Wine Color as an Indication of Condition (Continued)
A flood of questions the size of the Douro/Duero River (see here) have come in regarding the value of aging wine, how the color relates to this, and when should you not worry about the color.
The fact is that most wine doesn't benefit that much from age. A year or so in the bottle generally makes the wine a little more complex and a little smoother. With white wines, the added complexity may or may not be attractive. It depends on many factors that I listed in part one of this article (read here). Generally speaking, white wines are mostly better younger, and red wines by comparison do benefit more from aging than whites. The red wines though should be ones that contain a lot of the solids from the grape skins. It is the role that these solids (including many polyphenols, crystallized acids, and tiny remnants of the winemaking process) play in the wine that makes aging improve the flavor. This process is not unlike what happens to a stew when allowed to sit overnight in the refrigerator. The flavors seem to integrate and smooth out compared to what they were like when first cooked, when each ingredient is more obvious.
So, a little wine knowledge has to come into play here. Get to know which red grapes leave the most of these solids in the wine, and you'll have a decent starting point understanding which ones can be allowed to age the most. Lighter bodied reds--Pinot Noir comes to mind--usually do not age particularly well (Gevrey-Chambertin fans will break into a donnybrook right about now...and believe me I'm on your side) compared to sturdier wines like a quality Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, or the famous collaboration of these two, red Bordeaux, especially the "cru classé" bunch ($$$$). Even though I am mentioning these three wines, there are lesser known wines like Sagrantino di Montefalco and higher end Petite Sirahs ($$$) that are so dense with polyphenols, they can benefit from a decade or two of aging easily.
So why go on this tangent when we're supposedly discussing wine color? Because not all red wines change color at the same speed. Depending on what wine it is, they will develop those brownish hues earlier or later in their lives. Luckily for most people, even red wines are rarely meant to be aged for many years, and those that do typically bring a high price tag, so that's your main warning that this wine is something a little different from the one you brought to that party last week. It brings its own set of controls--financial ones--so you don't really have to worry much.
Also, fortified wines--both red and white--like Port, Sherry, Madeira, Marsala, Moscatel de Setubal, Pineau des Charentes, Banyuls, Muscat-de-Beaume-de-Venise and on and on... take on a wide variety of colors that are caused by the peculiar production processes unique to their own region of production. The "rules" we are discussing pertaining to dry table wines do not apply nearly as much.
Non-fortified dessert wines like Sauternes, Tokai, Beerenauslese, some Reccioto and late harvest styles, all have deeper richer colors that should also distinguish them from the drier wines.
So what does all this mean in everyday practical terms?
If you don't order a fortified or dessert wine and don't order super expensive wine, all you have to do is make sure there are no brown hints in the color, and move onto to sniff and taste the wine quickly.
|...not necessarily the other way around.|
Did I forget to mention Rosé ?
'Till Next Time...
-- Marc Soucy, FWS CSWMarc Wine Blog