Learning From the Color of Your White Wine

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Last time we examined what can be learned from looking at a wine's color. Different colors can indicate the wine's body and its age.

White wines can vary from straw white to deep brown. And, these visual clues can immediately tell you something about the wine before ever tasting it.

Very light, pale colored white wines (some even have a slight greenish tint) are going to be very light in body, meaning they will have bright, fresh fruit flavors and have refreshing acidity (i.e., makes your mouth water after drinking). The fruit flavors and clear colors are usually preserved by aging in Stainless Steel tanks. Examples may include Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc and Albariño. These wines are meant to be consumed young and well chilled.

White wines that are more of a yellow to pale golden yellow color are more medium bodied. These wines tend to also have bright fruit flavors and good acidity. Examples include Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc and un-oaked Chardonnay.

The full-bodied white wines will have boldest flavors and have deep golden colors. The deeper color comes from being aged in oak or on lees (a.k.a. sur lei). The lees are the dead yeast cells, grapeseeds, stems, pulp and tartrates (harmless tartaric acid crystals) that remaining in a barrel or tank during and after fermentation. An oaked Chardonnay is synonymous with full-bodied white wines but others include Sémillon, Viognier, Marsanne and oaked Sauvignon Blanc (a.k.a Fume Blanc).

If you come across a white wine that is orange or brown in color, you've likely found a wine that's been exposed to a lot of light or is simply heavily oxidized.  If you taste it (and you should as a learning experience), an oxidized wine will have a very nutty flavor.

Dark brown wines also include Sherry and Port that are intentionally oxidized.

So, next time you are raising a glass, take a look at it first. You can learn a lot from the color of your wine. Cheers!

What Can Be Learned From a Wine's Color

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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!

Wine Flavors from Aging in the Bottle

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As we continue exploring wine flavors and where they come from, let's take a step back to last time.

As was noted, barrel aging can impart many wonderful flavors to wine. Additionally, barrel aging imparts tannin. And, tannin is very important to a wine’s ability to age in the bottle.

But, not all wines are meant to be bottle aged. In fact, most are meant to be consumed immediately. Only a small percent of the world's wines are made to be aged.

As a wine ages in the bottle, it is important that it be kept in a cool environment (~58 degrees F) and kept away from sunlight. Both warm temperatures and light can quickly damage a wine.

So, if a wine is age-worthy, its flavor will indeed change in the bottle over time. The tannin will become softer (less astringent) making the wine have a smoother mouthfeel. The fruit flavors will also soften. And, over time, the color will change from red and will take on an orange hue. This all results in a wonderful wine experience.

But, aging a wine in the bottle is not always for the better. A favorite line that I read some time ago was "The cellar (or wine refrigerator) is not a hospital; it will not make a bad wine get better."  And, that is so true. You must ensure you are aging good wines.

One simple rule is if a wine does not naturally have tannin from the fruit and does not get any appreciable tannin from oak aging, it's not going to be age worthy. And, once it has gotten beyond three to five years old, it likely will have oxidized and be beyond its prime period for drinking.

So, what other factors make a wine age worthy?  We'll get into that next time. Until then, Cheers!

Look at Your Wine Before You Drink it

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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!