The color of wine
Where does the color of wine come from? What is white and red winemaking? What does "orange wine" mean?
These are the most asked questions during this summer's visits at Cantine Barbera.
All wine color is in the grapes’ skin: if you peel a grape berry, you will find that - whatever the color of the skin - it has a white or light green pulp inside.
This is not true 100% of the times because in nature there are also some rare grape varieties that have a red pulp (like Alicante Bouschet and one very unique clone of Perricone).
When the grapes are squeezed or crushed, the juice will get in touch with the skins: from that moment, the color will be slowly transferred from the skin to the juice, which will become darker every day. The longer the fermentation with the skins (also called maceration), the darker the color at the end of the process.
Evidently, white grapes that have a green or yellow skin can never lead to red wines. On the contrary, red grapes can always produce red wines, but sometimes they are used to make wines with a lighter color: from dark pink to blush to white (what French call “blanc de noirs”).
Winemakers dose the quantity of skins to be macerated with the juice and the duration of that maceration to influence the color of their wines. They can decide to separate the skins from the juice immediately after the crushing, in order to obtain a very light color (either using red or white grapes), or they can opt for a maceration: in this last case, they will extract not only the color, but also aromas and tannins from the skin.
In winemaker’s slang, those two types of winemaking are called white winemaking (the one with no skins) and red winemaking (the one with skins). While red winemaking is ordinary practice for making red wines, this technique is not very often used for making white wines: the result is called orange wine.
In other words, an orange wine is a wine made with white grapes that are fermented with all their skins for quite some time: the final color will vary from deep golden yellow to a darker shade of amber. For its character, complexity and structure, an orange wine can be considered a red wine made with white grapes.
We at Cantine Barbera like to play with grapes and colors: my Grillo Coste al Vento, Arèmi Catarratto and the Ammàno Zibibbo are orange wines or, as I like to call them, red wines in a white dress. La Bambina is, otherwise, a rosé, made with Nero d’Avola fermented with no skins, and her color is a beautiful light copper with a touch of salmon rose.
The infographic below describes the relations between grapes, winemaking technique and the color of wine.