Comparing Differences in Red and White Wines

There are many types of white wine.
There are many types of white wine.

Learning about wine differences is a great place for many wine beginners to start learning about wine.

So Many Wines, So Many Wine Differences

Not only are wines different based on varietal, they are different based on so many other things such as:

  • Vintner - Every winemaker has a specific recipe which they follow to produce a bottle of wine.
  • Age - The age of a wine makes a big difference on how it tastes. The longer a wine is aged, especially reds, the bigger and bolder the flavor characteristics.
  • Casking - Wine casked in wood, like oak, taste noticeably different than wines which are stored and aged in other materials.
  • Grape blend - The grape blend of a particular wine dramatically affects its flavor and aromatic qualities simply because the grapes themselves have their own flavor characteristics.
  • Growing season - The growing season in one part of the world is often different from the growing season in another part of the world. So, a Cabernet Sauvignon from California's hot dry season will taste different than a Cab grown in France's cool, wet growing season.

Those are just a few short examples of how other factors, besides the varietal itself, affects the flavors and aromas of any particular bottle of wine. Since it would take a book to cover all the minutiae of the possible differences in wine, let's just stick with the basic, major differences here.

The Difference Between Red and White

Though the obvious difference is the color of the wine, some white wines are actually made with black grapes. The difference comes in the fermentation process. Red wines are fermented with skins and seeds intact. When fermenting white wine with black grapes, vintners remove the skins and seed, so the end result is a white wine the color of straw or hay. When fermenting blush wines, vintners leave the skins intact for only a short period of time, giving the wine its light pink or rose color.

The Major Reds

Here is a quick reference to the differences between the most popular red wines:

Red Wine Differences
Varietal Grape Body Flavor Characteristics
Pinot Noir Pinot Noir Light to medium Ripe strawberries and raspberries
Shiraz Syrah Medium Dark cherries, cassis, slightly peppery
Merlot Merlot Medium Plums, currants and blackberries
Cabernet Sauvignon Cabernet Sauvignon Full Leathery, earthy and tannic

If you are new to wine, it is always best to start with lighter bodied wines and then work your way up to full bodied wines. Think of it as a way of "training" your developing wine palate.

The Major Whites

To go along with your quick reference of the major reds, here is the same for a few of the most popular white wines:

White Wine Differences
Varietal Grape Body Flavor Characteristics
Pinot Grigio Pinot Grigo/Gris Light Ripe peach and grapefruit
Riesling Riesling Light Flinty with apples and pears
Sauvignon Blanc Sauvignon Blanc Medium Herbaceous, vegetable and citrus fruit
Chardonnay Chardonnay Full Oaky with tropical fruit flavors

When trying to learn about the various differences in wine, take your time with each varietal of wine and really get to know it. By getting to know each wine well, you will soon be able to tell the difference between a California Cabernet Sauvignon and an Italian Cab. No matter what though, the world of wine is completely subjective (although there are plenty of sub par wines out there) and everybody's palate is different. If you are new to wine, don't be intimidated, remember there are no right or wrong answers when it comes to the wine you like. Knowing the differences between the wines simply helps you to hone in on the exact type of flavor characteristics you prefer in a bottle of wine.

Comparing Differences in Red and White Wines