Wine Wednesdays With William: Can You Taste The Color Of Your Wine?

In The Color of Odors, a 2001 paper by Gil Morrot, Frédéric Brochet and Denis Dubourdieu, the trio describe an experiment to test whether the color of wine affects how it tastes. Fifty-four social wine drinkers were asked to describe the smell of a real red wine and a real white wine. A few days later they repeated the experiment with the same subjects. This time both glasses contained the same white wine, one of them having been dyed red with an odorless and flavor-neutral food dye.

The result intrigued Wendy Parr of the Department of Wine, Food and Molecular Biosciences at Lincoln University in New Zealand. She repeated the experiment with wine experts and got the same result: Both groups used the same words to describe the real red wine and the colored white wine. The inescapable conclusion is that we assess the taste of a wine before we lift the glass.

Because the world’s most valued wines, based on Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, are deeply colored, wine judges and critics tend to favor deeply colored wine. This has not gone unnoticed by the wine industry. Since the mid-1990s, winemakers have been making more and more deeply colored wine. What follows is how they’ve accomplished it. California grape growers crushed 250,000 tons of Rubired wine grapes last year, roughly the same quantity as Pinot Noir or Merlot. Rubired is a red-fleshed hybrid grape developed in California in 1958. It imparts a deep purple color to wine, juice and some food products. It’s sold as a concentrate, Mega Purple, a thick, sweet, syrupy goo. A shot glass of it in a 225-liter barrel will make the wine impenetrably dark, obscure any green pepper flavors and mask the off-smell that comes from contamination with a yeast called Brettanomyces. Mega Purple makes every bottle taste the same and adds a sweet texture to the finish of a wine.

Virtually no winemaker will admit to using it. Way back in 2006, the trade magazine Wines and Vines reported that most winemakers refused point blank to discuss it, One, who spoke anonymously said: “Virtually everyone is using it. In just about every wine up to $20 a bottle anyway[.]”

Rosé, by contrast, has a different problem. Just as depth of color has connotations of quality for red wine, consumers have begun to assume that a pale rosé is a better rosé. In response, winemakers are taking color out of their wine even though they know you cannot taste pink. They are picking underripe grapes, using carbon filtration to remove the pigmentation and most commonly are adding a greater proportion of white wine, all to ensure we purr with anticipation as the wine is poured.


Taste Challenge No.2
Grab two different bottles of Pinot Grigio, one white, the other pink (we have both at Putnam Market). Beg your local coffee shop for some cardboard coffee cups and lids (we have those, too, by the way). Pour the wines into the coffee cups, replace the lids and shuffle the cups before putting them in to chill. Remove one at a time and, without peeking, identify the wine.

If that’s too much trouble, find a bottle of Bandol and a seat on the deck. Cheers.

In saratoga living‘s 20th Anniversary issue, we introduced you to native Londoner William Roach, the Wine Director at Putnam Market’s Wine Room on Broadway in Saratoga Springs, who provided you with 20 incredible pieces of wine knowledge that he learned throughout his 20 years in the business—and has taught many a connoisseur-in-the-making (he holds a level four diploma in Wine & Spirits from the Wine & Spirits Education Trust). This is his weekly column. (Read last week’s here.)


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