JWL Issue #006: Judging the Appearance of Wine

June 12, 2018

When you receive this, I’ll be away in the south of France. Along with the Provencal rosé, I’m going to try to get a taste of affordable  Cote Rotie (if such a thing exists). Look out for a French-centric issue next week.


Surprises are always nice. Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot blends are Bordeaux in my mind. And young Bordeaux can more often than not come across hugely unbalanced; either way too dry, acidic, tannic or all three.

Travelling a few hundred miles north, however, Markus Schneider in Pfalz, Germany has made an incredible wine from the grape combo. Ursprung is a brilliant wine and one I’d recommend even in this higher price bracket. Red berries, spice, oak. Tannins are low and overall well balanced. Great with food but still just as nice to drink afterwards. It’s under €10 if you can get it in Germany, but is worth the higher value already imported. 

Irish restaurant Nuala has a decent wine list to it by the glass (including a couple of oranges). Beneath the whites, roses, oranges and reds there’s a single-serving suggestion called ‘Wild.’ 

It’s a natural wine, a white from Burgundy and immediately on the nose transports you to childhood. Whether it’s a damp field or a swimming pool changing room will probably be up to your own memories. On the palate, the Bigotes ‘16 from Frederic Cossard, is less pungent and instead has soft aromatics and green herbaceous notes. Not just a barnyard natural wine, there’s something here


Appearance of wine

The main reason we look at wine is to determine if it’s faulty, and perhaps to get an indication of age. Hold the glass at 45 degrees against something plain and white to do this properly. Can you see light reflect in the wine? Or is it hazy? Hazy typically indicates a fault, though many natural wines now will have a cloudiness to them due to being unfiltered. 

How intense is it? Use a scale here from pale to deep. What colour is it? With white, at a basic level, look for green/lemon, gold or amber. Rosé can be pink, salmon or orange. Red can be purple, ruby, garnet, tawny or brown. The browner notes in both white and red are signs of ageing. The majority of young reds will be ruby or purple. Aged wines start to gather the garnet, or tawny notes. Some young wines go brown quicker than others, which I would sometimes note down when tasting a wine (‘Looks older than it is’).


Volatile acidity

Volatile acidity - or VA as wineos will more frequently call it - is the name for that vinegar smell you get in some wines. In traditional wines, smelling vinegar (VA) will typically mean the wine is faulty. But it’s not just a vinegar smell to watch out for. VA will reduce the fruit aromas in a wine and lead it to smelling flatter. 

Not all VA means a faulty wine, however. In natural wine, where adjustments haven’t been made, sometimes this smell will be more present than otherwise. If you smell it, check if the wine’s meant to be natural, if it isn’t - you might have a bad batch.

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