What Can Be Learned From a Wine's Color


You may have seen it.  Someone with a glass of wine looking very closely at it. Or even slightly tipping the glass of wine over a bit to take an even closer look.

Well, there are several things that can be learned by just looking at your wine. And, using a white background, as shown in the photo, will greatly help in this activity.

The first thing that you can learn by looking closely at your glass of wine has to do with the body, or boldness, of your wine. A lighter colored wine will have a lighter body, or lighter flavor, than one that's a deeper hue.

A red wine will vary in color from a pale, almost pinkish, red to a deep purple.  Pale reds are going to be lighter in flavor and intensity. Prime examples would include Gamay (Beaujolais) and Pinot Noir (Red Burgundy). A medium-bodied wine will be more opaque but will usually have a lighter hue around the edges. These wines include Merlot, Zinfandel and Sangiovese (Chianti). Then, you get to the full-bodied red wines that are deep purple in color, opaque, and full of flavor. These will have big flavor and, when young, big tannin (which leads to that astringent mouth-drying sensation). These wines include Malbec, Petite Sirah, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Color also varies with the age of a wine. Older red wines will generally get lighter in color and often take on some orange or brown hues around the edge of the glass. Older red wines can be amazing as their tannin softens. But an oxidized wine will have off-flavors (nutty) and generally be undesirable to drink.

The color of white wines can also tell you a lot about the wine. And, we'll get to that next time. Until then, Cheers!

Look at Your Wine Before You Drink it

Looking at Wine Glass_3.jpg

Last time we asked "Why do people look so closely at their glass of wine?" and learned that flaws, such as sediment and dis-colorization can be seen in a wine glass.

But, the color of a wine can also tell you about how it will taste and its age.

With white wines, pale yellow-green color generally indicates a light bodied wine that will have bright, crisp fruit flavors and higher acidity (e.g., Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc). A deep golden colored wine will tend to be full bodied, bolder in flavor and lower in acidity (e.g., Chardonnay).

With red wine, you'll find that those that tend toward pink to light red will be light bodied and bright in flavor (e.g., Beaujolais and Pinot Noir). They may even be a little tart. As the color of a red wine gets darker towards maroon and purple, it will become more full-bodied with bolder and richer flavors (e.g., Zinfandel, Merlot, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon).

Color can also tell you something about a wine's age.  You know that fruit eventually turns brown with age. This is also true of wines. Older white wines become dull in color and can take on orange and brown tones. This is usually an indication of a wine that is well beyond its peak and will likely have nutty flavors due to oxidation.  With red wines, they too take on brownish tones, especially around the rim of the glass. But, with red wines, this doesn't necessarily indicate that they are beyond their peak. Most older red wines (10 years +) will look this way.

So, next time you are poured a glass of wine, stop and take a moment to look at it and see if you can figure out how it will taste even before your first sip. Cheers!

Wine's Body - Comparable to Milk?

We've just completed a series on wines and body. We've addressed light, medium and full bodied white wines and red wines. And within this series, factors such as mouth feel, alcohol, tannin and residual sugar have been discussed. Fruit flavors also vary with lighter bodied red wines having red fruit flavors (e.g., cherry, raspberry) and full bodied reds having black fruit flavors (e.g., plum, black cherry, black currant, blackberry).  And let's not forget about tannin. Light bodied red wines will have little or no tannin from the grape skins, seeds, stems and oak barrels, while full bodied reds can have big "chewy" tannin that can make you pucker.

One of the analogies that gets widespread use when discussing a wine's body is milk.  The analogy states that light bodied wines are like skim milk, medium bodied wines are like 2% milk and full bodied wines are like whole milk.  This is meant to address the characteristic of mouth feel.  Skim milk is thin and watery while whole milk is thick and creamy.  The milk analogy may be okay for comparing watery versus creamy, but it really doesn't work for wine. 

Milk has fat solids that give it the mouth feel of creaminess. Wine doesn't. So maybe a better comparison of a wine's body and mouth feel might be with another common drink. And, since it works so well, let's take grape as an example. A grape drink that is made by mixing powder and water (e.g., Kool-Aid or Crystal Light) will generally be light bodied with more subtle flavors.  Compare the powdered grape drink with pure grape juice (e.g., Welch's 100% Grape Juice) and then you get a better understanding of body from light to full. In this example, ignore the sweetness and just focus on how it feels in your mouth and the boldness of the fruit flavor.

Now, I think that's a better example of mouth feel that translates directly with wine.  It's not perfect, but hopefully you get it. The way something tastes and feels in your mouth is very subjective and difficult to describe. Yet in the wine world, a significant amount of time is spent trying to describe flavors and mouth feel.

The best way to learn about a wine's body is through direct experience. Get a bottle of Pinot Noir and a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon.  Try tasting the Pinot Noir first, and then try the Cabernet. You should immediately experience light body versus full body. Cheers!



Exploring Light Bodied Red Wines

Having just completed a series on light, medium and full bodied white wines, it's now time to transition to exploring red wines.

But first, just a quick review of the term 'body' as it relates to wine.  The four major components of a wine's body are formed by the alcohol level, the acidity, the tannin and the sweetness. While white wines have no tannin, red wines are going to have varying levels of tannin and this is really what sets them apart from white wines.

