When looking for a subject for this column, it seemed natural to do an article on the color of wine since our import this month is of noticeable age. Here is a reprint of my father's article on evaluating wine by its color from the November 1986 newsletter.
The Color of Wine: Your first introduction to wine is through a sense of sight.
The appearance and the color of wine tells you, or warns you, about what's coming. The first question we ask: "Is it clear?" Cloudy wines are undesirable. These wines could have several different problems; leftover sugar combining with yeast for a secondary fermentation, protein particles, or lees (the pulverized stems, seeds and skins) which can form very fine deposits. These types of intrusions should not be confused with the sediment formed by an ageing wine. This type of sediment can be decanted away during service.
If the wine is clear, the next question becomes: "Is the color correct?" Unless we're familiar with what "correct color" is for each type of wine, it is difficult to judge, this comes from experience.
With lighter red wines like Gamay or Pinot Noir, the color should be lighter. The color of fuller red wines like, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, and Merlot, should be darker.
So far, so good. Now comes the important part. The shade or hues of the color can tell you quite a bit about the wine and its condition.
The most significant factor in color change is oxidation. It can occur in two ways: 1) The wine was mishandled. This causes a young wine to look older than it is, 2) The wine has aged gracefully in the bottle. Young red wines should be bright, purplish, ruby red. As they age, they take on a rust brick color, almost brown (this month's import is a classic example of a gracefully aged red wine).
Some 15 or 20 year old wines that still show a deep garnet color signal us that they have been properly stored and that there is still ageing potential. Conversely, a young 14 years or less) Cabernet Sauvignon that shows a brick color has aged too fast (improper conditions or mishandling).
A wine, properly stored, uses only the small amount of air in the bottle to develop and age. If too much air is introduced by aeration at the winery, cork failure or too much sunlight, the wine will prematurely age. White wines suffer from the same problems. Oxidized white wines get darker with age (as opposed to reds that get lighter) turning amber and then brown.
Again, a fuller white wine such as Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Blanc, and Chardonnay should last at least 2 years past its release. If the color is turning on a young wine, most likely it was exposed to too much air in its beginnings.
This month's lead wine is a prime example of what the aging process can do to the color and flavors of a wine. A true test of the "See, Swirl, Sniff, and Savor" tasting decree!
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