After you’ve poured the wine – what’s next? The first step in actually tasting the wine is to look at it. Having your glass be less than half full really helps in this step as a larger pour will mean the wine may appear artificially darker and become harder to assess.
Tilt the wine slightly in the glass over a white piece of paper, plate, or napkin to see the full color. Look at the glass in stages – from the center to the rim. Wine often does not have a uniform color but rather radiates out.
When I’m wine tasting I try to write down my notes as soon as possible. I wish I could just taste the wine and remember it, but I invariably won’t be able to recall the details afterwards. While I’m not the best at blind tasting, if I have taken detailed notes, I can often search my mental (or sometimes physical) wine history to deduce what is in my glass.
Here are the things I evaluate when looking at the wine: Effervescence, Clarity, Hue, Intensity, Rim, and Viscosity.
- Effervescence: Are there bubbles in the wine and if so, what type? I find it helpful to have this as a 1-5 scale and also a short description. With a sparkling wine, it’s important to note the size of the bubbles (are they large or small?) and placement (do they rise uniformly from the center or are they all over the glass?).
- Clarity: Is the wine clear or cloudy? Natural wines especially are often cloudy. I note this on a 1-5 scale as well and usually determine it based on if I am able to see through the wine. For example, if I try to read a menu or my tasting sheet through the wine and (pending color) can read the letters clearly, the wine is clear. The harder the letters are to read, the more cloudy/hazy the wine.
- Hue: What is the color of the wine? Hue is a color description and it helpful to be as specific as possible here; for example, don’t just say “red” or “purple” but something like “Red with brownish tint.” I also often sometimes use descriptive colors – like “Brick Red” – however, these may not work for everyone as my definition of Brick Red may be different than yours (Bricks have a lot of different colors!). During one of my wine classes, our teacher had us use Red, Yellow, and Blue food coloring and water to forge a wine (by color only). This really helped me to be as specific as possible and think about the color of the wine being made up of different hues combined.
- Intensity: How vibrant is the color? Is it pale or dark? I grade this on a 1-5 scale and this is one of the few comparative qualifications, meaning I am grading if it is light or dark based on other wines I have seen.
- Rim: What color is the rim? Is the wine the same color throughout? Or is it more brown on the center and orange on the rim? Wines with a greater color variation, tend to be older. For reds, older wines lighten and develop a brown/orange rim. For whites, the wines develop deeper and more golden color density and eventually a dull brown.
- Viscosity: Does the wine have “legs”? The tears on the edge of glass when you swirl the wine indicate the viscosity of the wine and can correlate to the level of alcohol or sugar. Could be another 1-5 scale.
Let’s try some examples:
Try evaluating the color of your next couple of wines and see if there are other elements you notice that would help you be able to tell apart two wines by sight alone!