Friday, March 25, 2011

The Question of Colour

How spontaneous is your colour sense?

Can your eye-brain respond so quickly that it suppresses any reaction to the rainbow's spectrum as a pebble ripples a pond...  or as light catches the whirr of a hummingbird’s wings?

My amazement at colour stimula is not something that I can suppress. How then can I suppress a reaction to the clarity, the hue, the surface tensions created by the movement in my hand as forces act on this one element of tasting wine?

Shouldn't this reaction be included when a wine is tasted? And shouldn't it be included in a wine's rating? 

Some would say not at all. Some would constrain it to a varietal or a regional colour wheel.

James Suckling (2, 3) uses a scale of 1 to 15 and with the experience of up to 150,000 tastings his reaction to a wine’s colour is instantaneous. I don’t question his 14 rather than a 13 or 13½ as others have.  It's his number - a piece of the story making up his bottom line wine rating.

My experience pales in comparison but with 1800 tastings over the last five years my reaction to colour, using a scale of 1 to 5, is relatively spontaneous as well.

The question's been asked: Should a one point change in colour shift a wine's bottom line from 90 to 89?  'Colour' is part of an iterative summation adjusted one way or the other at the discretion of the taster and, I would assume, a summation seldom driven by any single factor.  Perhaps the question is asked as an argument for what I call the 'Thumbsuck Rating System', ie. just give the wine a number: based on 3, 5, 10, 20 or 100. Or not give a rating at all, ie. the 'Trust me!' System.   I contend that any System having several factors that are defined and then enumerated is a more consistent evaluator across a number of wines, one to 150,000 - but 'Rating Systems' is a separate topic and each taster follows his/her own dictate.
The colour argument continues... but a nebbiolo should have such and such a hue, a sangiovese - liveliness, a Viognier - clarity, a chardonnay - a tinge of caramel… and the discussion continues on its own tangent. Rumour has it that our monopoly's VQA panel  turned down a local pinot grigio/gris for having a peach hue. Grape types do not have to be pedigreed... perhaps a mongrel in the mix may even keep the strain healthy.

My focus is how the colour in the glass prepares me for what I’m about to taste. Does the colour build anticipation?  Light/dark? violet/ruby? adobe rimmed?, green tinted?, reflective or serene?, festive or mood setting?  As each factor is assessed does the colour portray the wine favourably? Does it support my discoveries in the glass? And a simple number logs my reaction.

If, when you look at the glass before you and your response is, in so many words, ' colour doesn’t mean a thing!’ -  it’s none of my business.  However, my world isn’t black and white and neither is my wine. I won’t ignore a chance to gauge the reaction it promotes and include it as part of my tasting experience.

My opinion, Ww

  1. Evan Dawson's interesting 'The Money of Color' at Palate Press
  2. James Suckling looks at The Colour of Brunello
  3. A variation of the Wine Advocate scale -  James Suckling 100 point scale 

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