20051222

Skin colour prejudice

This is about as political as this site gets.

I'm uneasy with conceptions of colour within the wine world. There exists too much of divide between red wine and white wine. It's all a bit too visual, I suppose: Some people I know only drink red; some only drink white. What a black-and-white view! What about the shades of grey? What about the in-between wines that some people I know cast off as unworthy? What about the Gamays, the White Zinfandels? And oh that rosé wine, what a bizarre animal it is. The way I see it, a simple precursory aspect of wine -- namely its colour -- is preventing folks from indulging in the full experience that wine has to offer.

Here's what we know. What seems to be universally acknowledged is the fact that red wine is red because of the pigment found in the skins of the grapes that are vinified. Red grapes have a different pigment than white grapes, hence red wine looks red while white is a much lighter, neutral shade. To make a long story short, red wine comes from a group of grapes classified as "red" while white wine comes from a group of grapes classified as "white". Labels. It's not rocket science. Except the grape's skin has a greater role in vinification than just occupying a certain corner on the colourwheel. It's more complex than just colouring. The wine you drink hinges on other things like how much skins are integrated into the winemaking process as well as what flavour components the skin uniquely possesses. So why generalize? What's worse: Why base your drinking decisions on such a vast generalization? I do not understand why the outside surface of a grape has become so influential when the basis of a wine's structure (as well as many other of its individual characteristics) are also derived from its skin. Colour is just the most obvious and easy-to-identify attribute.

I was guilty of skin colour prejudice myself until I understood the full story of what makes a red wine, well, red. At first I found it hard to believe that the flesh of the grape is merely water and sugar. Those things are important since they are the building blocks of fermentation and vinification. But in the end, they are the most generic part of the grape. They are not nearly as dynamic to our tastebuds as the skin is. So don't relegate the role of grape skins to that of hue. For the skin is thing! If there were no skin, there would be no wine. Only sparkling wines minimize the role of skin by separating the grape juice from the skin at the earliest possible moment.

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