Learning Wines by Color | Wine Enthusiast
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Learning Wines by Color

What does the color of wine tell us about the grape variety and flavor? Can you tell the difference between Gamay and Cabernet Sauvignon just by holding it up to the light? We walk through the various shades of reds, whites and rosés, with recommended bottlings that best represent each style and hue.

So grab a glass and get ready to throw some shade.

Shades of red wine


Gamay | Pale Ruby

The light color of Gamay indicates that it will be bright and refreshing. Look for bursts of bright red fruit. From the French home of Gamay in Beaujolais, try Domaine de la Combe au Loup 2015 for its refreshing acidity and a juicy finish.

Pinot Noir | Ruby

Ruby in color, Pinot Noir is packed with red fruits and gentle tannins. Expect a refreshing red that will hold up to food. Sandler’s 2015 Keefer Ranch Pinot Noir emphasizes the variety’s bright fruit characters and brings out herbaceous notes.

Tempranillo | Garnet

This medium-toned variety pairs well with different foods and skews brick in color. Tart red fruit takes the lead, supported by mild tannins and notes of leather and tobacco. The Bodegas Faustino 2011 Faustino V Reserva showcases red berries and has a long mocha finish.

Touriga Nacional | Deep Purple

Nearly opaque, this inky red from Portugal is famous for its intense tannins. Expect bold, black fruits along with dark cocoa. Global Wines’s 2011 Casa de Santar Vinha dos Amores Touriga Nacional from the Dão is well concentrated with spice and black plum.

Cabernet Sauvignon | Deep Ruby

A darker-hued variety, Cabernet Sauvignon will express darker fruits like blackberry and cassis, and the color hints at its spicy smoky, more tannic notes. Betz Family’s 2014 Père de Famille Cabernet Sauvignon expresses the intensity of this variety.

Different shades of white wines
Illustration by Julia Lea


Pinot Grigio | Pale Lemon

Pale in color, Pinot Grigio is light on the palate as well, as its slight hints of lemon and pear finish with steely character. The refreshing Andriano 2015 Pinot Grigio from Alto Adige has a pleasantly floral nose reminiscent of warm spring days.

Sauvignon Blanc | Lemon

This variety yields a pale lemon-colored wine that’s full of tart citrus and grassy notes, perfect for a hot summer day. Try Loveblock’s 2016 Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough for its ripe and distinct tastes of gooseberry and stone fruits.

Chenin Blanc | Pale Gold

A golden hay-colored wine popular in South Africa, Chenin Blanc offers grassy notes along with peach, tangerine and melon. DeMorgenzon’s 2013 The Divas Chenin Blanc from Stellenbosch bottling is packed with flavors of ripe melon, stone fruit, fresh citrus and fynbos, the sprawling South African shrubland.

Chardonnay | Gold

This grape’s golden color deepens with aging. Oak barrels allow a small amount of oxygen to come into contact with the wine, which enriches its color and produces buttery, toasty flavors. A rich Australian Henschke 2015 Croft Chardonnay is an example full of baking spice and roasted nuts. While there are plenty of oaky flavors, they’re balanced by fruit characters like peach and pineapple.

Sémillon | Deep Gold

This variety is perhaps best known for the dark, honey-colored dessert wines made from it. Noble rot and the drying of the grapes raise the sugar content while deepening color. A great example is Château Rieussec’s 2014 Sauternes, which is dense, but packed with a fair amount of natural acidity, creating a wine that perfectly balances richness with freshness.

Various shades of rosé
Illustration by Julia Lea


Merlot | Pale Blush

Light on color and palate, Croteaux’s 2016 Merlot 181 Sauvage Rosé consists entirely of Merlot and will surprise people who (still) think they don’t like the grape. A flinty nose gives way to tea leaves and minerals on a palate that’s otherwise shy of fruit.

Syrah | Blush

Sourced from a vineyard dedicated to rosé production, Charles & Charles 2016 Rosé is a pale flamingo-hued rosé is driven by Syrah, but incorporates smaller proportions of Mourvèdre, Grenache and Cinsault.

SyrahCinsaultGrenache | Light Salmon

In the Languedoc, a region defined by Mistral winds and a Mediterranean climate, this Syrah-driven (40 percent) Hecht & Bannier 2016 Rosé includes Cinsault and Grenache. It combines freshness, fruit and tones of garrigue, the savory herbal brush that’s a calling card of the region.

Tempranillo | Salmon

Thank the islands’ unique volcanic terroir and bracing winds for Azores Wine Company 2016 Rosé Vulcânico’s slightly saline flavor profile. It’s an equal blend of Saborinho, Agronómica, Aragonês (Tempranillo) and Touriga Nacional.

Petite Verdot | Deep Salmon

The Rustenberg 2016 Petit Verdot Rosé from South Africa is deep hued, concentrated and full flavored. What you get on the nose, you also get on the palate: bright red fruits (strawberry, cranberry and cherry).