Can colour influence taste?

In our sensory perception of wine, colour tends to come in a distant third after aroma and taste. But is that justified? Richard Hemming reports...

Colour Vision

When my eyesight began to fade dramatically four years ago, assessing a wine’s colour was, understandably, not my main concern. Uveitis, a congenital auto-immune condition, had stopped responding to medication and left me with about 5% of standard vision. I see the world through a Pointillist blizzard, with details and colours greyed out.

As I continue adjusting to this new normal, I’ve been pondering the inevitable – but not invalid – question of whether vision loss means my senses of hearing, taste and smell have improved: what neuroscientists call compensatory plasticity. It’s tough to say. But while I miss, terribly, seeing the gorgeous subtle gradations of Pinot Noir, I conjure my internal Pantone colour chart, and trust my nose and tongue.

Of course anyone can be fooled by old wines in particularly good condition, or recent vintages that are ageing too quickly. But it was handy to have a clear-eyed companion to verify that our astonishingly fresh 1961 Lafleur looked, in the glass, appropriate for a 53-year old. Likewise, it took a sympathetic sommelier to advise that the 1947 Ligier-Belair Musigny I brought from home was so luscious not because it was an amazing bottle, but because it was – based on its glinting ruby-redness and too-defined miniscus – probably fake.

Neither of these episodes is likely to be repeated, for all the reasons you can imagine. And happily my work – writing mainly wine news and business pieces – doesn’t rely heavily on guessing, as fun as that can be.

But when I consider how much pleasure wine gives me, how interesting the industry is, and how many jobs might be done by blind people, I wonder why there aren’t more of us in this business: I know of only three others. Maybe it’s the glassware?

Maggie Rosen is a freelance wine writer

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