Wine: Splashes of colour, a multitude of interpretations

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From deep purple to blanc de blancs and everything in between.

Like wrinkles on a person, the colour of a particular wine can give us an indication of its age. Photo / Thinkstock
Like wrinkles on a person, the colour of a particular wine can give us an indication of its age. Photo / Thinkstock

With this week's pages of Viva splashed with the colours of Fashion Week, I'm inspired to ponder the rich hues of wine. From water white to opaque purple, these span a wide spectrum that not only influence our choices and give us a clue to the flavours we might find in the glass, but can even override what our other senses are telling us.

We can tell quite a lot from gazing into our glass of wine. Just like the wrinkles etched over time into a person's face, its colour can provide an indication of its age. In white wines, the oxidative effect of time makes it appear increasingly golden, while in reds the components that provide its colour increasingly fall out, leading them to pale and turn russet over the years.

In whites, deeper colours can also mean the wine has spent time in oak or, in dessert wines, the presence of raisined grapes. In reds, deeper colours are associated with riper grapes and often fuller bodied styles, something that's increasingly come to see quality equated with opacity.

But this is not always the case.

Reds can still be pale and interesting. Varieties such as pinot noir and nebbiolo, may not boast skins high in the anthocyanins that dictate levels of colour, but can still make great and intensely flavoured wines.

Many wine drinkers are distinctly colour-prejudiced, often based on connections made between a preferred style and a colour. Though it's a useful rule of thumb it's a somewhat blunt instrument in excluding everything that falls outside these parameters. If you only quaff white or sip solely red, would you drink orange?

Yes, orange wines do exist and are in fact becoming increasingly hip in countries such as the States. They're made from white grapes, but unlike most white wines, these are left to macerate with their skins for often lengthy periods of time, resulting in wines tinted with a blush from pink to vivid tangerine. Here in New Zealand, Pyramid Valley makes a fascinating example from pinot blanc and pinot gris.

Certain countries have their favourite shades, such as the decidedly red-skewed Chinese market. This has proved something of a stumbling block for New Zealand, whose main export is sauvignon blanc. However, one of our wineries, Yealands Estate has been working on a novel way round this and has come up with the concept of "sauvignoir": not a stomach churning blend of sauvignon blanc and pinot noir, but a sauvignon to which natural red dye has been added.

There's already a couple of rosé sauvignon blancs on the market as well, one of which I encountered blind while judging at a wine show. It left my panel confused: it smelled and tasted like our flagship white, while being a disconcerting shade of pink.

It confounded our expectation - which we all have to varying degrees - about what a colour is communicating to us about a wine. And as we're a species in which the visual regularly dominates over other senses, what we see can distort the signals we're getting from our other senses. This was the conclusion of research conducted by New Zealand scientists into the "Influence of Colour on Perception of Wine Aroma", which revealed that even wine experts can be fooled when presented with a falsely coloured wine.

"At the actual time of perception the colour information overrides smell and taste and becomes incorporated into the actual representation of the wine sample in our mind," explains Dr Wendy Parr, one of the study's authors, "so the objective representation - i.e. the sensory experience based on the actual constituents in the wine glass - is "corrupted" at time of perception."

It seems that to some extent we taste with out eyes. But watch out: appearances can be deceptive.

A COLOURFUL COLLECTION

PRETTY IN PINK
Chateau de Sours Bordeaux Rose 2010 $32.99
Chateau de Sours is arguably the Christian Lacroix of rosé makers, illustrated by this peach-tinted and wonderfully weighty dry example with its notes of red fruits, fresh citrus and subtle herb. (From Village Winery, Fine Wine Delivery Company, La Barrique, Advintage.)

DEEP RED
Kilikanoon The Lackey Shiraz 2009 $21.90
Ripe Aussie shiraz is one of the deeper hued wines. This great value example is a vibrant ruby, full of plump blueberry fruit laced with spice. (From Glengarry and other fine wine retailers.)

PALE BEAUTY
Ara Single Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2011 $21.95
Its light colour certainly doesn't mean lack of flavour in this sauvignon blanc which possesses a definite richness to its dry and elegant palate of blackcurrant leaf, oregano herb and mineral. (From Countdown.)

- NZ Herald

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