Even before you take a sip of wine, observing the color of the wine in your wine glass can tell you a lot about what you are about to experience. As a result, any wine tasting should always include a brief visual inspection of the wine in your glass, and should always take place before you do any initial tasting. Preferably, this observation of color and hue should take place in a setting with natural light.
The key to this process is holding the glass against a white (or, at least, neutral) background so that you can more easily observe the hue of each color more easily. However, do not hold the glass directly in front of a light source (either overhead lighting if you are indoors or the sun if you are outdoors), since this will actually make it harder to observe the true color of the wine. This is one of the mistakes that new wine drinkers make.
The true color of the wine comes from contact with the grape skins after the grapes have been juiced. So the longer the wine comes into contact with these skins, the more those skins will impart their color to the wine. One way to think about these grape skins is that they are similar to the skin of an apple or the zest of a citrus fruit (i.e. orange or lemon), in that they have a surprising number of their own characteristics that help to define what you are about to taste. The more you learn about different grape varieties, the more you will have an intuitive feel for the types of coloration they give to the wine.
As a rule of thumb, you can expect grapes with thicker skins to produce stronger colors than those with thinner skins. Some wines, for example, are particularly prized for their intense coloration made possible with these thicker skins. Another determining factor in the color of the wine is the amount of aging the wine experiences with oak. Generally speaking, oak aging helps to make the color darker, depending on the specific wine. It’s a big reason why some people prefer an oaked Chardonnay – you get to see a deeper, more golden color as well as taste a more complex flavor profile.
If you are looking at the color of a white wine, you will want to observe the amount of yellow in the glass. This can range from almost no yellow coloration at all to a straw coloration to a deep, full, golden color. As a general rule, bright, very light wines will be crisp and refreshing to drink and are a strong indication that they have not been aged in oak. On the other hand, if the wine is a darker yellow color, it is a strong indication that it has been oaked in a barrel.
If you are looking at the color of a red wine, you will want to observe the amount of red in the glass. On one hand, this coloration can be light red or even pink, and on the other hand, could be a very dark maroon or purple color. Light red wines will be fresh and even somewhat tart to drink, while darker red wines will be bolder and more complex. Generally speaking, very dark and deep coloration is a good sign that the wine has been oaked in a barrel.
Thus, as you can see, observing the color of the wine can give you a lot of information about what it will taste like, and may even give an indication of the winemaking technique used to make it. So before you taste a wine, make sure that you take a few minutes to observe the coloration of the wine in front of you. Getting a sense of a wine’s color is an important way to improve the overall wine tasting experience.