Tasting wine is an important factor when you’re learning about the world of wine and there’s more to tasting than just drinking wine! Using more than just your tastebuds is vital to learning everything you can about the wine you’re sampling. Looking at the wine can give you many clues about what it is, where it’s from and how old it is, before you even smell or taste the wine. In this section of Wine Tasting Basics, you’ll learn about the Appearance of Red Wine and how deductive tasting can educate you about wine.
Wine Tasting Basics: Lighting and Background
A well lit room is important for technical tastings. Being able to see the clarity, colour and depth of a wine can only be accomplished if the lighting is good. If you can use natural lighting, that’s the best way to see the wine. Taste during daylight hours if you can, in a room that allows in plenty of natural light.
Taste at a table with a white table cloth or lay a white sheet of paper on the tabletop. A white background is important to judge the colour correctly. If that white paper has black lines or black writing on it, that’s even better because you can judge the intensity of the colour — whether the wine is pale, medium or deep.
Wine Tasting Basics: How To Hold the Wine Glass
In a clean, well-rinsed, polished wine glass, pour about 2 ounces of the wine.
Tilt the glass over the paper at about a 45 degree angle so that the wine forms a pool of varying depth. Using the white paper as a background, look down through the wine.
1. Appearance of Wine: Clarity
Clarity of the wine falls into two categories: clear or hazy.
The first characteristic of appearance to take note of is the clarity. Is the wine clear or hazy? It’s that simple. Hazy, cloudy wine could be a sign that the wine is unhealthy or “off.”
If the wine has floaty things in it, take note. Is it natural sediment, “wine diamonds” (see below) or a foreign object (like food maybe?) Maybe the glassware wasn’t cleaned properly or the cork broke and there are chunks of cork floating in the wine. None of these things are harmful, but it might not make for the best wine drinking experience.
2. Appearance of Wine: Intensity
Intensity of colour falls into three categories: pale, medium or deep.
Compare the colour at the edge or rim, where the wine is shallow, to the colour in the deeper centre. Sometimes the wine colour and intensity will express itself differently in these two areas. Does the colour and depth of the centre go through to the rim or does it get lighter as it moves toward the edge?
Wine Appearance Chart
3. Appearance of Wine: Colour (Hue)
A younger white wine may have a silver or greenish tinge at the edge but be more markedly yellow in the center.
Light bodied white wines have a pale straw colour, with a greenish tinge indicating freshness and little oxidation. Fuller bodied wines are deeper yellow. Brown tones increase with maturity but can be a sign of too much oxidation. Dessert wines are usually a very deep shade of yellow.
How can this help you? Let’s say you’re not participating in a blind tasting and you already know what the wine is. The label on the bottle tells you it’s a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. You look at the colour of the wine and see that it’s a medium yellow colour. What does that tell you? The colour of Sauvignon Blanc should be pale straw with some green or silver and a water white rim. Your powers of deduction tell you that this particular wine likely has either been blended with another grape variety that is giving off yellow hues and deeper intensity or it is slightly oxidized which has changed the hue and colour intensity.
Appearance of Wine: Other Observations — Legs
What does it mean when a wine has “nice legs” ?
Alcohol by volume (abv) and sugar content are factors in the wine’s viscosity, which is expressed in the character of the wine’s “legs” or “tears.” These are the rivulets of wine that form when a tilted glass is brought to the vertical. Swirl the glass and let the wine settle. As the wine flows down the side of the glass, traces of liquid form and dissipate at a rate dependent on the alcohol and sugar content.
Contrary to popular belief, there really is no such thing as a wine with “nice legs.” Legs or tears have nothing to do with the quality (or niceness) of a wine. the only thing legs tell you is viscosity which relates to sugar and/or alcohol, but not quality. If someone says to you “this wine has nice legs,” be polite and don’t correct them — be satisfied in the knowledge that you know what that really means!
Wine Appearance Chart
Appearance of Wine: Other Observations — Bubbles
Sparkling Wine Sparkles!
In a sparkling wine, observe the persistence and size of the bubbles. Are they big bubbles? Do they stick around or disappear quickly? Do they form a delicate little string of tiny bubbles in the glass? All of these things can give you clues about the method of production and hint at what kind of sparkling wine it is or where it comes from.
Still Wine Might Be a Little Petulant
Some still white wines can have a slight degree of petulance or effervescence, so look for fine bubbles in these wines as well. This could be considered a fault in the wine if the spritz is too much (think: re-fermentation) or it could be a bit of S02 that was added right before corking or capping the bottle that gives it freshness.
Appearance of Wine: Other Observations — “Wine Diamonds” (Tartrate Crystals)
Wine diamonds are crystals of tartrate that form as a natural side effect of wine making. Tartaric acid, is a type of alderic acid which is naturally occurring in many plants, and specifically in grapes. If they are present you may see them in the bottom of the glass or on the surfaces of the cork if it was in contact with the wine. Many wine makers will utilize a process called, “cold stabilization” which allows them to speed up the process of crystallization at which point they can filter out crystals before bottling. However, not all producers will follow this method because wine diamonds are harmless, and can be consumed. The only reason to filter them out would be for appearance.
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