Happy 4th of July!
I don’t do wine speak. It doesn’t make sense to me, doesn’t sound like me, and I don’t think telling you everything tastes like dark cherries with a hint of something or other helps you select a wine. I’ve tried to learn it. I went out and purchased all the different fruits so I could learn the tastes and refine my pallet, but I drew the line at tar, no way was I going to taste tar! I still don’t get it.
For me wine is like modern art: I may not always understand it, but I like it!
The lovely and talented Josephine doesn’t really share my love of wine and only drinks it to humor me. She doesn’t get my jokes either but at very least she laughs when I stop talking to make me feel good. She is responsible for this story, as she introduced me to Bill St. John, who has been writing and teaching about wine for 40 years. Bill taught me how to read the colors of my wine.
The first expectation we get of our wine is the color. How deep, dark or light the color is sets our expectations on how the wine will taste. Once we examine for color we move next to the aroma, and finally to taste. For most of us, color only gets a terse glance and we more on. Mr. St. John suggests we slow down and read the color.
The color comes from the skins of the grapes, as does the aroma. Thick-skinned grapes, sometimes called “black” such as Syrah or Melbec, make for heavy pigmented wines. Thinner-skin grapes like Pinot Noir or Nebbiolo make for clearer or “bright” wines. So, if you have a dark Pinot Noir it was most likely over extracted and will taste less Pinoty than a properly extracted wine.
Same is true of white wines. If your Riesling appears golden or you Chardonnay is clear, bad news, these wines will not be as good if they were the proper colors. It’s also a pretty good indication that something has gone wrong in the wine making process.
So how do you read the color of your wine?
Start by holding your glass at the stem, with the wine falling away from you. Use natural or incandescent light. Look down through the glass and, if handy, place a piece of white paper or white table cloth under the glass. I confess I’ve been doing this wrong and holding the glass up to the light, and while it’s shiny and pretty but will not tell you a thing.
At the front edge of the wine, near the lip of the glass you’ll see the least intense color, but this is where you’ll see the purest hue. The hue will indicate spoilage; over time reds change from purple, to blue tinged red, to garnet or ruby, to brick red, to orange or brown. White wines go from clear to light yellow, to golden, to brown. As you might suspect “brown” is not good. If you are seeing brown your experience might not be too enjoyable.
In the thickest place, the center or “heart,” you’ll notice how opaque the wine is. This will give you a sense of how dense the wine will be on your palate. The darker the wine the more chewy the wine.
On the left and right sides of the glass, what St. John called the “parentheses,” you’ll see hints of colors such as greens in white wines and blues in red wines. Again these will give you an idea of the age of the wine as noted above. Now I drink a lot of Northern Italian wines, some are even called “brown,” and that’s because these wines begin life looking middle aged, like me. Some wines like Zinfandel or Barbera remain purple forever.
So, take a little time with you next glass of wine and examine the color, read and see what your wine it trying to tell you, and enjoy the full story in your glass.