In my over 20 years of hosting wine events, when explaining the wine tasting process, the first step - the colour of the wine - is always the one that seems to be underestimated. And not just from wine novices or people who attend the event as an evening out.
As soon as we start the wine tasting process and I mention the colour and ask attendees to describe the colour of the wine, 95% of them lift the glass towards the lights and look at it. Only the remaining 5% of the attendees actually know how to look at the colour of the wine : to find out the colour of the wine, the glass - filled no more than ¼ - should be inclined over a white background, a cloth, a sheet of paper.
Where the colour comes from? The colour is the pigment in the grape’s skin and varies depending on the grape, not all grapes have the same skin, so no all wines have the same colour. Colours also varies depending on the wine making process and the fermentation length, the longer is the fermentation, the more colour is extracted.
A wine made from Syrah or Montepulciano grapes will tend to have a more purple colour than a Pinor Nero or Nebbiolo wine, which will be less purple and more toward the brown because of their skins. Red grapes can produce white wines as long as the juice and the skins are not fermented together, white grapes can only produce white wines.
White wines are normally fermented without the skin, therefore they tend to have a very light, pale colour, if fermented with the skins, they tend to become orange, hence the name “orange wine”.
Rose’ wines, follow the same wine making process of red wines with shorter fermentation to avoid extract tannins, also released during the fermentation, as well as colour.
Each winery follows a slightly different wine making process, so the same grape can produce wines with colour variations depending on the winery.
The colour of the wine can tell us so much, still, very few take it seriously. As a first and immediate information, the colour can tell us if the wine is faulty or not. By simply looking at the colour we can say whether the wine is worth drinking or needs to be thrown into the sink.
As white wines age in the bottle they tend to vary in colour, moving from light yellow to gold, this is an oxidative process and indicates that the wine is on its way down. Red wines, on the other end, during the oxidative process move through different colours up to become browny.
By looking at the wine colour, we can also say if the wine has been aged in barrels. A Montepulciano aged in barrel will be slightly orange/brown on the hedges than an unaged one and a Chardonnay aged in barrels will have a deeper yellow colour than an unaged one. We can also guess by looking at the wine colour, but this require some knowledge and skill, the grape, whether it is a Pinot Nero or Montepulciano d’Abruzzo.
Does the colour tell us anything else? Not really. Colour certainly doesn’t tell us anything about the flavour of the wine, it can be used as an indicator, a guess thought on what we are about to drink, deep yellow white wines will certainly indicate a more complex wine but nothing more than that.
Despite being still very underestimate by wine drinkers, understanding the colour is a very important step toward a better enjoyment of the wine.
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