A red wine, like a shade of red paint or lipstick, isn’t just ‘red’. By comparing the different colors of red wines we can learn a lot about a wine just by looking at it.
There is a lot that can be learned about a red wine from its appearance, even beyond its color, and yet most drinkers barely acknowledge this aspect. It’s one of the rare instances where looks don’t seem to count very much.
The most basic fact about red wine is, of course, its color. But here at The Wharf, the finest waterfront restaurant in Grand Cayman, we know that red wine, like a shade of red paint or lipstick, isn’t just ‘red’. In wine, there are literally hundreds of synonyms for the color red, including crimson, blood, ruby, garnet, cherry, damask, beetroot, coral, and a host of other subtle shades.
Colour, even subconsciously, affects the way we think about wine. In a 2001 study, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Bordeaux dyed a white wine red and gave it to 54 wine science students. They were completely fooled and unanimously described the dyed white wine the same way they would a red wine. The research, later published in the journal Brain and Language, demonstrated that visual cues can effectively override our senses of taste and smell (which are essentially the same thing).
Of the countless varieties of red grape, a mere handful make up the majority of the reds we drink most often, with Pinot Noir, Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot leading the pack. At The Wharf, home of the best wines in the Cayman Islands we have an extensive choice of these popular varieties from our stock of nearly 500 wines from all over the world, guaranteeing our sommelier will be able to suggest the perfect accompaniment to any meal.
Pure grape juice is naturally clear, so red wines gain their color from the grape skin. The longer the skins are in contact with the juice while making the wine, the darker and more intense the color. A red wine made from grapes high in tannins, such as cabernet or syrah, will be an opaque, densely hued red, while a red wine made from thin-skinned, less-tannic grapes like pinot noir will be much more transparent.
Colour can also be an indicator of age. A cabernet will lighten with age, going from crimson to brick, to a reddish-orange. As wines age, their color density decreases, and the variation between the center and rim color becomes greater showing more orange, sometimes brown. Fine reds generally take longer (10-12 years) to take on old wine characteristics, with merlot and pinot noir changing fastest. Wines also take longer to age in larger bottles because of the ratio of air to wine in the bottle.
Have we whetted your Cayman Islands wine curiosity? Here is a quick guide to the color characteristics of the four most common varieties:
Cabernet Sauvignon: Cabernet is near opaque. A young one will be dark ruby in the center to a magenta-tinged edge. Cabernet does not stain orange at a young age and takes a long time to develop the look of older wine. Variation in color intensity is affected by climate. In cooler growing areas, cabernet sauvignon is paler and contains less pigment.
Syrah or Shiraz: Syrah or Shiraz is very opaque. These wines have very little rim variation and at a young age have an opaque purple-black center while being magenta on the very edge.
Pinot Noir or Burgundy: Pinot Noir is one of the palest red wines, with good clarity and pale red berry colors. It’s one of the most identifiable wines due to its pale translucent color. As pinot noir ages it becomes more brick-like in color. A very aged pinot will be orange and brown-tinged, tending to be weaker and paler in color.
Merlot: Merlots tend to be lighter in color than cabernet sauvignon but also have slightly orange tones on the rim, a special indicator that you can almost always pick out on a younger wine. In blind tastings of fine merlots, where the density of the wine is almost indistinguishable from a fine cabernet sauvignon, the indicator is in the brick red rim.