We Taste Wine With Our Eyes

Our eyesight is the first sense we use in wine tasting and appreciation, and it is often underrated. In typical 100-point wine scoring systems, color only accounts for 5 out of 100 points (5 percent of the score).

The color of a wine is often referred to as a wine’s robe or face. Robe is often used to refer to intensity and hue, and wine can be said to have a beautiful robe. If weakly colored, the wine may be called “badly dressed or short-skirted.”

Color is best judged by holding a glass of wine, by the stem, against a white background. The fuller the glass, the darker the wine will appear.

Visual clues also provide information on clarity, age, or maturity of the wine, the grape variety, level of alcohol, how the wine was made (clarified or filtered), and the extent of oxidation.

The alcohol level of a wine is indicated by the legs (tears, arcs, arches) that arise on the bottom inside walls of the glass after you swirl it or take a sip. The higher the alcohol content, the more prominent the legs are. Since alcohol is more volatile than water, a thin layer of more aqueous liquid forms on the surface of the wine and on the glass that comes in contact with it. The capillary action causes the liquid to rise up the glass, and the increase in surface tension forms legs that eventually flow back down into the wine (Marangoni effect). Legs are colorless, and are not due to the wine’s glycerol content as is often believed. They also have nothing to do with the wine’s quality.

Visual inspection of wine has an indirect influence on smell and taste, sometimes altering aromatic and flavor judgments. If a wine’s color is changed in any way, it will often alter olfactory and tasting perceptions; consumers often perceive a deeply colored wine as more flavorful.

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