Be a wine detective...

Step One: See

Remember pretending to be a Private Detective when you were a kid? Blood-hounding around the house in hot pursuit of clues to solve some made-up mystery? Well there's no reason that fun should ever go away. Taking the time to deductively evaluate the wine you drink can keep your inner-Sherlock alive and sleuthing. 

You've got five basic detective tools in your wine-PI toolkit. Often called the five S's, these tools are:
a day-bright sangiovese
  1. See
  2. Swirl
  3. Smell
  4. Sip
  5. Savor (or spit)
I'll talk through each in the next five postings, beginning first with 'See.'

Looking closely at your wine, gets your palate and your brain prepared for what you are about to drink. 

Clarity
To begin with, the sight evaluation step will ensure you don't drink a wine that has gone off. If, for instance, the wine is overly cloudy or hazy it might need to be discarded. A small amount of haze (sediment) might indicate an unfiltered or aged wine and taking a sniff will confirm if it is flawed. If the wine appears in good condition, start looking for other clues about what it will taste like.

Brightness
Brightness, which is in lockstep with clarity, is a wine's ability to reflect light. The spectrum of brightness goes like this:

cloudy...hazy...dull...bright...day bright...star bright...brilliant

The lighter in color a wine is the more light it can reflect. A wine like Sauvignon Blanc may be so bright it is nearly colorless and therefore designated as "brilliant." To really see a wine's brightness, tilt your glass slightly so the wine is at an angle and let it reflect onto a white piece of paper. Once you've discerned the brightness, use the color/hue to learn more.

Color
pale-straw colored gruner veltliner
The color of the wine says a whole lot about it. It's safe to deduct, for instance, that a lighter colored wine is from a cooler climate, and a wine deeper in color is from a warmer climate. A wine's age  also affects color. Red wines generally become more translucent as they age, while age makes whites (and rose) darker. Storage factors in too. An oak-aged chardonnay will certainly reflect its barrel time in its color. 

Wines have a range of colors. By holding the class first straight on, then slightly angled and up to a light source, you will see where the wine falls on the color scale: 

White wines: Straw - Yellow - Gold – Brown
Rose wines: Pink - Salmon – Brown
Red wines: Purple - Ruby (red) - Garnet (brown or yellow) – Brown

Rim variation
If you're drinking red wine, you should look for rim variation. Holding your glass again at an angle will allow you to see how the color varies between the center area and the border (rim) of the wine in your glass. Age produces rim variation and the more there is in the glass your drinking the older the wine must be. 

To finish off the work our eyes do while evaluating wine, we need to swirl it...and I'll talk about that next.

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