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Tasting Wine

Visual aspects

  • The technique of analytic tasting begins by separating the visual aspects, the aroma and the taste of a wine. Many things can be learned from a glance at a glass of wine. It is evaluated for clarity, color, intensity and other characteristics. We first analyze the clarity of the wine and note whether it is clean and shiny (bright), merely clear, dull, hazy, or cloudy.

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  • Clarity can give us clues as to how the wine was treated–whether or not it was filtered. It can also reveal wine faults such as a haze. This can be caused by proteins or by the presence of iron or copper in the wine. Older wines that have thrown a deposit can appear cloudy if they have not been properly decanted.

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  • Next we look at the color of the wine. It is important to note the color or hue as well as the intensity or depth of the color. White wines can range in color from clear to deep brown. The normal shades of color in white wine include water white, pale straw, lemon yellow (slightly deeper), gold, amber and brown. It is common to qualify any of these descriptors, e.g. a very light lemon yellow. Sometimes, as in Chablis, there may be tinges or glimmers of green, while some wines, particularly older Riesling, may have orange reflections. Madiera is recognized by a vibrant green rim.

    Rosé wine can be just barely off-white (oeil de perdrix, 'partridge eye,' or onion skin), pink or salmon colored. As they age or oxidize they take on a definite orange hue.

    Red wines can be cherry red, ruby red, garnet, purple or black. As they age they begin to turn brick colored at the edge and this character spreads through the wine. They eventually turn tawny and then mahogany.

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  • Some wines appear much deeper at the core of the glass, i.e. the deepest part, and to be much less intense toward the rim, while others will have a saturated color almost right to the rim. Saturated color is an indication of youth and can point to a very concentrated wine. It can also indicate production techniques, such as thermovinification, carbonic maceration, concentration of the must or a pre-fermentation cold soak, all of which will deepen color.

    The depth of color and the hue can indicate age, as described above. It can also indicate the region of production because wines in warmer, sunnier climates have greater phenolic ripeness which means more of the compounds that produce color, or anthocyanins. In the case of white wine, a deeper gold color can also indicate barrel aging, because the wine will pick up some color from the oak.

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  • The "legs" or tears on the side of a glass of wine can indicate the amount of glycerin in a wine and thus give an indication of body. Bubbles also give an indication of style and quality. The finesse of the mousse is very important to Champagne and sparkling wines, and must form an important part of our evaluation. Even still wines can show minute bubbles that indicate the presence of dissolved carbon dioxide in a wine.

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