Learn about your wines by just looking at them!

Observing a wine in our glass can tell us a lot about it.  Color is a good clue as to how old a wine might be; as it gets older it oxidizes, turning more golden for whites, darker for rosés, and rustier looking for reds.  Of course color might come from other factors too, it depends a lot on the soils and climate, the production process, and what type of grapes are used in the first place, but a wine’s color gives us a general first impression to start working with.

Before I started working with Hande, I had never really taken the time to contemplate the color.  I’ve learned that regionality plays a large role in the color of Italy’s whites, we can actually get an idea of where it might come from based on the color we see.  It’s not an exact science or anything, but if the color is light, we can make an educated guess that the wine we’re evaluating comes from the north of Italy, and if the wine is darker or more golden, then we can deduce its origins are in the south.  I learned this theory at my first Vino Roma tasting back in December, and have accurately tested it out on many of the wines I’ve had since.  It makes sense logically, as northern Italy is mountainous and cool, while the south gets hotter and hotter the further down you go.

 AIS’ only female presenter, Daniela, has led the lectures on wine examination.  She’s an Italian architect, probably in her early 50s, and one of the most poised public speakers I’ve ever met.  Her palate is impeccable - I scribble down notes like a mad woman on whatever she’s talking about.  Her tangents and side notes turn into intriguing facts and anecdotes, all of which she so eloquently ties back to her original point.  Her first lecture was dedicated to ‘l’esame visivo’ – the visual exam.  We learned the standard set of colors used to describe white wines, rosés, and reds.  There actually aren’t that many options to choose from along the color scale.  For whites there are four: greenish-yellow, straw-yellow, golden-yellow, and amber; the rosé category has three: soft rosé, cherry-red, and dark rosé; and for red wines we have four again: purple-red, ruby, garnet, and orange-red.  This vocabulary alone has been insightful.  You can mix colors a bit, for instance a white wine can be greenish-yellow, tending toward straw, or a red wine could be garnet, with hints of orange-red. 

Before smelling the wine, sommeliers evaluate a few other factors: it’s limpidity, consistency, and if bubbles are present, it’s effervescence.  Limpidity corresponds to the absence or presence of suspended particles in a wine, a limited amount of which can be OK, but generally speaking it’s frowned upon to see bits and pieces floating around in your glass.  We measure this by choosing one adjective along a scale of five that best describes the wine we’re evaluating: veiled, quite limpid, limpid, crystal clear, or brilliant.  A wine’s consistency can be observed as a wine’s structure, or thickness in the glass, measured again along a scale of five: flowing, scarcely consistent, quite consistent, consistent, or oily.  If we are evaluating a sparkling wine, we look at its effervescence, the presence of carbon dioxide bubbles.  We are evaluating the size of the bubbles, the number there are, and how they persist in our glass.  The size of the bubbles can be measured as: large, quite fine, or fine; the number of bubbles as: very few, quite numerous, or numerous; and the persistence of the wine as: fading, quite persistent, or persistent. 

The evaluation system we use is internationally standardized; my Italian textbook also prints the glossary in English and French, so we can reference all three—perfect for people like me who’d also like to contemplate a wine in one or both of the principle wine languages of the world.

Stay tuned for part two!  Coming soon on the joys of evaluating the nose of your wine…


2 Responses to “Learn about your wines by just looking at them!”

  1. Enrico

    Ciao Amelia,

    Scopro che scrivi anche tu sul sito di Hande.
    Un saluto.

    (ci siamo conosciuti al bellissimo aperitivo domenica scorsa a casa di Hande e Theo).


  2. anna

    Always interesting how to describe wine..thanks for the help! I am living in Italy too! it’s so fun! good luck!

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