Wine Color Classifications

Wine colours and types

Wine grapes are essentially divided into 2 basic types white and black. This does not indicate either the actual color of the grapes or the wine produced by the grapes. It is simply 1 method of classification of grapes. In turn, the wine is divided into what are termed “styles”. These are white red and Rosé.

White wine

White Wine is not white. If you look closely at the wine, you will see it is yellow, golden or very pale in color. White wine is simply a term used to designate wine that is lacking red or pink coloring. In other words, white wine is wine that is not red, pink, rosé or related colors.

White wine can be made from white grapes. White grapes are not white. They are green, greenish-yellow, golden yellow or sometimes a pinkish-yellowish. Like the white wine they produce, a white grape is a grape that is not something else. A white grape is one that is not dark red, bluish or bluish-blackish.

A vintner can also make white wine from the juice of red (black) grapes. This is possible because the juice of the red or black grapes lacks pigmentation. This process, however, is rare. An exception is in the making of Champagne.

White wines are frequently used as aperitifs. They arrive at the table before dinner. They may replace a cocktail. White wine is also common at parties and in bars. Some people enjoy the taste of white wine on a hot day. Serve white wine cool but not cold.

Try: Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Muscadet, Pinot Blanc, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon

Red wine

Red Wine is red in color. It may also be purplish-red, pale red, ruby red or a variety of red and pink colors. The source is the red or bluish grape. Perversely, the grapes are called “black.” All red wines come from black grapes.

Red wines tend to be more complex in taste. They also provide a greater variety in the style they afford. Red wines may be full-bodied. They can also be medium or light-bodied.

Red wines are not usually a self-standing drink. They regularly comprise part of a meal. Do not confuse them with Rosé or “blush” wines.

Try: Beaujolais, Cabernet, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel.

Rosé wine

Rosé or Blush Wines are made with black grapes. They are not, however, Red Wines. Blush wines are actually white wines. They are noted for their sweet and sometime even cloying taste.

Rosés are right for drinking alone, as an aperitif and with meals. In some ways, this type of wine is a general-purpose drink. You need to chill all Rosés before drinking. Do not expect them to last or age.

Try: Pink Merlot, White Zin

Dry, Semi-Sweet (Off –Dry) or Sweet

There are other ways to look at or classify wine. Wine style encompasses the level of sweetness. The acidity level of the grapes results in different textures. Wine is described as dry, semi-sweet or sweet.

Dry wine

Dry Wines are wines that are not sweet. The sugars in dry wine have been fully fermented. The acidity is more prominent. There are levels of dryness indicated by the Sugar Code. The scale ranges from 0 to 10. The lowest levels represent the driest wines, the highest levels the sweetest.

The pH level of wine is also a major factor in determining how dry a wine may be. A pH level of between 2.8 to 3.3 indicates a dry wine. Over this level, the taste of the wine will reflect a different taste.

There are not wines that are completely dry. Yeast fermentation of grapes does not reduce the sugar content to zero. Yet, some wines are considered 0 on the sugar code. This includes most Chardonnays, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chianti and Soave wines.

Other dry wines include many White German dry wines e.g. Riesling and Pinot Gris. All red wines are considered dry. Among them are Merlot, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Zinfandel and Chianti Classico Riserva.

Semi-sweet wine

Semi-Sweet Wines fall between the 2 categories of dry and sweet. They are neither white nor red wine. On the sugar index or code, semi-sweet wines range from 3 to 4. Only white wines fall into sweet and semi-sweet categories. Blush wines are a perfect example of semi-sweet wines. The Late Harvest Riesling and German Spätlese are perfect examples of semi-sweet wine.

Sweet wine

Sweet Wines are those with the highest content of sugar. They are unmistakably sweet. The process to create sweet wine or even semi-sweet wine is similar and can follow any of the methods listed below.

  • White grapes are allowed to become very ripe.
  • Sugar is added.
  • Grapes are dried in a specific method using boxes or mats.
  • Brandy or other neutral spirits are added to the process.
  • The vintner permits the grapes to freeze on the vine.

There are other means to create sweet and semi-sweet wines. The final product includes dessert wines (Sauterne) and the famous Canadian Ice Wines. Port and Cream Sherry are very sweet wines.

Within these types of classifications, there are multiple variations within the wine. Acidity, contributes to the depth of the sweetness. A wine high in sugar content may be saved from being cloying by a higher level of acidity.

Table, Sparkling, Fortified and Dessert

There is another way to classify wine. Some individuals divide them into types. Under this system, all wines are categorized as Table Wine, Sparkling Wine, Dessert Wine or Fortified Wine. This basic terminology is a simple way of looking at wine. It is based upon its alcoholic content.

  • Table Wine is often called Still Wine. It is 8 to 15% alcohol. Table Wine is the kind of wine most people drink on a regular basis. They are usually dry or off-dry in style. Table wines may be Red, White or even Rosé.
  • Sparkling Wine is 8 to 12% alcohol. It differs from table or still Wine by the addition of CO2. During fermentation this natural product is retained and not allowed to escape. As a result, the wine is bubbly or sparkling. The most common form of sparkling wine is Champagne.
  • Fortified Wine contains from 17 to 22% alcohol. As its name indicates, the alcohol content if increased by its addition before or after the fermentation process. Port and Sherry are fortified wines.
  • Dessert Wines are super sweet. They also contain around 14% alcohol. Dessert wines are usually the result of the fermentation of light-skinned grapes. Freezing the grape on the vine is one way of creating a dessert wine.  Ice Wines are one example of dessert wines.


Before becoming an expert on wine and wine making, you really need to start with a very basic comprehension of the subject. You need to know what wine is as well as what the major varieties of grapes are. This chapter – Wine 101, has provided you with a start. The next chapter focuses on terminology.

For The Wine Enthusiast