In September I had the chance to travel to Germany with my father. There were many great sites and places to visit, but one stop in particular sticks in my mind and probably always will.
After picking grapes and eating lunch at Allendorf Winery, our host, Ulrich Allendorf, led us into a large room. The room had two high white walls, a white ceiling, white floor, one wall sized mirror, and a wall sized screen. He gave each of us a glass and filled them with wine.
He told us to swirl, sniff, sip and discuss what we thought of the wine. The whole group came to a consensus that the wine was very light and crisp, with very little color and simple green apple flavors. Then he went into his spiel.
He told us he could change the wine in our glasses without touching or adding anything to them. He said, “What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you see a red wine?” The group responded with flavors of blackberry, raspberry, currant, cherry and strawberry. Ulrich said those were all logical answers and said those are the flavors that come to just about anyone’s mind when asked that question. He then walked over to a box on the wall and flipped a switch.
The room went dark for a moment, and then the wall screen filled with a bright red light. The mirror opposite the screen reflected the color across the room. After our eyes adjusted, he told us to look at the wine, which now looked red in the new light. He told us to swirl, sniff, sip and discuss again. To our amazement the wine had changed! It went from very light and simplistic to being very full and lush! Flavors and aromas that weren’t there before began bursting from the glass. He talked about the color red and its symbolism for a bit, and then flipped a switch again.
The room became bright green. We went through the same swirl, sniff, sip routine again, and once again the wine had changed. All of those lush flavors and aromas were replaced by green, unripe flavors and tart acid. He flipped a switch again.
The room glowed with a warm yellow. Swirl. Sniff, sip. The wine had transformed once more into a full bodied, lush wine with flavors of apricots, peaches and even had a tinge of sweetness. He flipped a switch again.
Now the room turned a deep blue. Sniff, and nothing. Sip, and nothing. The wine had lost all character in the nose and on the palate. It effectively tasted and smelled like water.
Not every color worked for everyone, some only noticed a change with one or two. What did I learn from all of this? Well for one, that my other senses have become incredibly dependent on my eyes. And two, how many wines have I written off in the past as not tasting right simply because the color didn’t look right?
The first thing they teach in formal tasting classes is how to look at, identify and describe the color of a wine. I now realize that when approaching a tasting in this way, it is very difficult not to prematurely judge the wine. Does this mean I was taught wrong? No, color is still important for a variety of reasons, but because of this experience at Allendorf, I now (literally) look at wines differently while I taste them.