Saturday, March 18, 2017

Marc Soucy's Practical Wine Advice: Ordering Wine in a Restaurant: color

Ordering Wine in a Restaurant (Part 3):  Color

Continuing my articles (read previous ones here) about ordering wine in a restaurant, let's talk about wine color. Above is a series of glasses with WHITE wine in all of them....yes that's right, white wine. The two on the right are not red wine. They are white wine that has evolved over time to show darker, browned, rusty... ...aged color. Over time, exposure to air--however tiny--temperature, vibration, light, and more importantly the wine's own organic chemical evolution, all contribute to these changes. Exposure to oxygen quickly accelerates these changes, hence the word "oxidation". What's most important about the color changes is that the flavors and aromas change along with the color. And that is why it's important to look at the wine carefully in a restaurant before accepting it. Simply put, if a white wine has brownish or reddish hues to it, it is suspect. Use this information to go on to the smell and taste part. We'll go over those in a later article. 

It's important to know that white wines that have not changed in this way often do not look the same anyway. Numbers 1 through 3 above are all in perfect condition from appearance. If I had to guess, I would say that #3 is an oak aged Chardonnay, but I could be wrong. Aging in oak does darken the color of white wine. Chardonnay is naturally a bit darker in color than say, Sauvignon Blanc, which most often looks like #1 or #2. This is why basing a judgement only on color would be a mistake. Brownish white wine has almost certainly gone bad, and the lighter the color, the more likely it is that the wine is in good shape. Think freshness. Most white wines do not benefit from aging, so signs of age--like a darker color--is a warning sign.  But not a disqualifier. 

Red wine is of course darker by nature, so the color is a bit harder to spot. Again think of freshness. The more red and vivid the color, the fresher the red wine. Some grapes produce wine that is naturally a bit "browner" than others--Pinot Noir and Nebbiolo can for example--so you do have to use smell and taste to confirm the condition. The brownish tinge might be a sign of too much aging or oxidation. It might not. It's just a bit of useful information as you evaluate your wine. 

One piece of advice. In a restaurant, try to get used to doing this as quickly as you're comfortable with. Memorize the few facts I've laid out here and just take a quick look at the wine. Use the color as a guide post and nothing more. Move on to the smell and then the taste very quickly. Your job is only to make sure the wine has not gone bad. You're not doing a wine review. 

You'll probably get better service from your waiter if you don't make a show out of it. 

And your tablemates will appreciate it. :)

 -- Marc Soucy, FWS CSW WSET

Marc Wine Blog


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