Evaluating Wine by Sight
I previously discussed wine tasting surroundings and avoiding unwanted smells. Your next step is to visually examine the wine; your glass should be about one-quarter full.
Look straight down into the glass, then hold the glass to the light, and finally, tilt the glass so the wine rolls toward the edge. This will allow you to see the wine’s complete color range. I recommend you do this by placing your glass in front of a piece of white paper so you can see it more clearly, this will also show you how clear the wine is. By doing this you get a sense of the depth of color, which gives an indication of the density of the wine. A deeply-saturated, purple-black color might be indicative of a younger Syrah or a Petit Sirah; a lighter, pale shade might suggest a Pinot Noir. A wine that looks clear and brilliant and shows some sparkle, is always a good sign.
If the color looks pale and watery, it may suggest a thin, possibly insipid wine. If the color looks brownish (for a white) or orange or rusty brick (for a red wine) it is either an older wine or a wine that has been oxidized and may be past its prime.
Swirl! You can swirl your glass most easily by keeping it firmly on a flat surface. Notice if the wine forms “legs” or “tears” that run down the sides of the glass. Wines that have good legs are wines with more alcohol content, and are not necessarily better wines as some people may tell you. Wine legs are caused by alcohol evaporation; when you swirl your wine you create a thin film of wine on the surface of the glass. As the alcohol evaporates (creating wine aromas), the leftover water-wine mix collects on the sides of the glass creating droplets that fall back into the glass.