White Wine vs. Red-dyed White Wine

Wine experts can’t seem to tell the difference:

In 2001, Frederic Brochet, of the University of Bordeaux, conducted two separate and very mischievous experiments. In the first test, Brochet invited 57 wine experts and asked them to give their impressions of what looked like two glasses of red and white wine. The wines were actually the same white wine, one of which had been tinted red with food coloring. But that didn’t stop the experts from describing the “red” wine in language typically used to describe red wines. One expert praised its “jamminess,” while another enjoyed its “crushed red fruit.” Not a single one noticed it was actually a white wine.


  1. An acquaintance who runs a wine shop in my neighborhood told me once that most wine experts essentially BS their way through wine assessments. Not that they know nothing about it, but that they know enough buzzwords to make themselves sound more credible (she’s admitted to doing this herself).

    Even taking this into account, this experiment does illustrate just how much faith we put in our eyesight compared to our other senses (the one that comes immediately to mind from my undergrad days had to do with how people reacted to babies depending on what they were wearing – put a baby in pink and “she’s” the sweetest little debutante; in blue and “he’s” a rough-and-tumble little scrapper, even if this was the same baby).

  2. The bottle one is more damning in my eyes than the food color one. Chances are, the “red” wine was also served at room temperature like many reds are. Cooler temperatures damnpen wine tastes, so if you set out a white wine and let it get room temperature it has a lot more flavor than a chilled white wine (this is not always a good thing). Nevertheless, tastes that are hardly noticeable in a cold wine come to the fore in a warm wine.

    That said, I still am certain that all the wine experts in the world are mostly bullshit artists.

  3. I saw a similar (less “scientific” though) experiment in a German TV show with types of beer.

    I always say that with any alcoholic beverage, you taste the chemical taste of the alcohol first and everything else doesn’t really matter. You can mix it with some sweet/sour ingredients (cocktails), you can adjust the amount of alcohol, that makes a difference, but everything else is BS. All tastes the same and you drink it to get drunk. Even if you pay 1000$ for a bottle. Then you’re just bragging while you’re getting drunk.

  4. This just confirms what I’ve always suspected (and what AeC said above): wine “experts” are bull$h!t artists. I agree with the opinion of Justin Wilson: the kind of wine to drink with your food depends on what kind YOU like!

  5. Red wine generally makes me break out in hives. White wine never has. There’s got to be some difference, as I doubt my hives are psychosomatic.

  6. Maybe someone can tell me why drinks with vodka in them make my back ache? I’m a young woman, I shouldn’t have body aches like that. I’m slightly suspicious it’s psychosomatic, but I’ve never tested it.

  7. There was an item in the New Scientist a while back about the impact of chilling/not chilling wine. It’s led me to the habit of often chilling inferior-tasting reds and drinking decent whites at room temperature, and I gotta say it works for me.

    Actually, the idea of chilling poor-quality reds is something I first picked up from a French chef who always drank pub reds with ice because they don’t benefit from increased flavinoids (or whatever it is you get at room temp). I think the red-at-room-temp, white-chilled rule is actually a pretty much bullshit convention.

    I agree with The Critic: given the temperature impact, this test was not necessarily all that damning.

  8. DaveS and Piri,

    In both cases, I would guess the difference has to do with an allergy. A possible test you could try Dave would be to what are typically thought of as red wines in their white incarnations. You can get a white merlot which tastes much like a zinfandel, but is made from the merlot grapes, same as red merlot.

    The difference between the two “colors” of wine has to do with what they leave in. When red wines are fermenting, they are doing it in a vat with the seeds, stems, and skins in it. That gives it its color. If you don’t get the allergic reaction from a white merlot, then you’re probably allergic to the tannins produced by this process.

    As for your reactions, Piri, Dr. The Critic suggests that you should either switch to a differing liquor (gin would be my choice) or try various brands of vodka. There is a huge variety of different brands with different ingredients. Some are made from corn, some are made from potatoes, some are made from soybeans. If there are any other liquors that give you this same reaction then you should see if they have ingredients in common. It’s possible it’s psychosomatic, so maybe you can get a friend to trick you and at some vague point in the future tell you s/he’s bought you a vodka drink when it’s really just high quality paint thinner.

  9. outeast, i’ve tried to get my wife to drink red wines by chilling them to quash the stronger flavor, but she’s still not having any of it. luckily, i’ll drink any alcoholic beverage in the house, even paint-thinner or listerine should it come to it.

    and i now hold my white wine glass’ bowl firmly in my hand at parties (technically, one holds a white wine glass by stem and a red by actual bowl of glass) so as to speed the warming process. take the chill off and the flavor just opens up. of course, the cheaper the white the colder you should drink it.

    i’m not sure the appropriate temperature one should drink paint-thinner, though i find over ice with a twist of lime works best for me.

  10. My sister is allergic to the sulfites in red wine. White wine doesn’t have them. If you’re ever going for surgery, tell the anesthesiologist about your sulfite allergy and you will spare yourself a nasty headache.

  11. Yeast naturally produces sulfites during the process of fermentation, so this is unlikely to be the cause.

    Scientists have pointed out, however, that many sweet white wines contain more sulfites than red wines — yet do not cause headaches in those who suffer from RWH Additionally, dried fruits usually contain sulfites but you never hear of dried fruit headaches.


    I’m sticking with the tannins, though as the article above points out, aspirin taken before drinking red wine offers a prophylactic effect in regards to red wine headaches.

  12. I’m sure that sulfites are not the problem. White wine has just as much if not more sulfites and sulfates than reds. There is current research pointing to headaches in red wines due to high histamine levels.

  13. No difference between determining good wine and good art. Once we watch a million 4-year olds create Kandinsky-like paintings because they’re capable of it, we know we’re not dealing with people with full decks, but only critics with egos, attitudes, biases, and a need to be like their colleagues.

  14. We were lucky enough to drift into “the Ville de Tours”wine festival held around May 25th each year and were able to participate in a wine tasting . We had to taste and list ten wines. My top wine was a Meredoc from the Loire and my husband chose a Nicholas Bougielle red.Had a lot of trouble finding a good meredoc when we got home in 2005. A couple of wine ignorami became wine buffs in 2 days. If you have been fortunate enough to visit Tours at wine festival time you would have seen row upon row of white tents with stall holders offering tastings and French locals staggering off with crates of their choices. All we had to do was pay a euro for a glass and off we tottered. I think we were supposed to spit out but that fine art zipped over our sozzled skulls, he tasting red and I the whites. oh! yes the cheeses were superb as well.

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