How to Taste: Color and Clarity

I always place aroma and flavor waaay ahead of appearance as a priority, but the color can communicate quite a lot to you the second the wine goes into the glass.

The first thing to know is that wine isn’t like a bottle of Scotch. It continues to change in the bottle and the color is a good indicator of where it is in its evolution. Some wines improve with bottle age, but most don’t. It’s always smart to ask questions when you buy wine because each wine ages at its own rate.

To get a good look at what’s going on it helps to have a white background like a white tablecloth or a white piece of paper (I use legal-sized copy paper for place mats when I host a tasting at home).

Hold the glass at a 45-degree angle against the white background and take a look. The wine should be brilliantly clear, and free of UFOs (unidentified floating objects – a little cork won’t hurt you!). Ideally, the wine should be physically beautiful! If it’s cloudy, it’s possible that the wine is past its prime or spoiled, but never let this put you off of tasting it to make sure. If it’s spoiled it can’t hurt you – just offend you! So, if it tastes okay, it is okay, and down the hatch! But, clarity is the ideal.

White wines are very pale in youth and deepen to yellow, then gold. If the label tells you the wine is just a year or two old (the vintage date is the harvest date), but the wine has a deep color, it may be due to a substantial amount of time in wood, which hastens the aging. Alternatively, the cork may have leaked, so the wine is oxidizing in the bottle – not a good thing. Beware of low fills! Not only is there less wine in the bottle – it increases the chances that the wine is tired or spoiled. The juice of certain wine varieties is yellow by nature, and in some cases juice and skin contact during fermentation may have added to the color but these are the exceptions more than the rule.

New red wine comes out of the fermentation tank looking a lot like Welches’ Grape Juice in most cases, so you know that purple hues are always youthful. From there the wine matures to ruby, garnet, then tawny. While whites deepen in color with age, reds lose pigment over time and turn pale.

All wine is destined to turn brown if you wait too long. Brown wine almost never tastes good, except Madeira!  

Next: Aroma + Bouquet = Nose!

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One response to “How to Taste: Color and Clarity

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