Tasting break down – Visual Inspection

I’ve been posting these tasting notes, with all these weird descriptions (like legs, brightness, body, etc), but what am I really talking about???  

Basically, I’m trying to observe all the different aspects of a wine using sight, smell, and taste, and I’m trying to do this in a systematic manner, so that I can better compare one wine to another.  So, let’s break down my “tasting system”, and we’ll start with the visual inspection…

You can learn fair amount about a wine just by looking at it.  The two most important visual characteristics are: Color and Brightness.  The third characteristic is the “legs”, but I don’t put much stock in them.

First we need to identify the color of the wine.  These are some common colors used to describe wine:
(… and then these colors can be further described as light,  medium, or dark).   The color of the wine can provide a hint toward the grape varietal, but even more importantly, the color is an indicator of the age of the wine, because the color is a result of the oxidation process.  Often the wine is a deeper color at the center of the glass and fades to a lighter hue towards the edge of the glass.  This is called rim variation.  The amount of rim variation tends to increase as a wine ages.  Also, as a white wine ages, it becomes darker and browner; while a red wine becomes lighter and browner as it ages.  This “darker/lighter” also refers to the brightness.    

Brightness is the amount of light reflected by the wine.   The brightness scale is as follows:

  • Dull/Opaque
  • Hazy
  • Bright
  • Day Bright
  • Star Bright
  • Brilliant
To determine the brightness, tilt your glass over a white background (perhaps a napkin or table cloth) to see how much light is reflected onto the white surface below.  Could you read through the wine?  If yes, the wine would likely be considered bright or above.  The last three levels are mostly reserved for white wines, and brilliant is basically clear.  Usually, darker wines have more body, while brighter wines are lighter in body.  Hazy wine may indicate that the wine is unfiltered or possibly flawed. 

Lastly, we check out the “legs” (also sometimes called “tears”) of the wine.  These are the streaks that form along the sides of the glass after swirling.  Generally, thick and slowly moving legs are a sign of either high alcohol or high residual sugar.  The videos below give a much better explanation than I can, but basically there are a number of factors that can affect the legs, so (imho) they aren’t as important as the color or the brightness.

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