Making Wine Sense: Sight with White Wine

Enjoying a bottle of wine is a multi-faceted experience and is one of many reasons why I love it so! In some capacity, it involves all five of our senses… sight, smell, taste, touch/feel, and even hearing. This is why Wine Star Services doesn’t talk about wine “tasting” events – we talk about wine “experiences”.  As every wino knows, there’s so much more to it than just tasting!

“Taste” may be the most commonly associated sense when it comes to wine… that makes sense. But how can we use our other senses to further evaluate, understand, and experience wines?

So, welcome to Wine Star’s “Making Wine Sense” series! Each post will be focused on a different sense and how we use it when enjoying wine. Today, we shall start with SIGHT when enjoying white wines.


What can we tell from looking at a glass of wine? To start, we can see if it is red or white. That’s kind of a big deal. But then what? There are two primary aspects to evaluating wine by sight. (1) Color and (2) Clarity.

Color (or Hue)

Evaluating the color of a wine tells us a lot. It will help us prepare for what to expect when tasting it.  And that’s important. Think about if someone blindfolded you and told you they were going to feed you a blueberry but instead they fed you a grapefruit? It sorta jolts your senses and makes it hard to enjoy. It’s the same with wine. If you expected one flavor and got another, you may be turned off by it even though it is one you’d otherwise enjoy.

Sometimes white wines have almost no color and other times you get a deep golden or amber color. What can we deduce from looking at the color alone?

The color scale for white wines is generally described as follows:

  • no color
  • pale green
  • straw yellow
  • canary yellow
  • golden yellow
  • amber

Or to keep it simple, it’s perfectly acceptable to think of this range in more generic terms such as: pale, light, medium, dark.

There are a handful of things that we can evaluate based on the color alone:

  • Age: Lighter color wines tend to be younger, while darker colored wines indicate they’ve been aged longer. When there is a brownish hue to a white wine, that could mean it is past its “peak” drinking time. It doesn’t always mean it’s bad, but just that it may not be drinking as splendidly as it once did.
  • Oak: Light colored white wines most likely didn’t touch any oak in its fermentation/aging process. Wine that has a straw/canary/golden color has likely been aged in oak for a short time. Sitting in oak adds the yellowish color to the wine.
  • Fruit Flavors/Acidity: Lighter color wines will likely be less fruit forward in flavor and have higher acid. Whereas darker colored wines will exhibit more fruitiness and less acidity.
  • Residual Sugar: Dessert wines have high residual sugar (which makes them sweet), and this will show itself via golden or amber colors in the wine.
  • Oxidation: If your white wine looks a bit brown, it may have been exposed to too much oxygen (probably through the cork) and is probably not so good to drink. If it smells funky, then perhaps it’s time to pull out another bottle.

Here’s a little chart to help break all this down using part of the Munsell Color Tree.

Making Wine Sense: Color Indications for White Wine

Making Wine Sense: Color Indications for White Wine


Once you pour a glass of wine, look to see how clear it is before drinking it.  To really evaluate, look straight down into the glass and then hold the wine at an angle (almost like you’re going to pour it out). Is there a cloudiness to it? Or is it clear or bright?

Things that are bad: cloudy, hazy, oily looking wines

Things that are good: Bright color, clearness, sparkling

The “bad” characteristics are just faults in the wine. If you notice any of those characteristics, you probably want to pass on the wine.

Why Should Winos Care About Color or Clarity?

In my humble wino opinion, understanding what YOU like to drink is The Most Important Thing. If you like a wine that is very pale in color, chances are you’ll tend to like other pale colored wines. Which means, you probably like young, unoaked, acidic whites.  If you tend to like golden colored white wines, chances are that you prefer oaked, fruity whites.

Knowing this means it will be easier to select a bottle at the wine store next time – and feel confident that you’ll like it! So go out there and try something new that has a similar color to a wine you already know you like!

Next we’ll post about color indications in red wines! It’s a whole different evaluation.

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