Greg Schultz
June 4, 2012 | Greg Schultz

Why is red wine "red"?

Why is red wine red?  Phenolic compounds found mainly in the skins and seeds of red wine grapes are responsible for the red color.  Red wines (unlike their white counterparts) spend most of the early weeks of fermentation in contact with the skins and seeds of the grape.  During that time, alcohol is produced and color is extracted into the juice.  The initially clear juice turns red.

Phenolics are a red wine’s (and red winemaker’s) friend.  In addition to producing the beautiful red hues in wines, they are also responsible for other remarkable characteristics of red wines.  Phenolics contribute to the taste and astringency (that puckering sensation) of red wines.  Resveratrol, purported to have many health benefits, is a phenolic compound found in red wine.  You may have heard of tannins in the context of red wine.  Guess what?  These are part of the phenol family too.  Additionally, phenolics are responsible for a red wine’s ability to age well.

When wine is bottled, exposure to air results in some unwanted flavors—this is sometimes referred to as bottle sickness or bottle shock.  Fortunately, this is just a temporary setback.  After a month or so, all of the oxygen will have been consumed, and the wine will resume the maturing process.  Tannins will polymerize, resulting in a “softer” wine, which is better balanced, with more complex flavors.  Thanks to phenols, a well-crafted red wine will continue to improve for months and years to come.  “Drink now or hold until…”


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