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All of your senses play a part in assessing a wine, beginning with sight. Appearance can be the first indication that a wine is faulty; avoid cloudy wine, which could be refermenting in bottle or be affected by bacteria. Old wines that haven’t been decanted properly can also be cloudy with sediment floating in the glass.
The intensity of colour will tell you how old a wine is. Red wines are deeper in colour when they are young, and have a dark red/purple appearance. They become paler as they get older, taking on a brick red/brown colour. White wines often have a green tint when they are young and become more golden yellow with age.
Finally, look at the traces of wine left on the side of the glass when you swirl it. If there are obvious ‘legs’ or ‘tears’ this shows that the wine has a high level of alcohol.
Editorial feature from Square Meal Restaurants & Bars Guide 2009