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Feb 3, 2010 06:16 PM

A question about depth of color?

For the sake of simplicity, I'll keep this inquiry simply to Pinot Noirs, which, I confess, are only an occassional varietal for us, but why is it that the $9 Italian we drank tonight so much deeper in color than the $30 Burgundy we had two nights ago. Moreover, why have I noted such a spectrum of color in wines made with this grape? Even Pinot from the same basic geographic region - let's say Oregon, will be appear to be several shades apart from one another. I assume it is due to production techniques, or is there another explanation?

BTW - For what it's worth, I have recognized this feature in Cotes de Rhone and, to a lesser extent, in pure Shiraz as well. Thus, suggesting to me, it's not simply the fruit.

(I will admit, my wine making experience has been limited to the bottling end of the process.)

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  1. All kinds of factors at play here. Nearly all red wines get their colour from the grape skins, not the flesh (which, with very few exceptions, is white). The longer the grape juice is in contact with the skins, the more pigments are extracted. The temperature of the juice during maceration can also influence colour, as can various techniques like repeatedly punching the cap of skins that forms back down into the juice or pumping the juice over the cap. Filtration can also lighten a wine's colour, and this is especially noticeable in wines like Pinot that are relatively pale to begin with.

    Besides production techniques, factors like the Pinot Noir clone used, the ripeness of the grapes and yield can affect depth of colour.

    4 Replies
    1. re: carswell

      With less expensive mass-produced wines (and possibly some higher end fruit bombs), there's also the use of additives like Mega Purple.

        1. re: oolah

          Yikes! First I've heard of Mega Purple. Thanks for the heads-up, oolah. Yet another reason to seek out wines from non-interventionist producers.

        2. Some times when when is fading it looses flavor. But there's lots of light pinot noirs (Burgundy, the 2005 Varner) that are light but have plenty of flavor.

          1. Generally color comes from extraction from grape skins. Extraction is proportional (roughly) to time of fermentation, temperature of fermentation, and the all important mass of skins to volume of juice ratio. Pinot noirs can be made so there is a lot of color extraction, but wine makers also find that there are unpleasant (to them) other flavors and smells extracted also. Traditionalists and "hands off" type wine makers will use (generally) lower temperatures, no water additions (or subtractions...which increase skin to juice ratio), no enzymes, and native yeasts. All these things will, on average, lead to less inky, purple wines.

            That being said, there are inky, dark, purple pinot noirs which are very satisfying to drink.

            1. Keep in mind that Pinot Noir has approximately 50 percent of the anthocyanin pigments of Cabernet Sauvignon, for example. Pinot Noir is (virtually) NEVER dark when made as a 100% varietal wine. Plus it is not the most genetically stable of cultivars, meaning there are LOTS of clones, each with a varying level of pigmentation.

              General rule of thumb (but it's like swiss cheese, so let's not get too excited): the more aromatic clones are not the darkest clones, and vice versa.