mingle as the juice ferments. That is where things get hot and physical.

During fermentation sugar is turned to alcohol producing heat and CO2 which causes all of the grape skins float to the top and form a solid layer (called the cap). It is very important to keep the cap moist so that it doesn’t dry up. As you can imagine, there are various ways to wet the cap. Things can get rough with wine can be pumped from the bottom of the tank and sprayed over the grape skins on top (used for grapes with thicker skins like Shiraz) or a gentle approach can be taken with the cap lightly pressed down into the juice (often used for delicate grapes like Pinot Noir). This hot and heavy process releases color pigments from the skins (fancy term for these: anthocyanins) which then turns the juice red. Occasionally, red wines like to sit with the skins well after the heat of fermentation has cooled. Some may call this overtime, we call it extended maceration (aka extended skin contact).

After red and white wines, there are orange and rose’ wines. These wines break the norm an forge their own paths.


Rosé wines are made from red grapes(like red wines), but instead of the extended hot skin contact rosé wines are made in a cool quick similar to white wines spending as little as a few hours with the skins. Leaving the juice in contact with the red skins for a short amount of time allows some of the red wines fruit flavor and color to come out the skins while still keeping the wine light and delicate.

Orange wines are made from white grapes and are basically white wines that want a little bit more lovin’. To make orange wine, white grape are crushed, but instead of being separated from the the juice, the skins sit with the skins for an extended period of time (can be days, even weeks!). This results in color being extracted from the skins and results in recognizable orangish color. This skin contact also gives the wines more body and bolder flavor than is found in most white wines.

Now, that we have covered the four basic types of wine, we get to the question of the day: Is longer always better?? Now we are asking in regard to skin contact, and sadly the answer is the same you have heard many times, it is really up to personal preference! Some like like the long contact that creates a big bold red or a funky orange, others prefer brief contact that produces the delicate fresh characteristics of a white or rose’.

Whatever your style preference, next time someone tries to awkwardly talk about 50 Shades of Grey, just pretend you heard grapes and begin rambling about wine!

That’s it for now, until next time… Cheers!

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