The question, "red vs. white wine, which is better?" has been asked for a very long time. Both drinks may identify as the same type in general, but they have many differences that make them unique in specific ways.
This blog post will discuss the differences between these two popular drinks in terms of several factors and see which one has the upper hand.
A Quick Glance
|Red Wine||White Wine|
|Made with dark-skinned grapes||Produced with green and dark-skinned grapes|
|Ferments the whole crushed grape (skins, seeds, stems, juice)||Ferments only the grape juice|
|Color ranges from opaque ruby to deep purple to brown||Color ranges from pale yellow to gold to pale green|
|Offers intense, complex flavors||Offers light, simple flavors|
|Usually aged in oak barrels||Typically aged in steel vats|
|Longer aging time||Shorter aging time|
|Full of antioxidants||Contains fewer antioxidants|
|High tannin content||Low tannin content|
|Less acidic||More acidic|
|Less sugar content||More sugar content
What is Red Wine?
Red wine is a robust and usually full-bodied wine with a characteristic red color from dark-colored or red grapes. The grape skin gives the distilled liquid its signature hue, as well as flavors and other elements.
Young wines are intense violet, while more mature ones tend to be brick-red in color. Red wines vary greatly depending on age because there's so much variation between young and old varieties alike! Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel, Syrah, Malbec, and Pinot Noir are the most well-known red wines.
What is White Wine?
White wines are crispier than red wines with their fresh fruit notes and acidity. They are made from white wine grapes, but some also use dark or red grape varieties.
The fermentation process strips away the skins and makes them lighter in color than red wines. Without its skin to protect them, these whites can be a little sweeter because they don't get any of that bitter tannin flavor!
The delicate and natural floral and fruit tang of white wine is preserved given that they are aged in stainless steel vats. Refreshingly light with a hint of sweetness, these wines provide an excellent accompaniment to meals. Some famous white wines are Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Moscato, Pinot Grigio, Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer, and Riesling.
Red Wine Vs. White Wine Showdown
Grape Used - Winner: Red Wine
Red wine is a rich and aromatic drink that has been used in many cultures for centuries. Red wine is made by crushing red or black grapes with its skin, stems, and seeds to allow natural yeast to start the fermentation process. Some winemakers also accelerate by adding their brand of yeast into the mixture.
On the other hand, white wine is made from white wine grapes and sometimes dark or red grapes. The latter is called "Blanc de Noir." The grapes are also pressed to extract the juice to make this variety into a delicious alcoholic drink. But the skin, seeds, and stems need to be taken out before starting fermentation with yeast.
Red wines utilize the entire grape, leaving no waste, making it the winner for this round.
Fermentation Process - It's a Tie!
In winemaking, grapes are crushed into a must and begin a maceration process before or after fermentation. Maceration is when the skins color a wine's hue and provide a tannic structure or flavor profile for red wines.
The longer the grape remains in contact with its skins during fermentation, the deeper it will be colored by phenolic compounds that contribute both sharpness of taste as well as astringency. The fermentation process for red wines usually takes place between 68°F and 80°F.
Meanwhile, white wines run through the crushing machine and are pressed to extract only their opaque-colored juice. When white wine is made with black grapes, vintners usually get rid of skin and seeds to have a lighter color on the result. White wines are often fermented in cooler temperatures - around 57-65º Fahrenheit which slows down the aging of these delicate grapes but produces less tannin content in the finished product.
The fermentation process for both red and white wines is the same, except for the order of some steps. They just reversed the process of separating the solids from the liquid and the fermentation itself. For red wine, fermentation comes first; then, the must gets filtered, so only the liquid remains to age. And it's the opposite for white wine, wherein filtering comes first, then fermentation.
Aging Containers - It's a Tie!
Oak barrels have been the backbone of winemaking since its inception. They are used to create reds and other wines like rosés and whites, which is not uncommon for new wine enthusiasts to be confused about.
An oak barrel imparts flavor and contributes to mouthfeel and aromas into a bottle of wine because there is a slow exchange with oxygen and water that mingle in the wood’s lignin, an organic substance binding cells, fibers, and vessels together.
They also tend to be more expensive, like in the case of most French wines. Depending on what type of barrel it was made from (American oak or French oak), each can affect wine differently depending on whether you want your drink drier or sweeter.
Stainless steel vessels also make great containers, usually for white wines, because they are neutral. They keep out all light and are airtight, perfect for keeping the true essence of a pure varietal.
With stainless steel tanks, winemakers can capture more than just what's inside as their aromas will not be altered by other factors such as oxygen or chemicals from oak. This creates more refreshing wines that let you taste the fruitiness without being masked with any residual flavors.
