How do white wines differ from red ones? We bet that color is the first thing that comes to your mind. However, the difference between red and white wine goes well beyond the color.

Knowing the fundamental difference between these two categories, you will be more confident in choosing the right bottle for this or that occasion. In this article, we will examine the significant distinctions between both types of wine so that you can make the best choice for your taste.

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Red and white wines: the basics 

First, let’s briefly define both types of wine and outline the most popular varieties in each category.

By red wine, we understand the wine is made from red and black grapes. Wines of this type get their color from anthocyanins in the grape skins and seeds.

Red wines come in shades of ruby, purple, garnet, and brown. The key factors influencing these variations are the vineyard’s climate, pH level, maceration period, and wine aging.

The well-known red wine varieties are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Malbec, Syrah, and red Zinfandel.

White wine typically comes from white grapes, although red wine grapes are also an option. Like red wine, white wine has its color palette and includes shades such as yellow-green, straw yellow, yellow gold, and yellow-brown. Most often, white wines are light-bodied and have more floral aromas and notes of citrus and other fruits.

Popular white wine varieties include Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, and Riesling.

Red wine vs. white wine

Grape varieties

First and foremost, white and red wine differ in grape varieties used in their production. Red and black grape varieties produce red wines. To make white wines, it is possible to use yellow, green, and even red grapes since skins and seeds don’t participate in fermentation. The absence of the grape skins during the fermentation process causes a light shade of the wine because the grape pulp juice is almost colorless. 

With white wine grapes, winemakers may use red-skinned varieties like Pinot Noir in white wine production.

grapes on the vine

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Harvest time

The next thing that differs between red and white wine is the harvest time. As a rule, winemakers start harvesting white grapes a few weeks earlier than red wine grapes to maintain the desired acidity level. The same applies to red grapes used to produce white and sparkling wines. 

At the same time, if winemakers want to produce late harvest or dessert wine, then the grapes must be harvested later in the growing season when more sugars have accumulated in the berries.

Winemaking process

What determines the color of the future wine is the applied winemaking technique. Red and white wines differ in their vinification methods or the process of converting grapes into wine.

White wine production assumes pressing the grapes and quickly removing the grape skins before the fermentation begins. However, repeating these steps with black grapes will not produce red wine since most of the coloring pigment is in the grape skin. 

When producing red wines, grape skins remain in contact with the juice during fermentation. As a result, the coloring pigments released from the grape skins give the desired color. Without skins, that wouldn’t be feasible. After fermentation, pressing occurs.

Can white wine making techniques be applied to produce white wine from dark grape varieties? Absolutely! For example, grape varieties like Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier are made into Champagne using the white wine production method. To do this, producers squeeze the purified grape must and ferment it to produce white wine.


Next, red and white wines require different approaches to aging.

White wine is less tannic and has a more delicate bouquet. However, not every type of white wine will benefit from contact with oak barrels because the wood gives white wine too much of its notes. So, winemakers often age white wines in stainless steel vats. Still, whites like Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, and Sauvignon Blanc respond well to oak aging. Oak aging for white wine typically doesn’t exceed one year. Generally, it lasts from 4 weeks to 3 months, after which the bottling of the wine takes place. 

Unlike white wines, red wines are more likely to benefit from oak aging than white wines. Their deep bouquet and tannins create the perfect base for interacting with oak. After such storage, they acquire noticeable floral, caramel, and spicy notes. The minimum aging period in oak barrels starts from one year for red wine, depending on the specific variety. Fortified noble red wines can age in oak for up to 100-150 years, while their bouquet only improves.

Aging techniques, in turn, determine the structure of the resulting wine. For example, as oak barrels allow oxygen into the wine, the wine becomes less acidic.


Tannins are a group of plant compounds found in grape skins and seeds. They tend to have a dense consistency and leave you with a dry mouth, which is very common when drinking red wine. Remember the taste of black tea without sugar? The feeling in the middle of the tongue or its tip results from the action of tannins.

Red wines are more tannic by default than their white counterparts because of the grape skins and seeds involved in the fermentation. The skins and seeds don’t participate in the production of white wines. At the same time, winemakers can add substances that remove tannins.

Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, and Syrah are all incredibly tannic reds. For lighter mouth sensations, consider Pinot Noir or white wines.


In general, white wines are lower in alcohol content than red. Why is that? The reason lies in the winemaking process again. The alcohol content in wine depends on the sugar content in the grapes. During the fermentation process, sugar converts into alcohol. In general, red wines tend to have more alcohol than white wines due to stylistic choices by winemakers.


