white wine – age, color and oxidation

It’s not news to anybody on this board that white wine darkens with age. Dark color at a relatively young age has been a telltale of the saddest wine story of the past 50 years… the premature oxidation of white Burgundy.

But what does dark color say to you in a white wine of moderate (5 – 10) to fairly mature (10 – 20), to mature (20+) age? Two tastings this year prompt the question.

At the spectacular Mount Eden charity dinner hosted by Mark Golodetz, the Chardonnays had colors ranging from light to fairly deep gold. The vintages were 2010, 2008 and 1991. The 8 and 10 year olds were light gold. The 27 year old was medium deep gold. None of them was remotely oxidized.

I just had a 2001 Montagny 1er Cru whose color was medium gold, but also intensely green. The wine was fairly young and truly superb. It had no touch of oxidation. The color was unlike anything I’ve seen outside of a ~10 year old GC Chablis. It is probably relevant that it’s from Leroy. BTW, the cork was totally moldy and cruddy on the top, but also very long and impeccable. What does this have to do with preservation?

I would be grateful for your thoughts on white wine color, aging and oxidation. What should I look for? What should I avoid? Is there a color scale for white wines? If so, is it useful or not? If not, does anybody have any suggestions for creating one?

Dan Kravitz

I think it takes knowing the wine, since, as you point out, not all color is from oxidation. A young white can have more than usual color due to variety, ripeness, technique. I’ve read what David Bruce copied from his model Martin Ray Chards, which was to let them cool overnight after picking, then giving them a hard press the next morning. It shouldn’t be a surprise that site allows enough hang time for the skins to soften while the acidity is still vibrant. So, all that leads to some color leeching out, as well as introducing more precursors to further coloration while aging.

A newer barrel is going to introduce a certain amount of color.

It’s common for less ripe reds to see no color bleed out at crush, while others bleed profusely. Even some skin contact whites (think 7-10 days) don’t pick up color if they’re the right variety, picked on the early side and made in a non-oxidative style.

What Wes said.

Is there a color scale for white wines?

It’s why there can’t be a color scale. Some whites are darker than others from the get go and it’s not necessarily the grape variety that makes the difference, so it would be difficult to create a scale that worked for specific varieties.

It would kind of be like making a glass for each specific variety.

I started a thread asking similar questions. There is some good information in here, though it sounds like the varying color of young wines remains somewhat of a mystery overall.