Characterize Types of White Wine by Color
How does the color of a white wine indicate its flavor? From very pale wines such as pinot grigio and sauvignon blanc to rich and intensely colored varieties such as oaked chardonnay, Sauternes and old riesling, the wine’s color can tell you a lot about how it tastes before you even smell it!
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What to Look for in the Color of White Wine
How Light Refracts Through Wine
Does the white wine just sparkle with light shining through it or does it cast a dim yellow hue onto the table? A sparkly star bright wine tells me that the wine is not dense and is not made with the use of oak or aged on the lees (lil’ dead yeast particles that the winemaker opts to leave in the tank). Star bright wines tend to be light bodied, young, have high acidity and are filtered. In contrast, a wine that casts a dull hue or a dim yellow color has a lot more pigment in it and could be a much richer older wine. These wines could be dim because of aging in oak or on the lees or they could be an intense sweet wine with a lot of sugar and color extraction from the skins of the wine.
Intensity of Color
Looking at the saturation of color in a white wine can indicate the richness of the wine. For instance, the color of chardonnay can range from very pale yellow with hints of platinum to a saturated straw gold. A very pale chardonnay is unoaked and zesty. A saturated golden chardonnay will most likely be oaked and buttery in style. Additionally, if the sweetness of the wine is brought about by a higher grape-skin-to-juice contact, that wine will have more pigment in it. A sweet wine made partially with semillon grapes called Sauternes is bright yellow.
Identify the Major Color and Minor Color of White Wine
Is the color of the white wine copper-gold or is it pale green-yellow? Wines that have green hues to them are more savory, with grassy green flavors like bell pepper, white pepper, green bean and limes. Wines that have more golden-copper yellow hues tend to have more fruity notes to them such as apricot, peach, orange and pineapple.
White Wine Color Chart
Types of White Wine
The Color of Pinot Grigio / Vinho Verde
White Wine Color Chart, Item 1 This is a little bit of a misnomer because any white wine grape that is harvested at a lower sugar level and made in the freshest possible style could be pale and practically colorless. A few examples that will be pale in color include riesling, pinot grigio, vinho verde and Müller-Thurgau (a wine that reminds me of riesling and pinot blanc). If you are looking for a very light dry refreshing wine like pinot grigio some alternatives include:
- vihno verde (Portugal)
- hondarribi zuri (Spain)
- assyrtiko (Greece)
- ugni blanc (France)
The Color of Sauvignon Blanc
White Wine Color Chart, Item 2 Sauvignon blanc is definitely the most well known wine that has hints of green to the color of it. Wines that have a similar color and “green” taste profile include:
- Grüner Veltliner (Austria)
- verdejo (Spain)
- albariño (Spain)
- Muscadet (France)
- trebbiano (Italy)
- cortese (Italy aka “Gavi”)
The Color of Chenin Blanc / Viognier / Marsanne
White Wine Color Chart, Item 3 I find many medium bodied white wines that have a pale golden hue to have a rich unctuous character. The color of these wines varies based on how ripe the grape was at harvest and can be very pale to much more yellow. If you like medium bodied white wines you should consider:
- unoaked chardonnay
- marsanne and roussanne
- chenin blanc
- pinot blanc
- macabeo (in white Rioja, Spain)
Many sweet wines have a hue similar to Item 3 and those include: sweeter-styled riesling, moscato and Gewurtztraminer.
The Color of Chardonnay
White Wine Color Chart, Item 4 Chardonnay is one of the boldest white wines and is often fermented in oak and aged in oak to add extra richness and subsequent color. Other wines around the world besides chardonnay can be made like chardonnay, but there are very few as well known. The color is typically intense and the refraction of light through the glass tends to be dull. When I see this intense color in a white wine, I psychologically prepare myself for a mouthful of something big… in that white wine kinda way. Here are some examples of alternatives to chardonnay that are oaked:
- oaked semillon & sauvignon blanc blend
- an oak aged white Rioja
- oaked Italian trebbiano
- oaked antao vaz (Portugal)
- oaked verdejo (Spain)
- Soave (swa-VEY) Italy, made with garganega & trebbiano
- malvasia (Italy & Sicily)
The Color of Old White Wine
White Wine Color Chart, Item 5 White wine is very sensitive to light and as it ages the color can change drastically from a pale yellow to brown. The color will be duller if it’s an aged wine, versus a wine made deliberately to have a tawny color (such as Item 6). Most white wines are produced to be consumed within the first few years of bottling and aren’t designed to be aged. What are some good age-worthy white wines?
- German riesling
- white Rioja
- Soave (Italy)
- Tokaji (Toke-KYE), a sweet wine from Hungary
- Soave (Italy)
The Color of Dessert Wines like Sherry
White Wine Color Chart, Item 6 Sweet wines are created by extracting lots of color from the skins of grapes. When there’s less moisture in each grape the resulting wine has intense color. When the wine is then exposed to oxygen it begins to change color to brown. The combination of a richly colored wine and a wine that is oxidized (on purpose!) produces the tawny color. With Sherry (aka Jerez), the wine is aged in oak barrels that are purposefully left not completely full so that the resulting wine becomes a nutty brown color. Wines that have this kind of color include:
- Pedro Ximenez (Spain)