Color Clues: The Meaning Behind a Wine’s Color


As novice wine drinkers are quick to discover, there’s more to a wine’s color than making it easy to tell reds from whites, and rosés from port wines. Its varying shades, hues, and rim variations speak eloquently about its flavor, density, age, acidity, and quality. The world’s top connoisseurs can even correctly identify varietals based on a wine’s color and opacity.

To help you transition from neophyte wine appreciator to formidable wine expert, Singapore Wine Vault gives you a crash course on wine’s most helpful color clues. Learn the visual tells of young, mature, and oxidized wines through this definitive wine color guide.

What’s in a color? The practical advantages offered by a wine’s hue

Before we get started on the different colors of wine, let’s take the moment to pinpoint the reasons picking up on color cues is a must for wine lovers.

Color Clues Body 1When buying wine. Have you ever noticed how naked Chardonnays tend to be lighter in color than their buttery counterparts? The difference in the wine’s color has to do with how extracted its flavors are. The more extracted the wine, the deeper its shade. The same can be said about the wine’s maturity. So when buying wine during a tasting session, use this color prompt to determine which wines you’d want to bring home to your wine cellar.

When collecting wines. Wine collectors and investors are always on the lookout for wines with extraordinary cellaring potential. For investment vinos to increase in value, they’ll need to age well. So you’ll want to go for a wine that’s high in acidity. Now, generally speaking, Syrah or Shiraz is known for having fantastic bottle aging potential. However, some vintages of this varietal will age better than others. By looking at the wine’s rim variations, you can gauge whether or not the wine is built for long-term wine storage. A Syrah with a blue tinge on its outer rim usually indicates low acidity levels, which means you’re looking at a drink that’s best consumed within a few years post-bottling.

When in a blind-tasting. As we mentioned earlier, sommeliers and wine experts rely on the color of the wine to help them identify the type of varietal they’re about to partake in. But beyond telling a Zinfandel from a Cabernet Sauvignon, the wine’s color will also hint at the wine’s body. Here’s a basic rule of thumb—the deeper the wine’s color, the richer its body.

Now that you know the fundamental benefits that come with studying a wine’s hue, let’s talk specific wine categories.

White Wine

First up, we have white wine. Notice how some white wines appear darker than others? Some may even exhibit an almost tawny or ocher appearance. The following is a short list of white wine color variations and what they actually mean.

Pale Green and Light Yellow Wines. These wines are usually quite pallid in color and exhibit an impressive clarity. These characteristics indicate youth, freshness, and a light body. Enjoy these varietals ice-cold within the first two years of purchase. Common wines that have this particular coloring include Muscadets, Pinot Grigios, and Albarinos.

Light Golden, Straw-like, and Lemon Yellow wines. A large number of white wines fall under this color category. We’re talking unoaked Chardonnays, Sauvignon Blancs, and Chenin Blancs. Now, as far as color cues go, this brand of yellow indicates moderate maturity and body.

Deep Golden Vinos. The keywords for these white wines are oaked, mature, and highly extracted. Think of the vivid and bolder flavors of buttery Chardonnays, creamy Marsannes, and vanilla-tinged Viogniers. Because most of these golden wines have gone through some form of oak aging, you can expect them to be ripe for consumption with lower acidity levels.

Dull Deep Gold, Brown, Amber Green, and Faded Orange Wines. Now, this part is a bit tricky. On the one hand, these wines can be duller and darker simply because they were made using partially dried fruit. Some dessert wines can also be deeper golden in hue. On the other hand, it could also mean that these wines have simply gone past their prime. Remember, most white wines aren’t built for prolonged aging. As these varietals age, they start to lose their luster. At worst, these colors can be indicative of oxidation.

Rosés and Blush Wines

Contrary to popular belief, a rosé or blush wine’s color has little to do with the specific hue of the grape’s juices. The wine’s pink tint is actually dependent on the amount of time the juice stays in contact with the fruit’s skin during the fermentation process. Prolong the wine’s contact with the skin, and you’ll have a darker, purplish or magenta wine. Keep the contact as short as possible and you’ll get vino that’s pale pink, coral, light salmon, or light orange in color. If the rosé has a pale lavender shade, then it usually just means that the wine is still in its young state.

However, as is the case with white wines, if the rosé has turned brown or is showing dark tawny tones, think twice before drinking this wine. There’s a possibility that the wine has gone past ripe and is now in its oxidized form.

Red Wines

Last on our list, we have red wines. See the list below to discover the meaning behind the different shades of your favorite red vinos.

Color Cues Body 2Light Garnet, Cherry, and Magenta Wines. Think of the brilliant hues of a good Gamay, Zweigelt, or Pinot Noir. These wines are typically light-bodied with low-to-medium tannin content, and an abundance of acidity.

Pale Ruby and Bright Purple Vinos. Expect these wines to be at the early stages of their maturity.

Crimson, Ruby, and Deep Cherry Wines. Picture the shade of a lovely Merlot, Zinfandel, or Sangiovese wine. These differing hues all indicate medium-bodied, moderately tannic, and adequately acidic wines.

Deep Garnet, Mulberry, True Wine, Jam-Red, and Currant-Tinted wines. These are the colors you’d expect from full-bodied drinks like Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah. When opaque, these hues hint at highly extracted flavors, healthy tannins, and possibly lower acidity levels.

Mahogany and Brownish Red Wines. These are wines that are a bit older, but still very much drinkable.

Deep Brown Wines. Even the most cellar-worthy reds change color over time. Nebbiolo and Merlot, for example, are notorious for tinting orange faster than other varietals. But investment-worthy wines can go a decade or so before their colors start to fade. So if after just a few years in your wine vault, you find that your wine has gone deep brown, consider yourself warned. There’s a big chance that the vino is past its prime.

Although some tipples stay drinkable for another year or so, there’s a noticeable change in their quality. So, if you’re looking to resell a few years down the line, opt for bright-colored vinos with the capacity to age or ‘mature’ for another decade or so.