Apart from color, there are many differences between red and white wine. Tannins, fermentation, grape type and filtration are only a few of the variables that make these wines vastly different. The extraordinary selection further complicates matters, however a basic knowledge of wine is necessary to make a decision on which you prefer to sample, purchase and enjoy.
In order to understand the difference between red and white wine, you need knowledge of tannins. Tannins are naturally occurring polyphenols found in plants, seeds, bark, wood, leaves and fruit skins. A polyphenol is a macromolecule of complex bonds of oxygen and hydrogen molecules. In wine, tannins add both bitterness and complexity. They taste dry and can be felt specifically on your tongue and front portion of your mouth.
The level of tannins in red wine is much higher than in white. This is due to the skins and stems of grapes used to make red wine. Grape juice is largely colorless, and it’s the tannins that give wine their distinct color. Fining agents are often added to the wines to remove tannins when making white wine.
An awareness of tannins makes it very easy to understand how red and white are manufactured. Simply, white wines are made from pressing out the juice from light colored grapes, adding yeast and fermenting only the juice. After filtration, the wine is aged by storing it in stainless steel or oak containers for a short period of time. Red wines are made by fermenting grape juice, which also contains the fruit skins and pieces of grapes. The mixture sits in fermentation vats, usually for one or two weeks. The skins rise to the top and the winemaker mixes them back into the fermenting juice. The wine is then filtered and stored in oak containers for several months.
The alcohol content in wine originates from the sugar present in the grapes which turns into alcohol during the fermentation process. Red wine grapes have a higher sugar content because they’re picked when they’re at their height of ripeness. Therefore, red wine usually has a higher alcohol content than white wine made with immature light-colored grapes.
In general, red wines are full bodied, more flavorful and richer than light, floral, crisp white wines. Reds tend to have a spicy, fruity and meaty flavor while whites contain hints of citrus and other fruits. However, there are exceptions to this rule, especially since there are so many types of each wine.
Red wines have more body (or a greater feeling of embodying your entire mouth) than white wines. This is directly related to the tannin level in each wine. Red wines made with grape juice, skins and stems yield a heavier body than white wines made with light grapes and grape juice. Of course, this can be altered by grape type, length of fermentation, alcohol content and the time spent in the winery or cellar.
Although there are distinct differences between red and white wine, the verdict is out on which is healthier for you. A number of factors are considered including quality of grapes, soil, growing locations, wine storage and wine filtration. The number of variables are vast, so it’s difficult to determine which wine to drink for your health. Neither is significantly better for you, so drink in moderation, try many types and always stay true to your preferences and style.