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Looking at Wine

The next step in your examination is visual. Fill the glass about one-third full, never more than half-full. Pick it up by the stem. This may feel awkward at first, or affected, but there are good reasons: Holding the glass by its bowl hides the liquid from view; fingerprints blur its color; the heat of your hand alters the wine's temperature.

Offer someone a wine glass and you can tell immediately by the way they hold it whether or not they are connoisseurs.

Focus in turn on hue, intensity and clarity. Each requires a different way of looking. The true color, or hue, of the wine is best judged by tilting the glass and looking at the wine through the rim, to see the variation from the deepest part of the liquid to its edges.

Intensity can best be gauged looking straight down through the wine from above. Clarity -- whether the wine is brilliant, or cloudy with particles -- is most evident when light is shining sideways through the glass. Each of these elements reveals different aspects of a wine's character and quality; I'll detail these later.

But don't forget simply to enjoy the wine's color. No other liquid is as vivid and variegated, or reflects light with such joy and finesse. There's good reason wine's appearance is often compared to ruby and garnet, topaz and gold.

Next comes the swirling. This too can feel unnatural, even dangerous if your glass is too full and your clothing brand-new. But besides stirring up the full range of colors, it prepares the wine for the next step, the olfactory examination.

The easiest way to swirl is to rest the base of the glass on a table, hold the stem between thumb and forefinger, and gently rotate the wrist. Right-handers will find a counter-clockwise motion easiest, left-handers the reverse. Move the glass until the wine is dancing, climbing nearly to the rim. Then stop. As the liquid settles back into the bottom of the glass, a transparent film will appear on the inside of the bowl, falling slowly and irregularly down the sides in the wine's "tears" or "legs." "Experts" derive meanings from them as various and profound as fortune-tellers do from looking at tea leaves, but in truth they're simply an indication of the amount of alcohol in the wine: the more alcohol, the more tears. Remember that when you're considering whether to open another bottle.

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