Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Wine Color and Clarity: The First Myth About Wine Appreciation

Summary: teaching new wine drinkers about color and clarity is pointless. If you’ve ever seen an expert present a three-minute crash course in “how to taste wine” on the morning news, you know that their very first nugget of shared wisdom covers the examination of color and clarity. I maintain that color and clarity are non-factors for most wine drinkers and in reality, most wines.

Color and clarity do have a home in formal wine tasting where they help establish a score in conjunction with smell, taste, structure, texture, viscosity and more. They can also be used to corroborate the age of an older vintage since many of them show tawny discoloration around the edges in a tilted glass. This comes in handy when you’re bidding on $900 bottles at live auctions in Manhattan.

Notwithstanding, color and clarity bring little to the table, even for those making and marketing wine. Certain young varietals do reveal telltale hues around the edges (e.g. syrah is very purple), but does that factoid make them taste better? While some may relish being “inside baseball”, I view such emphasis as more pomp on the proverbial heap.

Furthermore, wine color in particular can be very misleading. One of the most revered wine types in the world, red Burgundy aka pinot noir, often hides behind a veil of enigmatic color. Thinly colored pinots may have enormous aroma and flavor while their darker and deeper counterparts might not deliver the goods. Go figure.

I taste wine professionally for clients because some winemakers like a second opinion when generating tasting notes. In that context, we rarely discuss color or clarity unless they are extraordinary.

Wine-speak in general, and all of the associated rituals, can be very intimidating to the novice. Consequently, I encourage all wine professionals to consider the fallout before expounding on the characteristics of color and flavor. The wine industry would be better served by omitting this practice so it doesn’t lose the very segment needed to attain a larger share of the adult beverage market.

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