White Wine Making

White Wines vs. Red Wines: Do you know All the Differences?

You don’t need me to tell you that the difference between red wines and white wines is the color. But I’m sure that I can mention a few facts about wines that you didn’t know. For example, did you know that many white wines are produced with red grapes?

The Tannic Element

White wines are characterized for having low levels of tannin, while red wines contain it in high quantities. I know what you’re thinking…It is safe to deduct, then, that this tannic element is entirely responsible for a wine’s color, correct? Correct! Tannins place a significant role in wine color, since they carry the pigments that give it a dark, reddish hue. They are extracted from grape stems, seeds and skins where they are found in high concentrations.

Color Hues

When white wines are made, these skins, stems and seeds (lees) are isolated from the must, or pressed grapes. Winemakers do this to prevent the reddish color and qualities that tannins impart in the wine, thus obtaining an amber-colored drink, instead of a ruby-colored one. Tannin concentrations depend not only on how much of the lees are left in the fermentation vessel, but also for how long they remain in contact with the must. Because of this, you will find many different red wines with different hues of red. The darker the red is, the longer it has been in contact with the grape juice and must.

Wine Qualities According to Color

Aside from color, tannins give wines a heavy, round, complex quality. This makes red wines warmer and spicier in nature, full-bodied and with a prevalent sedimentation. On the other hand, white wines tend to be crisp and light, and generally they summon wine enthusiasts that are looking for a fruity, refreshing drink.

Fermentation Practices: Whites vs. Reds

Red wines also differ from whites in terms of their fermentation and ageing. White wines, for one, are generally fermented at cool temperatures and for a long time. Red wines, on the other hand, require warmer temperatures, and a speedier fermentation process. Winemakers use this temperature variation in white wine making in order to stall fermentation – which aids in the development of tannins. To compensate for the slow fermentation progress, vintners extend the process to achieve a ‘tannic complexity, but without high tannin contents.

The Effect of Oak in White Wine Ageing

In addition to fermentation, the use of oak enhances tannin extraction into the wine. With this in mind, you’ll find that darker red wines are most frequently aged in oak – and that white wines are rarely exposed to this wood. One example of a white wine that is aged in oak is the Chardonnay. Proof of higher tannin content, Chardonnays are generally drier, slightly round-bodied and darker than other white wines. In replacement to oak barrel ageing, white wines are most commonly treated in stainless steel vats. The use of metal not only prevents tannin extraction, but it aids in temperature control and is more affordable than conventional oak barrels. Also related to tannin concentrations is the length of ageing. Ageing offers best results in wines that offer high tannic levels, as tannins fully develop and grant the aged wine with a complex quality, full body and robust flavor. Because of this, and since white wines have little tannins, these are recommended to be aged for 12 months or less.

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