Why is “red wine” in Spanish “vino tinto” and not “vino rojo”?

When learning Spanish words for foods and drinks people often ask why red wine in Spanish is called “vino tinto” and not “vino rojo” when the Spanish word for “red” is “rojo”. The answer relates to the Latin origin of the word “tinto” and also to the process of wine making.

The word “tinto” originates from the Latin word “tinctus” which means “dyed”, “stained” or “tinted”. The answer also relates to how red wine is made; the skins of red grapes tint the white must until it turns into a red colour, therefore it is a “tinted”, dark coloured wine rather than just a “red” wine. If you look up the word “tinto” in the Royal Spanish Academy’s Dictionary “Real Academia Española” you will see that the definition of “tinto” is: “El de color muy ocscuro” – “Of a very dark colour”.

It is interesting that Portuguese and Spanish both use “tinto” to describe wine; i.e. “a dark colour”, whereas Italian, English and French use the main word for “red”. Spaniards often just ask for “un tinto” in a bar or restaurant without saying “un vino tinto”.
Although “tinto” is only used to describe wine, Spaniards have several terms to describe the colour red in different contexts. Other words for “red” in Spanish include the following:

red meat: carne roja
red-haired: pelirrojo
red-skin: quemada
red eyes: ojos enrojecidos
to go red (in the face): ponerse colorado



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