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!

Yet Another Hard Lesson on Wine Gone Bad

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On a trip to wine country earlier this year, I picked up several bottles of wine. Included in my wines was a Reserve Chardonnay that I had gotten in Alexander Valley.  In the tasting room it was excellent.

After purchasing the wines, I was very careful to control their temperature by not leaving them in the car or exposing them to significant sunlight. And, while on the road, the wines always spend the night in the cool hotel room, not the car.  Once home, the wines were moved either to cool, dark closets or to the wine refrigerator (always need a bigger wine refrig!) where they are stored on their side with the cork slightly down.

For a recent dinner, I brought out the slightly chilled Reserve Chardonnay, pulled the cork and poured a glass.  I immediately noticed the color of the Chardonnay. Instead of the usual pale straw color (like the one on the left in the photo), this wine was golden-brown in color (like the one on the right in the photo). That seemed really odd.  I then took a sniff. The aroma was not that of a fruity, tropical Chardonnay. It was noticeably off. I went back to examine the cork (a natural cork) and found the issue.  The cork was completely soaked all the way through.  It had leaked and air had gotten into my Reserve Chardonnay. Ruined.

I didn't have to taste it. I already knew from the golden-brown color, the odd aroma and the soaked cork that this wine had gone bad. But, just to complete my experience, I did taste the wine. As expected, it had a very nutty (oxidized) flavor. A real let down since it was so good in tasting room.

I believe that I did everything properly on the handling and storage of this wine that I just purchased a few months ago. I just got ahold of a bottle with where the cork did not properly do its job. 

It's always such a shame to buy a really nice bottle of wine only to find that its gone bad. So, if your wine has an unusual color, odd aroma and/or a nutty taste, you'll know it's not just a bad wine, it's a wine that's gone bad.

Here's to finding lots of great bottles of wine in your future! Cheers!

A Three-Strikes Evening of Wines Gone Bad

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During a recent special occasion, I decided to pull out some older wines to share. Not really old, but from 2010, 2009 and 2007. All were reds - a couple Barberas (a favorite of mine) and a Zinfandel.

These weren't amazing bottles to begin with or terribly expensive, but they were good enough that I had put them away in my wine refrigerator in a dark spot. So, the storage shouldn't have been an issue.

But, as the title of this blog indicates, it didn't go well.  The corks all extracted well, with no obvious signs of trouble.

The 2010 Barbera's flavor had changed dramatically. What had been a smooth and well-rounded wine had become an off-flavored fruity wine. Again, it was somewhat drinkable, but nothing like when originally purchased. Strike one!

The 2009 Barbera, from a different winery, was heavily oxidized, brownish in color and nutty in flavor. Not drinkable. Strike two!

The 2007 Zinfandel was no longer anything like the Zinfandel it once was. Its flavors were very off and the bottle was quickly put aside.  Strike three!

Fortunately, my wine refrigerator is well stocked and I was able to pull out a great bottle of Cabernet for the occasion.

The moral of the story - don't assume that your wines will hold up with age. If you like the way a wine tastes,  drink it soon. Putting away wines for several years will change them. A few for the better, but often times the change is for the worse.


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!

Are Older Wines Better?

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It's commonly believed that older wine is better. And that can be true. But often, it's not.

If you've read some of my past blogs, you know that one of my favorite lines is that a wine cellar is not a wine hospital -- it doesn't make a bad wine better.

Today, most wine is meant to be enjoyed right away. When it's bottled, it's ready for consumption. Ageing doesn't make it better.

What you will find is that older wines do indeed change. On the positive side, tannins in red wines will mellow making the wine feel smoother in your mouth. But, on the down side, the big fruit flavors and aromas also fade. You'll begin to get different smells and tastes in older wines that you may not expect from a young wine. Especially if the wine is oxidized, you'll detect a distinct nutty flavor. Also, as red wines age, the red color changes from deep red to a much paler red and can even begin to take on orange colors.

A good rule of thumb is that most wines will being to fade to the down side in as few as five years and after 10 years they'll generally have lost most of their character, if not out-right spoiled. And, remember, this aging must be done properly in a cool, dark place.

So, older wines can be better. But, you don't need to age wines to be able to drink great wines.

Next time we'll look at old wines and their appeal. Cheers!