When it comes to Italian wine grapes, everything seems to be pretty cut and dry.
You have dark grapes, which are used to create red wine, and you have light grapes, which producers use to make white wines. The two main categories of grapes also have different qualities, which make them better suited to the wines that they create. Red wine grapes tend to be heavier in sugars, allowing for the creation of more complex flavours in the wine. White wine grapes usually have a higher acidity, which leads to more citrus notes in addition to wines that feel more refreshing when you drink them.
It all seems so simple.
And yet, it isn’t.
There is a small subsection of producers that have gotten a little more experimental with their grapes. And they have found that it’s possible to produce wines that don’t match up to the type of grapes they’re using. Specifically, it appears to be possible to produce white wines using red wine grapes.
That’s the question we aim to answer in this article as we explore the production techniques required to make a grape seemingly go against its nature to produce a type of wine that you wouldn’t expect.
Let’s Start With the Obvious
There are some wines made using red wine grapes that we know have as many qualities of white wine as they do red. Of course, rosé is the obvious example. Most of these types of wines are made using red wine grapes. It’s simply the production method that leads to them being lighter and slightly more skin to white wines.
Typically, the producers of rosé don’t use any of the grape skins in the production of their wines. Instead, they only ferment the juice. As the skin is where most of a wine’s colour comes from, this is why rosés are much lighter in tone than regular red wines. However, the production methods still give these wines some of the qualities of a red, which means you’re not getting a true white wine from red grapes.
We also have the interesting case of Champagne to consider.
Now, Champagne is predominantly made using the Chardonnay grape, which definitely makes it a white sparkling wine. However, it also may use two other grapes – Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. These are definitively red wine grapes, which producers may use to give their Champagnes a touch of colour and extra complexity.
However, these grapes are used in very limited quantities when compared to Chardonnay, assuming they’re even used before. In this case, we have a sparkling white wine that happens to have a little something extra added to it, rather than a white wine that is produced solely using red grapes.
Still, in these examples, we can start to see how some factors play into the creation of specific types of wines. The production method is key, as red wines are created differently from white wines. Specifically, the use of the skin in the creation of the wine has a huge impact on its eventual colour, as we see with rosé.
And therein lies our secret…
How is White Wine Produced With Red Grapes?
It all comes down to the skin.
When a producer creates a red wine, they ferment practically every part of the grape together. It’s this process that lends the wine its deep and dark colouring, in addition to creating the more complex array of flavours that you’re likely to experience with a red wine.
When you take the skins out of the equation, a very different wine emerges.
In their column for Wine Spectator, Dr. Vinifera (we’re pretty sure that isn’t a real name) explains this to somebody who asked the very question we’re trying to answer with this article. He cites the example of a vintage of Domaine Serene Coeur Blanc, which is a white wine made using only the Pinot Noir grape. He also points to an Italian wine named Pinner, produced by Cavalotto, which is a white wine made using Pinot Nero grapes.
In both cases, the wines are made by quickly pressing the grapes and then immediately separating the juices from the skins. This is a delicate process, as delaying too long allows some of the colour pigments from the skins to seep into the wine. The result, according to Dr. Vinifera, is wines that are unusually rich for white wines.
And that brings us to our last question.
Are These “White Wines” Truly White Wines?
This really comes down to your personal interpretation.
Do the white wines made using red wine grapes have the exact same qualities as a typical white wine?
It appears they don’t. As Dr. Vinifera points out, these types of white wines tend to be slightly richer in taste than a normal white wine. This, in turn, leads to some loss of the refreshing taste one normally associates with white wines. Whether this is a good or bad thing depends entirely on your personal tastes.
However, we could argue that the production methods bring these types of white wines in line with their more traditional brethren.
Specifically ensuring that the juice does not come into contact with the skin runs contrary to the way that producers make red wines. The result is a white wine made solely from the juices of red grapes, leading to a loss of colour that literally makes the wines “white”.
So, it all comes down to your thoughts on the wines in question.
For our part, we just think it’s fascinating that certain producers have chosen to break from tradition to experiment with their red wine grapes. Clearly, the white wines made using red grapes don’t fit into any clearly defined DOC or similar structure. And yet, there are producers who are still pushing boundaries, still trying to innovate, in an industry that has been established for so many centuries.
We can quibble about whether white wines made using red grapes are truly white wines all day long. However, we can’t argue about the sheer inventiveness required to even discover this was a possibility in the first place!
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