How Do Wines Change Colour as They Age?

You’ll have likely noticed that most wine reviews make at least a small mention of the colour of the wine. Those who aren’t experienced with the Italian wine industry may not know why this is. After all, the colouring of the wine shouldn’t have an effect in its quality, right?

While it’s true that the colour doesn’t directly affect quality, it is an indirect indicator that you can use to determine a number of things about a bottle of wine. Chief amongst these is its maturity level. As a wine matures, its colour tends to evolve. For white wines, you’ll note that the wine eventually goes from having a greenish colouring to a more straw yellow colouring. Red wines, by contrast, have usually reached their optimal age when their colour takes on a deep ruby red hue.

That’s a generalisation, of course. There are a lot of subtleties that go into this. But the fact remains that a wine’s colour really does matter.

How Does Red Wine Evolve?

We gave a basic idea of the colours you can expect from different types of wine above. But to become a true Italian wine connoisseur, you need to know how to check for those colours and what you can expect from a wine at different points of its lifecycle.

Let’s look at red wines first. You can just peer at the bottle to determine the colour of a red wine. The colouring of the bottle itself will misled you, plus the wine has little room to move, which means that you can’t swirl it at all.

You can only accurately check the colour of a red wine once you’ve poured it. Unfortunately, that creates a point of no return for the picky drinker. So, we’d recommend testing this technique out on a wine that you don’t mind wasting, rather than cracking open that bottle of red that you’ve been saving for a special occasion.

Now for the technique. Pour a small amount of the wine into a glass and hold it up against a white backdrop. Tilt the glass slightly and you should start to notice some different colours, depending on the age of the wine.

  • Immature Wines: An immature red wine is typically one that has aged for less than three years. Look deep into the centre of the wine and you should notice a distinct purple core. This softens as you examine the rims of the wine, which should be redder in appearance.
  • Mature Wines: Most people will tell you that the mature stage is the optimal stage for drinking a bottle of red wine. As the wine matures, you will notice that the purple core gets replaced by a deep ruby red. This typically takes place between five and ten years after the wine was made. As the wine nears the ten-year mark, you may start to notice some browning, particularly around the edges of the liquid.
  • Overaged Wine: It’s at that ten-year mark that the wine starts to run the risk of over-ageing. The centre will take on a deep brown colouring, with the edges turning tawny brown. You may also notice the wine starts to gather sediment at the bottom, which is the result of chemical reactions within the wine.

An overaged wine is not an irredeemable wine. In many cases, you can maintain most, if not all, of the wine’s quality by decanting it before you serve. However, it’s generally recommended that you do not allow a wine to age too far past the ruby red stage if you want to enjoy the best possible experience.

How Does White Wine Evolve?

You will use the same technique to check the maturity of a white wine via its colour as you would a red wine. The obvious difference comes in the colours that you can expect to see from the wine.

As mentioned, a very young white wine may take on a green colouring at first. However, this will soon evolve into a straw yellow colouring. The key thing to remember is that white wine takes nowhere near as long to age as red wine. The wines tend not to have the same level of complexity, which is why they’re typically ready to drink as soon as you buy them.

Over time, that straw yellow colouring may eventually evolve into a more golden colouring. You could make an equal case for this being the optimal time to drink the wine as you could for the straw yellow colouring.

What Affects This Colour Evolution?

So, that explains how a wine may evolve in colour over time. But why does it happen?

That’s a slightly more complex question. On the basic level, the constant chemical reactions that take place within the wine itself have an effect on the colour pigments. Over time, these reactions will lead to the changes that we’ve described above.

But each wine has its own specific colourations and rate of colour changing. The above just offers some general guidelines. The factors that may affect the rate at which a wine changes colour include the following:

  • The varieties of grapes used to make the wine.
  • The volume of each grape variety used, coupled with the specific combination of varieties.
  • How long the grape’s skins remains in contact with the grape juice during the production period.
  • How much time the wine spends in the barrel before being bottled. Moreover, an oak barrel will have a different effect on the colour than a metal barrel.

There are other factors that play a role too. The amount of tannins in the wine will generally affect the colouring. The longer colour evolution seen with red wines comes down to the fact that they’re more tannic than their white compatriots.

Finally, external factors can also play a role. The moment you open a bottle of wine, you expose it to oxygen. This instantly creates chemical reactions that change the complexion and colour of the wine.

So, a wine’s colour plays a much more important role than you may realise. With the help of this article, you may become a better judge of how well aged a wine is upon pouring.


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