Sure, anyone can look at a glass of wine and identify whether it’s white or red. But have you ever asked yourself the deeper question, “what is the difference between red wine and white wine?” The reality is, there are some not-so-obvious variations that are important for every wine drinker to understand.
Here’s the fundamental difference between red and white wine and how to serve, enjoy, and appreciate both types of wine.
What’s the difference between red and white wine?
Traditional red wine and white wine are made using different grapes. Red wine is made using black grapes, while white wine is made from white grapes.
Now, you may assume that black grapes produce red juice and white grapes produce white juice, but that would be incorrect. All grapes produce clear juice. Red wine actually gets its hue from the skin of the black grapes during the fermentation process. We’ll explain more, keep reading!
It’s important to note, there are a few instances in which black grapes are used to make white wine. In these situations, the red or black skins are still removed before the grapes are pressed into juice. They are then fermented without the skins, leaving no hue or red color.
The Winemaking Process
When it comes to the winemaking process, the biggest difference is that red wine is fermented with the skins and seeds of the grapes, while white wines are not. This exposure to the skins is what gives red wine its beautiful hue and color.
If you really want to get into the nitty gritty science, the hue comes from anthocyanins which are a type of polyphenol found in the skins of grapes. In comparison to white wines, red wines often contain higher levels of polyphenols such as resveratrol and anthocyanins due to this increased skin exposure. Red wines also contain tannins, another naturally occurring polyphenol found in fruit skins.
Red Wine vs. White Wine Serving Recommendations
Now that you know the fundamentals differences between the production of red wine vs. white wine, here are a few tips and tricks to get the most out of your glass - no matter what you’re sipping.
Serving temperature is a crucial element of proper tasting and may be the difference between a balanced or off-balance wine. We’d love to say all reds should be served at a certain temperature, and all whites should be served chilled, but, like most things in wine, it’s a bit more complicated than that. Serving temperature also takes the wine's body into consideration. For example, even though they're both red wines, you’d serve a full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon at a different temperature than a light-bodied Grenache.
As a rule of thumb, sparkling wines, rosés, and light-bodied white wines are best served at 40-50°F.
Full-bodied whites and light-bodied reds should be served at 50-60°F. What’s the deal with chilling red wine, you ask? Light-bodied, fruit-forward red wines with high acid and low tannins benefit the most from chilling. Pinot Noir is a great example of a red wine best served chilled. Chilling these lighter red wines helps highlight the more fruity or floral notes.
Finally, full-bodied red wines are best enjoyed around 60-65°F.
When it comes to the difference between red and white wine glasses, you may think any old wine glass will do. We always encourage you to imbibe however you like - if you’re drinking Chardonnay out of a coffee mug, we’re not judging. But there’s definitely something to be said for drinking wine the way the winemaker intended. Proper glassware can actually enhance your wine experience and make the wine itself taste better.
In general, red wine glasses have a larger bowl than white wine glasses - and there’s a reason for that. Red wines generally require more aeration, so the wider opening facilitates more interaction with the surrounding air. This “opens up” the wine’s aromas and smooths out the tannins, much like a decanter would.
To make things even more complicated, there are many types of red wine glasses. Use a standard red wine glass for medium-to-full-bodied reds like Malbec, Syrah, or Zinfandel. For more bold, full-bodied reds like Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, or a Bordeaux blend, use a Bordeaux glass. Use a Bourgogne glass when enjoying light-bodied reds like Pinot Noir, Gamay, or Zweigelt.
On the contrary, white wines tend to have more floral aromas. A smaller white wine glass allows you to get nice and close with your nose. Plus, the smaller bowl helps keep the wine chilled and maintain its acidity.
A white wine glass with a smaller bowl is ideal for light-bodied whites like Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc, while a wider bowl might come in handy for more full-bodied whites like Chardonnay.
If your cabinet or bar cart space is limited and you’d rather invest in one quality set of wine glasses, we recommend universal wine glasses.
Should you drink red wine or white wine?
At Bright Cellars, if it flows, it goes. We'll never tell you what to drink, but we'll always help you better understand your palate and learn what you like.
Whether you enjoy red or white wine is up to preference, but the best way to find out is to join the Bright Cellars Wine Club.
If you enjoy tannins, chances are you’ll be more satiated by a glass of red wine. If you’re more intrigued by floral or pure fruit notes, perhaps give white wine a try.
In Vino Finito
Now you know the difference between red and white wine (plus, the difference between red wine and white wine glasses), which wine varieties are you eager to try? Are you a red drinker or white drinker? Let us know in the comments!