How Should A Wine Look
THE LOOK OF A WINE
Even before the nose has gone into action, and perhaps long before the mouth is exposed to a wine, the eyes can give quite a lot of information about it.
Every wine should be clear and bright. If a wine is murky then it may well be suffering from some fault, such as taint from an unclean container. If it has lots of tiny particles suspended in it and is a fairly old vintage, then perhaps all this means is that it should have been decanted off this sediment. Before decanting, the bottle should be left to stand, still stoppered up for at least two days to allow the sediment time to settle to the bottom. Don’t worry if a wine has little bits of cork floating in it. This will probably be the fault of the person who opened the bottle rather than its contents. Simply pick the bits out and enjoy the wine.
If a white wine has white crystals in it, there is usually a surprisingly comforting explanation. Tartaric acid is one of the acids commonly found in wine, and it can easily be crystallized by a sudden drop in temperature. If a wine has been kept somewhere very cold, therefore, ‘tartrates’ may form, and taste no more harmful than their first cousin, cream of tartar. Depending on how a bottle has been stored, these crystals may be found on the cork instead of floating in the wine and are equally harmless. In red wines, such crystals are dyed black, and may form part of the sediment.
A slight sparkle in a wine may be there with the intention of giving it a bit of pep (this is very common in Australian whites, young Chianti and Vinho Verde for instance) but it just may signal that something is wrong and a second fermentation has started in the bottle. If this is the case the wine will usually be cloudy.
The colour of a wine is a good clue to its age and, sometimes, provenance. All wines go browner with age, so a red wine starts life as a purplish red and turns brick-coloured, then tawny. White wines go slightly and then very tawny with the years. The difference is that regardless of the actual hue, red wines get paler with age, while whites get darker. A deep golden-brown wine will almost certainly be very mature, unless it has oxidized, ie. been exposed to too much air and ‘gone orF to staleness. A deep crimson wine, on the other hand, will probably be very youthful.
Colouring matter for wines comes from the grapeskins, so the depth of colour in a wine can indicate more than age. A very deep-red wine will probably have been made either somewhere very dry where the grapeskins were very thick, or by leaving the wine in contact with the skins for a long time, as in Bordeaux, or from a grape variety whose skins are naturally very high in colouring matter, such as Nebbiolo and Syrah. If a red wine is particularly pale, then this probably means it was made far from the equator where the sun had to struggle to ripen the grapes as in the red wines of Germany, or in a particularly cool year such as 1977 Bordeaux. Paleness in a red wine may also indicate that it was made by fermenting very fast such as is the custom in Beaujolais, or from a grape variety, such as Pinot Noir, that is not usually high in colouring matter.
If a white wine has very little colour at all, then it was probably made somewhere very cool, and vice versa. A slight greenish tinge often indicates the northern limits of vine cultivation, such as Mosel in Germany or Muscadet.
The best way to judge the intensity of colour is to look straight down into a glass from above, preferably against a plain white surface, and see how easy it is to pick out the bottom of the glass through the wine. The best way of judging the hue is to tip the glass away from you, again against a light surface, and look at the colour near the rim.