The terroir of white wine is more clearly expressed in steel aging, leading to not overly complicated wines. The process of steel aging is popular among winemakers who enjoy its durability over wood, which needs to be replaced every two to three years. The metal can last up to 10 times the lifespan of wooden barrels and provides a more accessible storage option that does not require constant rotation or maintenance.
Each type of aging container plays different roles for different types of wine, which are beneficial to the wine for the most part. Each one has a specific intention for each wine type, regarding them both as the winner.
Cellaring / Shelf Life - It's a Tie!
White wines typically have a shorter cellaring process than red wine; however, this is not always true nor bad. For example, Pinot Grigio lasts better when drunk in its youth. In contrast, Chardonnay can be cellared for up to five years because their higher acidity preserves them, and oak aging does not adversely affect these types of grape varieties like others may think.
Some of the best white wines, such as Chardonnay, will sometimes mature for 10 -20 years or beyond this period and still taste great due to their higher residual sugar content.
Red wines can age longer than whites because of their tannins. However, certain exceptions exist, such as Beaujolais nouveau that is meant to be drunk in its youth. Red wine can improve with bottle aging because time softens the tannins and allows flavors behind powerful tannins an opportunity for emergence from obscurity.
In terms of shelf life, the general rule of thumb is that when the wine has stopped aging in barrels earlier, it should be consumed earlier or young. Since most white wines are bottled earlier than red wines, they must be finished sooner.
Unopened bottles of white wines can last for 1 - 2 years after the expiration date, whereas unopened red wines have 2 - 3 years. But if the bottle is opened, both can stay good for 3-5 days if stored correctly with a wine stopper and stored in either a cellar or wine fridge.
There's great variability in the cellaring duration for both wines, serving different purposes for each wine type, as the aging barrel factor. For this, both wines are considered to be at the same level for this round.
Looks / Appearance - Winner: Red Wine
Red wine typically takes on a purplish hue as it ages. A younger red wine may appear more opaque and have an unusual purple tinge around the edge, whereas older wines will be clearer in color with less of a deep purple tinge at the lip. The overall color can range from vibrant grape to brick/tawny shades depending upon the type of grapes used for its production.
White wine has a fruity and straightforward taste, complemented with its straw-yellow, yellow-green, or yellowish gold color, depending on the grapes and how long they are fermented. White wine tends to lack body because of its quick contact with grape pulp during the fermentation process.
When you hear the word "wine,” you will probably picture a red wine in a glass. Although both are pieces of art and both went through an intricate process, there is something more that red wine offers in terms of appearance. It varies more in color, and it generally looks more appealing.
Wine Styles - It's a Tie!
Full-bodied red wines result from thicker-skinned grapes and a more extended maceration period that leads to higher tannin content. The end product is a wine with more alcohol, giving it an extra punch. Medium-bodied reds are a good option for those who don't like the tannins in full wines or want something with moderate acidity.
These medium-body beauties have fruity aromas and flavors that will please all of your senses. Light-bodied reds are made from fruit with a thin skin texture and less tannic than their counterparts.
White wine can be light-bodied, full-bodied, or aromatic. Light-bodied white wines are crisp and dry with a high drinkability factor at an early age, while fuller whites have more flavor due to their malolactic fermentation process. Aromatic white wines offer fruity flavors from grapes which often show up in dessert wine along with its sweetness on your tongue.
Both have a handful of varieties that reflect the type of wine, resulting in a tie.
Taste / Flavor Profile - It's a Tie!
Red wines are a more robust and intense style of wine - full-bodied, rich with flavor from fruit, meat, and spice. They can be aged for long periods as the tannins gradually accumulate over time.
The result is an incredibly complex drink that becomes smoother in taste every year it's stored away! Red wines also have a high tannin content, making them dry and packed with rich flavors and more body.
With white wine, you can expect a crisp and refreshing taste with floral and citrus aromas. The richer whites will be nutty or buttery but not as tannic as red wine is known for. Instead, it will be full of acidity that yields an exciting tart flavor that makes this drink so fresh tasting!
Red and white wines have different flavor profiles that make them unique. Whether red tastes better than white and vice versa is purely subjective and would depend on every person's preference.
Health Benefits - Winner: Red Wine
Red wine may have higher health benefits than you know. Besides its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and lipid regulating effects that can reduce oxidative stress in the body, red wine is also a source of resveratrol, an antioxidant found naturally on grape skins that have links with many diseases like cancers and heart disease.
Many studies throughout the years show that drinking red wine can help with cardiovascular health, gut health, Type 2 diabetes, blood pressure, vision loss, liver health, and lowers cholesterol levels.
