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Aug 3, 2008 05:13 PM

Obscure question re wine-stained tongue

Someone just asked me if there were any kinds of red wines that didn't leave a purple/black stain on your tongue. I don't consider this a particularly deep subject but it is intriguing to ponder exactly what it is in red wines that leaves the stain and whether certain varietals are more likely to leave the stain than others.

I've heard suggestions that it only happens with cheap wine but experience tells me something different. I would think it is related to skin and dark fruit concentration levels but that's only a semi-educated guess. I would think a petit sirah would leave more stain than a merlot but don't feel like performing any experiments.

Anyone have any evidence/ theories???? Jason, Maria Lorraine?????

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  1. Your hunch is correct. It is the skins, they are what impart the color to the wine. I also think that lower acid wines *may* stain more, but I dunno.

    1. The color in red wine comes from the skins, and the amount of pigment in the wine is related to how long the grape juice was in contact with the skins during fermentation. Wines get a lot of flavor from skin contact, so it is rather common these days to let the juice soak with the skins for some time, a process known as extraction.

      Some wines have so much color and pigment that they are opaque. Not only is this wine extracted but most probably it is also not filtered. Filtering has its good and bad aspects -- while it removes a muddy, opaque quality from the wine, it also removes flavor. And there are different kinds and degrees of filtering, of course.

      If it's any comfort, anyone who loves red wine will encounter purple teeth syndrome. It comes with the territory. If you are lucky enought to attend red wine-tastings, it's a
      sure bet your teeth and/or tongue will be temporarily stained.

      The degree of pigment has nothing to do with the price of the wine, though it would be my guess that wines that are made with a lot of skin contact are *more* rather than less expensive (that amount of time in a ferm tank costs money). Also, unfiltered wines are sometimes considered to be a prized reflection of the "true" wine, and filtering removes some of that personality. But it is also true that backyard wine, garage wine and other forms of homemade wine are not filtered. And yes, if you look at the color of the grapes themselves and the wines they produce, Petite Sirah is darker -- almost an black-purple --compared to Pinot Noir or Cabernet.

      Not only does that pigment have flavor, it's healthy. The chemical compound that gives red wine its color is anthocyanin, and it is one of the most powerful antioxidants out there --- it's the same highly colored compound that is in blueberries, which are touted for their antioxidant properties. This compound is also related to the very active anti-aging chemical group called procyanidins, considered by some to be far more active than resveratrol in its anti-aging properties.

      So, if your teeth are getting stained, there is a high likelihood that you are drinking something that tastes good and ingesting some powerful antioxidants at the same time! You can always pack a portable foldup toothbrush and toothpaste and carry it with you to remedy the teeth- and tongue-staining once you've finished drinking. I save the tiny ones from my international flights for just this purpose.