The Colour and Tint of White Wine Grapes

Wed, 06/22/2011 - 07:10 -- The-Wine-Man

Sauvignon Blanc adapts to cooler climates.  It likes an oceanic influence (the Loire, the Bordelais, New Zealand) and is often drunk with young (one or two years), without having aged in wood.  Its colour is greenish, with a silvery tint.  Aged in cask, it arrives at maturity in three or four years.  By this time it has acquired a straw yellow colour, with a green tint if it is the product of a cooler region.  However, it will have a golden tint when a dry year has marked its birth.  It is often used in blends, in the Bordelais, for example, since its freshness contributes to the balance of the wine.

The ideal climate for Viognier, one that is sunny but not too hot, is found in the north of the Rhone valley.  Its natural colour when young (one of two years) is a straw yellow with a green tint, rapidly developing into golden yellow tones (a sign that it is ready to be drunk) at three to five years.  Its colour changes more rapidly when grown on a plain, in a hot climate.

Chardonnay, predominant in Burgundy, presents a green colour with a silvery tint during its first year, if not aged in the cask.  After a more of less prolonged period in the cask, the colour develops into a straw yellow with a green tint.  At maturity it is typically golden yellow, as is the case in a Puligny-Montrachet that is five to eight years old.  In a cooler climate (Chablis), it tends towards nuances of green, but if raised in California (Santa Barbara, for example) it takes on its golden yellow colour even when young.

Riesling displays distinct characteristics at every stage of its development.  I find this small, yellowish grape one of the finest in the world.  Classy, of noble breed, it is a variety that displays a green colour with a silver tint when very young, and not aged in the cask.  A late harvest or the selection of noble strains produces amber and topaz nuances.  This is a grape variety that ages slowly, it needs time to develop its chromatic tints.  Like the Chardonnay, it cannot prosper in mediocre soil.  Only the finest of soils can give it longevity and a real minerality.

A sunny climate encourages the Roussanne to fulfil its promise of body, plumpness, and a Mediterranean bouquet.  Golden yellow in its youth, it rapidly evolves into an old gold colour which indicates its sensitivity to oxidation.  A roussanne can mature with surprising rapidity or, on the contrary, take pride in a very long life, but one which can end abruptly, like that of a man who falls victim to a heart attack.

Outside of Switzerland, the Chaddelas is considered a table grape.  But it has its place in the international market thanks to the great vineyards, of French-speaking Switzerland in particular.  Lacking in body, it is not a wine that keeps and is usually enjoyed in its youth then its colour is very pale silvery green.  It develops rapidly, tending towards golden and crystal-clear hints, but it can offer some startling surprises.  I once asted some 1976 and 1977 vintages of a Dezaley vintener.  Their colouring matter had developed very slowly.  Contrary to popular conceptions of its character, this wine was not in the least oxidised, despite its advanced age.  And that is still another mystery of wine: even a very humble grape can age, if it is grown in a great soil.