What do I see in wine, anyway?

Don’t worry, I’m not turning against wine. I’m answering a question: Why do my wine reports usually begin with a few words about the wine’s color and appearance?

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I get this question surprisingly often. Apparently many newcomers to wine appreciation – and even some experienced tasters – wonder why wine-tasting notes usually devote a few words (or more than just a few) to the wine’s color, clarity, even its shade at the edge.

After all, as jokesters often say, you don’t taste with your eyeballs!

In fact, you don’t have to take note of the wine’s appearance to enjoy it. Many people go straight to the serious part: The way the wine smells and tastes. But there are some good reasons to take a quick look before we sniff.

The first issue is practical: A quick check on the wine’s appearance color may signal a problem. A hazy, cloudy, even murky glass might herald contamination or an unwanted secondary fermentation.

It’s also worth noting whether the color is typical of the grape or style. Pinot Noir, for example, is often, though certainly not always, relatively light in color. An exceptionally dark Pinot might indicate an idiosyncratic wine in the glass. It would be very odd, on the other hand, to find a translucent Shiraz, a wine that’s customarily dark.

Dark red wine

This is why standard wine-scoring sheets like those used in judging wine competitions usually allocate a certain number of points – often from one-tenth to one-fourth of the total score – to its appearance.

And one more thing, perhaps more romantic than scientific, but still important: Wine tasting is a pleasure that shouldn’t be rushed. Wine lovers could easily restate the old folk wisdom about taking time to smell the roses as “slow down to gaze upon the wine.”

Like an actor getting centered in the role or an athlete putting on a game face, pausing to examine the wine helps focus more clearly on the ritual of smelling, tasting, and reflecting. And it’s no coincidence, I think, that the vocabulary of wine colors tends toward metaphors rhat evoke luxury and beauty: Precious stones (garnet, ruby, emerald), ornamental metals (brass, bronze, gold), and good things to eat (honey, caramel).

Still don’t think color matters? Think about this: Would you enjoy your wine as much if you had to sip it from a black glass?

Next time you pour a glass, have a look and see what you see. Here’s this week’s tasting, a dark but delicious Australian wine from Barossa. It’s a very good value.


Today’s Tasting Report

Barossa Valley Estate 2020 Barossa Valley “GSM” ($12.99)

Barossa Valley Estate "GSM"

A blend of 42% Grenache, 30% Shiraz, and 28% Mourvèdre (“GSM”) that’s Australia’s nod to France’s Southern Rhône Valley reds, this impressive value from Barossa Valley Estate is a dark reddish-purple color with a reddish edge. Ripe, appetizing strawberry and raspberry aromas show first, with hints of pomegranate and red plum peeking through. It’s dry and a bit hot on the palate – we can thank its 14.5% alcohol for that – and a very light chill might help. It’s a minor complaint in a structured, acidic flavor that follows the nose and adds spice from subtle, not overwhelming French oak. U.S. importer: Delegat USA Inc., San Francisco. (July 27, 2023)

This hearty red wine invites a match with beef or game or flavorful cheeses. It was good for a caprese pasta for us but probably would have been even happier with more hearty fare.

The winery says this wine is made to enjoy upon release but will also reward further cellaring. I wouldn’t sock it away for a decade or more, but three to five years in a good cellar might be worth a try.

It’s a very good value at Wine-Searcher.com’s $14 average U.S. retail,; prices under $10 at a few vendors might justify a bargain hunt.

Here’s the winery’s tech sheet on the 2021 vintage, which shouldn’t be far out of line with this 2020.

Check prices and find vendors for Barossa Valley Estate “GSM” on Wine-Searcher.com.

Follow this Wine-Searcher link to read more about Barossa Valley and find listings for dozens of other wines from the region.

You’ll find more information about Grenache-Syrah-Mourvèdre blends at this Wine-Searcher link.


Find the wines you want

Explore Wine-Searcher

Wine-Searcher.com is the place to go online if you want to find where to buy a particular wine that interests you. What’s more, Wine-Searcher.com offers so much more. It’s well worth a visit just to discover its many features, including its popular list of the world’s Top 10 Best Value Wines.


Good wines we’ve tried under $10.99!

Want tips to still more good, inexpensive wines? Here are Wine-Searcher links to vendors and prices for a bunch more wines for $10.99 or less that I’ve told you about in recent years. In some cases the prices may have risen over the $10.99 mark since I reviewed them, but they should still be excellent bargains. Please tell us about your favorites!


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