I’ve always gone under the assumption that it’s probably wise to examine something closely before starting to consume it. This is just a good, everyday practice. Most of the time, the situation turns out the way you had expected, but there have been a number of times I was happy I’d taken a few seconds to assess what I was about to wolf down.
Therefore, I’m bewildered when people don’t take an extra couple of moments to gauge the wines they are about to drink. As an example, let me relate something that occurred a while back.
A customer had ordered a $100 bottle. He was embroiled in a discussion with his friends about a ski trip he was planning to make to Colorado next winter. The conversation was getting heated, as one of the guests thought Slope A was going to be the most challenging and the host thought it was definitely Slope B. This struck me as a bizarre thing to get all bothered about while your appetizer got cold, but I usually assume a “whatever rows your boat” philosophy in these instances.
the customer a taste of the wine, so that he might judge the health of the
bottle for which he was about to fork out a handsome rendition of Benjamin
Franklin. And what did he do? With nary a glance at the glass, he knocks it
back in a fashion not dissimilar to W.C. Fields belting back two fingers of
rotgut at the New Old Lompoc House. Tasting in this manner made it nearly
impossible for him to know what liquid was in the glass, let alone assess any
subtle nuances the wine may have had. There is a better way.
I firmly believe that the quality of most wines can be judged without ever having tasted them. That’s right, if you spend an additional moment or two to really look at each wine and take in its aromas, you should be able to calculate most everything you need to know. Each wine has a specific appearance, its own presence, so to speak. Focusing on young, new releases, here’s what the most popular varieties should look like:
Whites that have been fermented in stainless steel tanks are rather pale and have a gray-green hue, which assumes a bit of yellow as they age. Oak-fermented whites tend to show this yellow at a younger age, and move on to a more buttercup color with some time in bottle. Those that should appear lighter and less viscous in the glass include albarino, pinot grigio, riesling and sauvignon blanc. Chardonnay, gewürztraminer and Rhone varietals (marsanne, muscat, roussane, viognier) appear more golden and thicker, and generally have less acidity and more alcohol.
reds, such as gamay, pinot noir, sangiovese and tempranillo are transparent and
often have a garnet edge, even at two or three years of age. These traits are
inherent, and should not be considered as flaws. Then there are the varietals
that appear light in color, but bring a punch with them. Two that come to mind
are grenache and nebbiolo. Don’t be fooled by their brick-like tinge. These are
fuller-bodied wines that can age beautifully for decades.
There are certain darkly colored wines that are actually less heavy than they appear. These include the three M’s: malbec, merlot and mourvedre. All three are nearly black in the glass, but in fact are only medium-bodied wines, quite capable of dexterity on the table.
The Big Boys are cabernet sauvignon, petite sirah, syrah (shiraz) and zinfandel. These wines are often opaque, and coat the stemware with legs that a body builder would be proud of. Even with age, they retain the type of appearance that insinuates richness.
descriptions are certainly generalities. Not all tempranillo is light in color,
nor is pinot gris from Alsace or