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The colour of wine: what it means and how to tell them apart

Did you know that there are different tonalities in wines? Each of them can tell you secrets about your favourite drink. Would you like to know what lies behind the colour of wine? Keep on reading! 

Here at El Coto de Rioja, we want to teach you about all the ins-and-outs and fun facts about the world of wine in a simple, fun and complete way. That’s why we’ve created WineClass, a series of quick mini-classes full of useful tips and tricks that can help you experience wine in ways that you'd never have imagined 

In our first ever WineClass, we’ll tell you all about what the different wine colours are, what each tone means and how to tell them apart. Hit play! 

What gives wine its colour?

El color de un vino está determinado por muchos factores, pero los responsables principales tienen un nombre, polifenoles. Estos se dividen, a su vez, en taninos y antocianos. ¿Te suena alguno? 

There are many factors that determine the colour of a wine, but the main ones go by a particular name: polyphenols. In turn, these can be spilt into tannins and anthocyanins. Sound familiar? 

In one of our previous Wine Dictionary posts, we saw that tannins are a naturally occurring substance in wine, which are found in the grape skin, the pomace and the seeds. They are also what cause the astringency or the dryness of a wine.  

Anthocyanins, in turn, can be found in the skin and flesh or red grapes. These natural compounds are what gives a wine its red or bluish tone, depending on the concentration. And not just in wine! Anthocyanins work in leaves, flowers and other fruit.  

Wine tonalities

As we mentioned, the colour of a wine can tell us a lot about the drink before we even taste it. The visual stage is one of the key steps in a wine tasting. But why? Simply because the appearance of the wine gives us an idea of its age, how it has developed and whether it is in a good state for drinking. 

Depending on the type of wine, the range of colours will tend towards different tonalities. Let’s take a look at how many wine colours there are. 

Envejecimiento color del vino
Cómo catar el vino

Colour variety in red wines

Red wines tonalities run on a scale that goes from more purplish hues up to lighter terracotta tones. In other words, the younger a wine is, the more purple it will look. The older it is, the more it will tend towards a browner or more garnet colour. 

To clear up any doubts, these are the four main colours that we can find in red wine with a wine for reference: 

  1. Purple: young wines  
  2. Red: Crianza wines 
  3. Cherry or garnet: Reserva wines 
  4. Terracotta: Gran Reserva wines 

Colour variety in white wines

Do white wines also have different tones? Of course they do. In this case, they range from greenish yellows for younger wines, to intense gold tones. This change can tell us about the sweetness of the wine, or about its development if it is a dry wine. 

  1. Greenish yellow: young whites  
  2. Straw colour: one of the most common colours for white wine 
  3. Golden yellow: for semi-sweets or well-aged dry whites 
  4. Golden: for sweet wines or dry wines that have been aged in the bottle for a considerable amount of time 
  5. Ochre: wine that has gone through maderisation  
Enjoy our range of wines

Fail-safe trick for telling the colour of the wine

You might not believe it, but telling apart the colours of wines is easier than it seems. This is our favourite tip for recognising the colour of a wine. Take note: 

You just need a white surface, like a blank sheet of paper or a napkin, a torch and, of course, a glass of the wine you want to investigate. To get a better result, try to make sure the space is pretty dark.  

The different tones of each wine can be seen in the bottom, edges and centre of the glass. So as not to swirl the glass around without much success, this is what you need to, so to see the colour straight away. 

In one hand, tilt the glass downwards slightly (towards the white background) and, with the other hand, shine the torch on the wine. What does this do? It shows the colour in a sharp way on the surface so that we can easily see the tone of the wine.  

Focus on the colour in the centre. As you can see in the image, this is a young wine. Easy, right? 

Cómo diferenciar el color en el vino
Color vino Coto de Rioja

Wine colour and quality

As you know, the colour of a wine can also change in the bottle over time, even when you store your wine at home after buying it.  

Remember that each kind of wine has a best-before date, and letting that date pass could have a negative effect on the wine, and it could spoil. This is why, for example, if you have a young wine that doesn’t have the right tones as we mentioned (purple or fuchsia) it’s likely that it is pricked or oxidised, and you shouldn’t drink it. This is also the case for a young white that has turned ochre. So, pay attention! 

Do you want to learn more? Don't forget to watch all of the WineClass episodes on the official El Coto de Rioja YouTube channel. Hit the bell icon to never miss another video.  

If you want more fun and useful articles about the world of wine, take a look at the range of content on our blog. Here’s a special selection:  

Tips for ordering wine at a restaurant How to spot an oxidised wine