White Wines vs. Red Wines: What’s the Difference, Really?

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There are many wine enthusiasts who can attest they like drinking wine, and may even prefer white over red (or vice versa), but many can’t really put into words the difference between a red wine and a white wine. That’s okay – we’re here to help.

A key difference between red wine and white wine is tannin. Tannins are natural, organic compounds found in grape skins, seeds and stems, which help give wine its structure and texture. They are what can lead to the pucker feeling in the moth and back of the throat.  Tannins are also used for wine preservation – the more tannin, the longer the wine should age.

White vs. red is the general level of wine categorization, but there are six standard types of wine: white, red, rosé, sparkling, dessert and fortified wines.

White wines are wines that contain little or no red pigmentation and are almost always made from white grapes without their skin (with a few exceptions). Popular white wines include Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc.

Red wines are made from red or black grapes and have a red tint. Due to the fact that grapes have a colorless juice in order to make red wine the grape skins, which contain nearly all of the grapes pigmentation must remain intact with the juice during all or part of the fermentation process. Popular red wines include Beaujolais, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chianti, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Zinfandel.

A rosé wine has a pink shade to it and can range from a soft, subtle hue to a vibrant pink depending on the grape used and how long the grape skins were in contact with the juice. The majority of rosé wines are made from a red grape. Sparkling rosés are traditionally made with a blend of red and white grapes. Rosé’s are typically served chilled and are very refreshing in the summer months.

Sparkling wines will have a significant level of carbon dioxide allowing the wine to have a fizzy aspect. The carbon dioxide may be a result from natural fermentation or as a result of carbon dioxide injections. Sparkling wine is usually white or rosé but there are red sparkling wines as well. The sweetness of a sparkling wine will range among the different kinds. The best example of a sparkling wine is champagne.

Dessert wines are typically very sweet, full of flavor and served with dessert (hence its name) and they include port and sherry wines. Dessert wines are typically thicker and come from grapes picked later in the harvest to preserve sugars.

Fortified wines are typically made from adding additional alcohol during the fermentation process. The usual alcohol content of a fortified wine is usually much higher, 17-20%. They can be either sweet or dry in flavor. Similar to dessert wines, the most common types of fortified wines are ports and sherries.

Home vintners can enjoy and experiment with the different grades and flavorings of wine on all ends of the spectrum with their own wine making kits and wine making equipment.