Why Do Wines Change Color as They Age?
We’ve all heard or used the saying before, that someone or something has “aged like fine wine,” and there is a good reason the phrase exists. As wine ages, various physical changes occur to the taste, smell, and the key change we are going to focus on, color!
Wines ability to change in color is one of the most interesting and sometimes startling changes in an aging wine. Many might think the color change means the wine has gone bad, but we’re here to ease all concerns.
While wine trends toward enriching its character and evolving into something different, the process varies depending on whether it is red or white.
What Causes A Color Change in Wine?
Alright, its time for a little wine science! Much of the color change in wine has to do with the amount of tannins in the wine and the impact of Oxygen.
Now, let’s discuss tannins. Tannins are basically a molecular compound called phenols that can influence how a wine tastes, smells and looks as it ages. Since tannins live in grape skins, and red wines have far more contact with grape skins, the color of red wines are more affected by this factor than white wines. Over time, tannins soften because thy polymerize—from long chains with each other—causing the wine to feel and taste less harsh, as well as change the color.
As for Oxygen, in gradual amounts it can cause a potentially enriching aging reaction between tannins and other compounds. However, too much Oxygen and you will end up with a wine that is undrinkable and declared oxidized. Acids and tannins however, act as preservatives slowing oxidation and decelerating the flavor changing reaction
How Do Red Wines Change as They Age?
Red wines start out as a rich ruby red color, and thin out over time due to the creation of polymeric pigments. Polymeric pigments account for roughly 50% of the color density in young wines, typically around one year old. As red wines mature, the more polymeric pigments form and that’s when the color shift occurs. from the initial ruby red pigment to a brick red hue, and later almost orangey color.
How Do White Wines Change as They Age?
Unlike red wines that lose their color, white wines tend to enrich their color over time, shifting from a light yellow color to a richer golden hue. Fun fact, if given enough time to age, red and white wines will reach the same medium amber color.
Should All Wines Be Aged?
While some wines need aging, others do not, and while some people enjoy aged wines, others prefer younger wines. Not all wines benefit from aging, but rather they lose their fruit character if they are cellared too long. Similarly, a wine that needs to be aged longer will taste unpleasant if drunk too young.
For red wines people that prefer deeply colored, bold flavored wines are more likely to enjoy young wines, since they have not begun to lighten and soften with time. Those that enjoy the soft, light flavored red wines are better off ordering or purchasing a wine with some bottle age.
For white wines, the younger they are the lighter they are and carry more acidity and bright fruity flavors. Aged whites deepen in color and character typically possessing more rich fruit flavors and less of a bite.
How Long Does a Wine Need to Age?
How long a wine needs to age is decided by providence. Winemakers must consider how the previous vintages of that particular grape varietal, style, or region have fared over time. The weather from the vintage in question must also be considered and assessed, on how it may have affected the tannins, acid, and fruit development of the grapes used.
The best way to decide how long the wine should age is by making an educated guess on when it will be at its best based on the factors listed above. It is important to note that wines do NOT get better forever, and can pass its best, so be sure to drink it before that occurs.
We hope this helps you distinguish a well-aged bottle of wine from one gone bad, and look for these color changes in the future wines you enjoy, Cheers!
Enjoy a variety of wines from around the world by joining our monthly wine subscription box!