White wine also provides many beauty and health benefits, especially useful for improving their skin condition. White wine has antioxidant-rich properties that help your face stay healthy and even reduce acne at its root cause.
You'll also get new cells produced by drinking some each day - meaning you won't be dry and flaky from the lack of nutrients contained inside this tasty beverage. White wine is said to also help with weight loss, prevention of diseases, and reduces hangovers.
Red wine is often viewed as the healthier option among many when drinking alcohol, thanks mainly to its polyphenolic content. Since it is found in grape skins, it is more abundant in red wines. Furthermore, this contributes to the many benefits mentioned above.
Calories / Nutritional Value - Winner: White Wine
Red wine is a rich, decadent drink with an average of 25 calories per ounce. They can have as little as 23 or up to 26 calories due to the type and age of red wine that you choose. This higher calorie count could be because it's fermented chiefly from grapes left on their skin for days after being picked, which leads to more tannins in your glass, giving you a high ABV (alcohol by volume).
The white wine spectrum is a vast and varied one. Some lighter wines, such as Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc, have fewer calories than the average, around 24 calories per ounce. But on the other end of that scale, dessert wine can be up to four times more!
It's crucial when choosing your glass of wine at dinner or social gathering that you're aware of how much alcohol it contains but also just how many hidden sugars are in each bottle. If you're watching your weight, white wines are a much better choice than reds.
Alcohol Level - Winner: White Wine
Red wine is often stronger than white wines, with an average of 13.5% ABV content, but it can range between 12% to 15%. The higher alcohol level in reds comes from the grapes harvested later in the season when they are riper and have a higher sugar concentration that can ferment into ethanol during the fermentation process.
White wine is most popularly consumed for its crisp, sweet taste. White grapes are generally harvested while still unripe and less ripe than their dark counterparts, so the alcohol content in white wines ranges from 5% to 14%. The 10% average ABV makes it lighter on your palette but just as refreshing!
As delicious as wine may be, alcohol is still harmful to your health. Thus, this round goes to white wine, which has a lower alcohol percentage than red wine.
Less Likely to Give Headaches - Winner: White Wine
When you get a headache after drinking wine, the culprit is likely histamines rather than sulfites. The grape skins contain this compound, and white wines have lower histamine levels than reds because they're made without the skins.
Wine is known to cause allergic reactions in some people because it contains histamines. Histamines are naturally produced by fermentation, so if you’re not able to metabolize them, there will be an immediate reaction like a headache or facial flushing. But if you still prefer to drink reds, you can consider taking antihistamine beforehand.
Use in Cooking - It's a Tie!
The acidity of a dry red wine will help bring out the flavors in your dish. Young, berry-like wines with moderate tannins are ideal for foods that need more zing than richness. Avoid using wines with too much oak or tannin present to overshadow the flavor profile. Red wine is also one of the best white wine substitutes you can use but with restrictions.
Dry white wines with higher acidity work wonderfully for cooking too. Sauvignon Blancs, Pinot Grigios, Pinot Gris, etc., tend to offer the best flavors in an acidic environment! These types also happen to be very refreshing, making them perfect for light dishes. Fuller whites with strong oaky tastes don't do so great here as these often have lower acidity levels than crisper wine counterparts.
Red and white wines play an individual role in cooking, and they both have their purposes in different dishes; thus, this round is a tie.
Food Pairing Ability - It's a Tie!
One way to make your red wine more enjoyable is by pairing it with food that will contrast in taste and texture. For example, rich meat pairs well with bold-flavored red wine because the two have similar textures. Consider other pairings like wine and cheese or chocolate, which would be lighter on flavor.
Dry white wines are perfect for any seafood dish. They also go great with sweet foods and anything citrusy, so if you're planning a brunch menu, make sure to grab some! These whites have the right acidity that cuts through sweets as well as just enough sweetness themselves that they won't overwhelm your palate.
Just like in cooking, red and white wines have their designated roles in food pairings. There's no point in picking one that outshines the other when they're intended for different things.
Based on the factors above, red wines and white wines are neck and neck. Much like any food and drink, the decision about which one is better lies in the consumer.
Some people just consider the health factor as the upper hand of reds; that’s why they regard it as the better option because it's healthier. However, some may have other criteria that would make them prefer whites over reds.
Choose red wines if:
- You like bold flavors.
- You want more variety.
- You want the health benefits.
Choose white wines if:
- You enjoy simple, tangy flavors.
- You're looking out for your alcohol intake.
- You are sensitive to tannin or histamine.