Got a taste for wine? How much do you really know about it? Personally, I find wine culture rather intriguing. For instance, did you know that there are five distinct categories of wine? Have you heard of the chemical compound "tannin?" I hadn't, either, until I researched more about the subject. No matter who you are, here's Wine 101 to help you learn the difference between red and white wine and how to pair them with your meal. 

Categories of Wine

wine, alcohol, liquor, grape, champagne, beer, red wine
Mary Mattingly

A bottle of wine can be classified into one of five main categories, including red wine and white wine. In addition, there's rosé wine, sparkling wine, and fortified wine. Each type of wine is distinct in taste, usage, and creation.

From Vine to Wine

berry, pasture, wine, grape
Alexandra R

Everyone knows that wine is made from grapes, but how exactly? Just like beer, wine is made by natural fermentation. After grapes are crushed, naturally existing yeasts interact with the sugar in the grape juice and produce alcohol. Depending on the style of wine, the fermentation process can last from three days to three years.

Even though red wines are red and white wines are typically "white" (or a transparent muted yellow), the latter are not necessarily made from white grapes. The term "blanc de noir" refers specifically to white wine made from red grapes. Actually, virtually all grapes make clear juice, so the type of grapes is not the separating factor here.

What Gives Red Wine Its Color?

cocktail, juice, red wine, ice, liquor, alcohol, wine
Alex Frank

Red wine really gets its dark color from grape skins. While grape juice is usually colorless, grape skins contain nearly all of the pigmentation. Therefore, to make white wine winemakers must remove the grape skins before fermentation. For red wine, the skins need to ferment with the juice, a process known as "maceration."


grape, pasture, berry, wine
Lila Seeley

In addition, the grape skins removed before fermentation contain a chemical compound called "tannin," which leads to more differences between red and white wine. Tannins give red wine its characteristic dryness or astringency, which makes it distinct from white wine. Tannins are also a natural antioxidant, allowing red wines to age longer than white. In fact, when making white wine, winemakers may add fining agents to the juice to further remove tannins. 

Profiles and Pairings

red wine, Barcelona, Spain, Sangria, liquor, cocktail, sweet, juice, alcohol, tea, wine
Amelia Hitchens

The differences here are more subtle. Though difficult to generalize, red wine is typically associated with fruits in the berry family, sometimes exhibiting secondary flavors like those of herbs and tobacco leaves. On the other hand, whites invoke flavors like citrus, orchard, or tropical fruits.

White wines are also more recognizable in terms of acidity. The three main acids found in wine are malic, tartaric, and citric–all of which are more pronounced in white wine. The acidity helps bring out the flavors of the wine, and strongly affects food pairings.

What foods can be paired with red and white wines? In general, white wine is a better match for lighter foods, and red wine for heavier dishes. This allows wines to complement the courses, but neither take away from the foods nor overwhelm the person tasting them. There are, however, more nuanced reasons, and you can find a more detailed wine pairing chart here. No wonder wine tasting can be made into an entire college course!

beer, coffee
Sterling Martin

These are the basics to distinguishing the difference between red and white wine. Next time you are at the table, be more confident and take a part in the discussion, or impress your friends or family with your newly acquired wine expertise. Of course, if you're really intrigued, take an actual course and find out more!