Winter in Napa Valley.

Winter in Napa Valley.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Wine wisdom in a few short paragraphs.

One of my first wine buddies characterized the pleasures of wine appreciation as a pursuit.  There are different levels in that quest, and for many it ceases at “It tastes good!”  Today’s article encourages you to go a few steps further to find out why. 

Learn the grape. The most important determinant of the way a wine looks, smells, tastes and feels is the underlying grape from which it is made.  Each has its own level and style of aroma, acidity, tannins, dryness, and body.  Check out for those details.
Acidity. This is the “nervous system” of wine. Think citrus. Wines with too little acidity are flat, dull, or flabby; those with too much are lean, angular or tart; those that are balanced are “crisp,” giving the wine vitality and a succulent mouthfeel, plus a palate cleansing finish while dining.  Acidity is crucial in the anatomy of Structure.

Tannins. Tannins are the “backbone” of red wine.  Think over-steeped black tea. Wines with a low level are loose or open knit; those with too much are bitter or astringent; in between are well structured or refined tannins that give the wine a presence or shape on the palate and provide a pleasant, palate-cleansing finish.  Tannins are a vital component of Structure, and are a key element in a wine’s ability to age and improve.

Dryness. The level of sweetness in a wine speaks for itself.  Except for notable exceptions, the current state of affairs in wines with food is for them to be Dry—not sweet.

Body Style.   Body relates to the impression or weight of the wine in your mouth, and is usually characterized as either light, medium or full, with hyphenated versions being the more common.  While alcohol levels account for much of this mouthfeel, other winemaker options also contribute. 

Structure.  The notion of Structure is one you must wrap your head and palate around, for it tells you there’s something more than colorful liquid in your mouth.  All the elements in the previous paragraphs comprise the notion known as Structure.  They provide the anatomy or building blocks of wine that define how a wine looks, smells and tastes, and, quite importantly, how it feels in your mouth, and whether or not it is solidly structured and well balanced.

Stainless steel versus Oak.  Wines are matured and aged in a number of different vessels, but these are the most common, with the former primarily used for whites and the latter for reds.  The sealed environment of stainless tanks produces fruity freshness, lively acidity, and aromas and flavors that clearly reflect the underlying grape.  
Oak barrels are primarily used for the fermentation, maturation and aging of red wine.  Because they are porous, they impart aromas and flavors of the toasted wood, as well as permitting a carefully monitored evaporation (concentration).  New oak flavors: vanilla, nuts, charred bread, mocha, chocolate, espresso and baking spices. Neutral oak (previously used) effect is far less, but like new, imparts a smooth, creamy aspect.

Bringing it all together. Keeping the above aspects in mind, take your time in the Sip and Savor step, and hold a generous amount of wine in your mouth.  Move it around so it hits all  areas of your tongue which react to wine’s main palatal qualities of sweetness, bitterness and juiciness.  Whether you spit or swallow, be attentive to the presence and level of those elements. Ponder that sip. Take another to confirm, and bring it all together. What is that wine revealing?

Finally. Appealing and flavorsome qualities are what we all seek in a wine.  Accepting that outcome without further inquiry is one thing, but for those who occasionally are a bit more inquisitive, something more will come of it.  Enjoy.