One might think that a rosé wine might be the perfect transition between white wine and red wines. After all, they are pink. And to some extent a rosé certainly does have a bit of both worlds. And that primarily comes from the fact that a rosé wine spends just a bit of time after it's pressed with the skins of the red grapes that they are produced from. That's what gives a rosé its pink color and just a very faint hint of tannin. But that's where the comparison ends. Rosé is going to have a lot more in common with white wine. It's going to have bright and crisp fruit flavors of strawberry and melon, mouth-watering acidity and be quite refreshing. 

The best place to start exploring red wines is with those that are light bodied. But in the past, light bodied red wines were often ignored. And some still are. Take Gamay for example. This grape makes a light, refreshing wine best known from the Beaujolais region of France.  Part of the reason that Gamay often gets ignored is the Beaujolais Nouveau that goes from vine to bottle in just a couple months. These wines are big in fruit and meant for celebrating the harvest, not for aging. This is not a wine for serious wine connoisseurs, collectors or critics. It's simply meant for celebration. So it is not taken too seriously by the wine elite.

But Gamay, of which more than 90% is grown in France, is also a serious grape for producing fine light red wine.  These wines can have flavors of raspberry, red currant, cherry, strawberry and boysenberry. A Gamay wine is very low in tannin and is generally made relatively low in alcohol by volume (ABV). Hence, the light bodied classification. Serve Gamay with a slight chill and you'll find it to be a bright fruit flavored wine with great perfumed aromas.

Next time we'll continue exploring light bodied red wines by getting into the wildly popular Pinot Noir. Until then, cheers!

Some More Thoughts on Medium and Full Bodied White Wines

Having just examined light bodied white wines and spent a bit of time on Chardonnay, it's time to look into some other white wines that are in the medium body and full body category. These are going to have bigger, fuller flavors than those of the light bodied whites, contain a bit more alcohol and may be aged in oak.

Here are some of the white wines that are considered medium bodied:

Gewürztraminer (go-veertz-tram-ee-ner) - This is a big fruit wine. It's also a very aromatic wine with the fragrance of roses petals, lychee and perfume. Flavors include pink grapefruit, tangerine, peach, mango, apricot and guava. This crisp and fresh flavored wine will typically have sweet undertones while still being dry (low residual sugar). These wines are most famously produced in the Alsace region of France where they can also take on a rich and silky texture with subtle salinity.

Grüner Veltliner (GREW-ner FELT-lee-ner) - Nearly three quarters of all Grüner Veltliner is produced in Austria. This too is a big fruit wine with moderately high acidity. You may find flavors of peach, pear and yellow apple in this wine. The light and zesty versions of this wine are most common and affordable, having crisp acidity and hints of melon and lime. The Austrian Reserve versions can be rich with fruity flavors such as apple, mango and honey along with hints of white pepper.

Sémillon (sem-ee-yawn) - Approximately half of the Sémillon in the world is produced in France with another 25% coming from Australia, and is gaining popularity in California. This is truly a medium bodied wine in all aspects of fruit, acidity and alcohol. Common flavors include lemon, peach, with a waxy mouthfeel and a bit of salinity. Bordeaux blends will include Sémillon along with Sauvignon Blanc. Sémillon is sometimes barrel aged in oak to give it additional richness and flavor.

Marsanne (mar-sohn) - This is a medium-low bodied wine with medium fruit, medium-low acidity but a medium-high alcohol level. Flavors may include Mandarin orange, apricot, and acacia with a slight waxy mouthfeel.

Viognier (vee-own-yay) - This is a big fruit wine with the fragrance of roses, and flavors of peach, mango, and tangerine. Without Malolactic fermentation this wine can also have flavors of lime along with fragrances of flowers and some flavors of mineralality when grown in cool climates. Warmer climate versions of this wine may have flavors of apricot, rose and vanilla. Malolactic fermentation will give this wine richer smoother flavors and reduced acidity.

As previously stated, an oaked Chardonnay is a classic example of either a medium or full bodied white wine, depending on the strength of flavor the oak imparts and if the wine maker takes the additional step of putting the wine through Malolactic Fermentation. And when it comes to full bodied white wines, this is one that everybody knows.

Chardonnay (shar-doe-NAY) - An oaked Chardonnay is a classic example of either a medium or full bodied white wine, depending on the strength of flavor the oak imparts and if the wine maker takes the additional step of putting the wine through Malolactic Fermentation. California Chardonnays of recent past were typically being put through Malolactic Fermentation and aged in new oak to make them a full bodied wine.  These were the Chardonnay's that were referred to as "buttery" due to their big and bold oak flavor and the creamy mouth feel from the conversion of the sharper malic acid (found in green apples) into softer, smoother, creamy lactic acid (found in milk). This process reduces the total acidity such that the wines become softer, rounder and more complex. This trend has largely been reversed such that today most California Chardonnays are either being made un-oaked (often noted on the label), or treated to a lighter dose of oak to allow the fruit flavors to shine through. You can still find a full bodied "buttery" Chardonnay, but they are in the minority.

So there you go with a run through of the various body styles of white wine. Next time we'll start exploring the body of red wines . Tannin is the big difference there. So, until next time, explore some medium and full bodied white wines. Serve them cool, not cold, and enjoy! Cheers!