The structure of a wine is the balance of all the elements that determine the mouthfeel of the wine. To describe the structure, sommeliers and experienced wine lovers often use the following terms: crisp, soft, smooth, sharp, heavy, or light.

In red wines, tannins are the main structural element. Tannins function as the backbone of red wine, providing the fundamental framework around which its complex flavors can be built. They also help preserve red wines, allowing them to age longer than most whites.

With white wines, it’s acidity that determines the wine structure. There are three main acids in wine — malic, tartaric, and citric, and these acids are more intense in white wines than in reds. The acidity explains the tart and fresh profile of the white wine; it also brings out the main flavors of the wine and helps make great pairings with food.

Stylistic profiles

Of course, we cannot generalize all red or white wines since each category has many varieties. Still, we can see that most red wines have a fuller body and more complex flavor profiles than white wines. For example, red wines commonly have berry flavors and aromas ranging from strawberry and cherry in lighter reds to blackcurrant, blackberry, and plum in full-bodied reds. Sometimes, we can notice “secondary” (i.e., non-fruity) aromas, such as herbs, tobacco leaves, or leather, which add complexity and richness to the bouquet. 

White wines tend to be a bit simpler regarding the flavor profile. For whites, the flavors and aromas range from citrus to garden fruits (like apples and pears) and even to exotic tropical fruits like guava, mango, and pineapple. Along with pure fruit notes, white wines have noticeable floral aromas. Some white wines have a brackish or calcareous hue, often described as “mineral.” Richer white wines aged in oak barrels can take on oily or nutty secondary flavors and aromas.

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Food pairings

White wine food pairings are one more difference between red and white wine. White wines pair well with light dishes, while red wines complement heavier foods perfectly. In addition, due to the tannin content, rich reds stimulate digestion and help absorb fatty foods.

A common rule is to pair red wine with red meat and white wine with seafood. So, for example, full-bodied wines like Cabernet Sauvignon pair well with steak dinners, while Chardonnay goes well with salmon. 

But, in reality, great pairings go well beyond these rules. For example, a glass of white wine will complement these dishes perfectly if you have white meat, baked poultry, or a light salad with tomatoes on your dinner table. And vice versa, don’t be afraid to pair spicy, fatty, fried fish or spicy seafood with red wine.

Serving temperature

Another difference between red and white wine is the serving temperature. Your wine tasting experience may greatly depend on this factor. When tasting the exact wine at different temperatures, you may like it when chilled or at room temperature.

The wine body matters when it comes to the optimal temperature for serving wine. Here is what the optimal serving temperature for different types of wine looks like:

  • 40-50°F for light-bodied white, rosé, and sparkling wines
  • 50-60°F light-bodied red and full-bodied white wines
  • 60-65°F for full-bodied red wines


The last (but not the least) difference between red and white wine is the glassware that works best for each. The height of the glass, its shape, the thickness of the walls, and the quality of the glass can help the wine to fully open up and enable you to enjoy all the shades of taste and aroma. Or on the contrary, these variables may prevent you from experiencing even the primary notes of the bouquet.

Why do wines need different glasses? The reason lies in the specifics of their taste and aroma. Red wines are brighter, richer, and deeper, with notes of spices, fruits, and berries of different intensities in their flavor and aroma bouquet. White wines are lighter, more delicate, and more elegant. They display fresh notes, slight acidity, and delicate aroma. All these factors make it a bit more challenging to evaluate all the properties of white wine.

A proper wine glass for each varietal can enhance your wine tasting experience. White and red glasses differ in bowl size. As red wines need more aeration before sipping, red wine glasses typically have a larger bowl. Their stems are a little shorter, and a slight narrowing at the top perfectly demonstrates the strength of the aroma and its richness. Despite the large volume, it’s better to fill the glass only by a third to increase the area of wine that will be in contact with oxygen.

Smaller-bowl white wine glasses, in turn, allow you to enjoy the drink’s aroma to the fullest while keeping the wine chilled and maintaining its acidity level. The long stem of the glass doesn’t allow the heat of your hand to warm the drink, while the narrow top concentrates the delicate aroma and prevents the wine from exposure to oxygen.

White wine vs red wine

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Wrapping it up

As you can see, comparing red wine vs. white wine is not just about the color. The properties of wine depend on many factors, including the natural properties of a particular grape variety and the specifics of the production process.

Now that you know the key differences between white and red wine navigating through the rich assortment on the wine store shelf will be easier. In addition, knowing what to look for in red or white wine will help you find the best varieties for your taste.