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Unless there’s something remarkable or unexpected about the look of a wine in my glass – a rosé that’s neon pink or one of those wacky blue wines that marketers conceived to attract consumers – I don’t discuss a wine’s colour in reviews beyond stating it’s a red, white or rosé. It’s a matter of getting right to the meat of the matter; “don’t bore us, get to the chorus,” as American rocker Tom Petty is credited with saying.
Most red wines on the market offer different intensities of ruby or garnet. In the glass, a malbec from Mendoza, a shiraz from Barossa and a cabernet from Sonoma can look identical, but they should smell and taste different due to their different origins and grape varieties.
Whites offer spectrums of lemon or gold, while rosés commonly project pink or orange hues.
A wine’s colour can be extracted from the skins of the grapes during the winemaking and fermentation process. The growing climate and storage conditions can also alter its colour and intensity. As they age, white wines and rosés get darker, while red wines often get lighter in colour.
White wines aged in oak are typically deeper in colour than ones aged in stainless steel tanks, which help to preserve the wine from exposure to oxygen. Some modern white wines are handled so gently that they can look like water. At the other end of the spectrum, winemakers might use grape concentrates, one of which is called Mega Purple, to colour correct their red wines. (Adding Mega Purple or other concentrates can also add a wallop of jammy, sweet fruit flavours to the finished wine.)
In a professional evaluation, looking at a wine’s colour is an important first step to evaluating its quality. It can provide insight into how old the wine is, which grape varieties were used, where they were grown and how it was made. Smelling and tasting the wine, however, provides more significant information about its style and quality.
For consumers, a wine’s colour may provide some clue as to what you’re about to drink: think of that dark and inky coloured Barossa shiraz that prepares you for the full-bodied and intensely flavourful wine. That said, these can just as easily be false impressions.
A common sensory science experiment involves adding red colouring to a vibrant and aromatic white wine, say an intensely flavoured sauvignon blanc from Marlborough, New Zealand. That visual cue makes some subjects describing berry and cherry flavours in a wine that actually tastes of tropical fruit, citrus and green peppers.
When you open a bottle of wine, for instance, a red blend made in the Okanagan in 2019, you should expect to see a bright and vibrant ruby colour, which tells you that the wine has been well-made and stored properly. Don’t discount a wine’s colour, but be aware that tasting it is the only way to know if you like it or not.