Examining a wine

Wine - The Basics Wine Advice Learning Learn about wine Basics

Just looking at a plateful of delicious food increases our enjoyment and appetite - and it's the same with wine. Apart from the fact that our appetites are whetted by the anticipation of what is to come, looking can also tell us an awful lot about what we're about to put in our mouths. You should tip the glass away from you at an angle of 45 degrees and hold it against a white background - a piece of white paper is fine - to see the true colour of the wine.

Perhaps the most obvious characteristic of wine is its colour. Is it white, red - or a rose? Having determined the basics, take a closer look. The colour of your white wine could range between pale straw and rich golden yellow, depending on its age, its sweetness, its degree of oakiness and, of course, the grape variety from which it was made. As a rule, lighter wines such as Sauvignon Blancs tend to be paler than heavier Chardonnays, and the gold tinge of an aged Chardonnay will be more pronounced than that of a younger one.

Red wines can also be analysed in a similar way. The deeper the colour, the more concentrated the flavour. Stand a glass of Pinot Noir next to a glass of Syrah and you will easily see the difference between the two - the Pinot will be an almost transparent light ruby red, while the Syrah will verge towards a dense purpley red. A mouthful from each glass is bound to confirm the visual impression. Tilt the glass a little and take a look at the meniscus (the curved upper surface and rim) of the fluid - as a red wine ages, it will take on an amber-brown tinge, and this is most easily discernible at the rim.

As you tip your glass back towards you, you may notice clear traces of liquid sticking to the side of the glass as they slide slowly back into the body of the wine - these are called tears or legs, and indicate high alcohol or residual sugar content.

Finally, looking at your wine will give you advance warning of any major defects - if you find white filaments floating in your wine, reject it outright as these are almost certainly present due to unclean bottling.

Panel tastings

Wine labels from some of the world's most famous wines

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