Harvest has started in Napa Valley.

Harvest has started in Napa Valley.

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Thoughts while sniffing and sipping.


While swirling, sniffing, and sipping, I'm typically on the lookout for a few positive qualities. But I wonder if you possibly share my priorities?  For example, what quality or characteristic is most important when you’re enjoying or otherwise attentively tasting a wine?

If you’re thinking “smooth” or “tastes good,” you are likely a newbie or a wine drinker who is not particularly "into wine"; that is, one who feels that wine is simply a beverage, nothing special, and definitely not an aesthetic object; and one who typically stays in his/her comfort zone by purchasing the same few wines (producers and/or varietals) most of the time.

A smooth wine is one with low acidity (mainly in whites, but also in reds), or low or nonexistent tannins (primarily in reds). It is soft, fruit forward, often one dimensional, and usually displays a perceptible and engaging touch of sweetness, and a good helping of mouth-coating, spicy oak.  This type and style of wine seldom offends, and it occupies quite a few shelves in grocery stores.

Sidebar: What brought this topic to mind was recently being nagged into submission by a friend to taste (and agree) with him that a red wine discovery of his was far better than my original, (untasted), negative opinion was. 

At the time, I advised him his new find had two strikes against it; first, it was Petite Sirah (not one of my favorites), and second, it was from a hot weather CA region. As such, I had few, if any, positive observations.  Nevertheless, I relented, told him to bring it, and proposed we serve it with that night’s roasted Rack of Lamb dinner.

While waiting for the meat thermometer to hit 135 degrees, I uncorked the bottle and poured us several ounces each.  See, swirl, sniff, sip.  The color was black as motor oil, with an equivalent, viscous texture. Lightly aromatic, it was rich, ripe and slippery smooth, with nary a feather from the “tail of the peacock.”  That is, absolutely no finish.

But it was endowed with enough smooth, mouth coating, fruity sweetness to make my friend’s face light up with near orgasmic joy. He loved it. But rather than explain why I did not, and risk offending him a second time, I conceded it was better than I expected, and felt it would pair well with the lamb.

Back to the opening question:  If you answered “balance” or “structure,” you’re definitely “into wine,” and belong in that narrow market segment that Constellation Brands research identifies as curious and committed “wine enthusiasts.”

If you also mentioned “complexity,” you're adventurous as well.  While occasionally available at grocery stores, wines with these qualities are most often found at quality retail wine stores and/or from their Internet site, or from Internet-only companies like Wine.com or SommSelect, JJ Buckley, WineAccess and Benchmark, to name a few.

Structure is the means and vehicle by which a wine achieves its impact on your palate.  There is, or should be, a sense of vitality in the mouth and on the palate.  The components which create that impression are alcohol (body), acidity, tannins, residual sugar (sweetness). Wines with good structure will have all four elements, the essential building blocks, harmoniously integrated, without any one dominating the others. They are Balanced. 

And depending on how closely you read the above Petite Sirah description, it should be clear, that even though colorful, somewhat aromatic and flavorful, it was loosely structured, and not particularly well balanced; however, not so unbalanced as to warrant terminal, roto-rooter sentencing. It was a “drink now” wine that aimed to please, but will not improve with aging. It has only one direction to travel. 

However, and in a more positive perspective, while I’m not a fan of smooth-style wines, they do serve to welcome newbies, who eventually might feel the urge to experience something with a bit more character and complexity.  But for those of you who are still “I know what I like, and I drink what I like,” smooth-style drinkers, isn’t it time to get a bit reckless and break out of that comfort zone? There are some extraordinarily interesting wines out there.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 




 











While swirling, sniffing, and sipping, I typically am on the lookout for a few positive qualities. But I wonder how many of you might share my priorities?  For example, what quality or characteristic is most or very important to you when you’re enjoying or otherwise attentively tasting a wine?

If you’re thinking “smooth” or “tastes good,” then you are likely a newbie or a wine drinker who is “not into” wine; that is, one who tacitly believes that wine is nothing particularly special; definitely not an aesthetic object; and one who typically stays in his/her comfort zone by purchasing the same few wines (producers and/or varietals) most of the time.

A smooth wine is one with low acidity (primarily in a whites), or low or nonexistent tannins (primarily in a reds). It is soft, fruit forward, often one dimensional, and usually displays a perceptible and engaging touch of sweetness, and/or a good lashing of spicy oak.  This type of wine seldom offends, and it occupies quite a few shelves in grocery stores.

Sidebar: What brought this topic to mind was recently being nagged into submission by a friend to taste (and agree) with him that a red wine discovery of his was far better than my original, untasted, negative opinion was. I originally told him his new find had two strikes against it; first, it was Petite Sirah (not one of my favorites), and second, it was from a hot weather CA region. But I relented, told him to bring it, and suggested we serve it with that night’s roasted Rack of Lamb dinner.

While waiting for the meat thermometer to hit 135 degrees, I uncorked the bottle and poured us several ounces each.  See, swirl, sniff, sip.  The color was black as motor oil, with an equivalent, viscous texture. Lightly aromatic, it was rich, ripe and slippery smooth, with nary a feather from the “tail of the peacock.”  That is, absolutely no finish.

But it was endowed with enough smooth, mouth coating, fruity sweetness to make my friend’s face light up with near orgasmic joy. He loved it. But rather than explain why I did not, and risk offending him a second time, I conceded it was better than I expected, and felt it would pair well with the lamb.

Back to the opening question:  If you answered “balance” or “structure,” you’re clearly “into wine,” and belong in that narrow market segment that Constellation Brands research identifies as curious and committed “wine enthusiasts.” If you also mentioned “complexity,” you clearly have spent some serious time swirling and sniffing.  Wines with these qualities are typically available directly at quality retail wine stores and/or from their Internet site, or from other companies who only sell on the Internet like Wine.com or SommSelect, JJ Buckley, WineAccess and Benchmark, to name a few.

Structure, as you may or should know, is the means, and level, by which a wine achieves its impact on your palate.  There is, or should be, a sense of vitality in the mouth, not some lifeless, colorful liquid.  The components which create that impression are alcohol (body), acidity, tannins, residual sugar (sweetness). Wines with good structure will have all four elements integrated, without any one overweighting the others.  That is, they are Balanced. 

And depending on how closely you read the description of the above Petite Sirah, it should be clear, that even though being colorful, somewhat aromatic and flavorful, it was quite loosely structured, and not particularly well balanced, but, overall, not so much as to warrant roto-rooter sentencing. It was a “drink now” wine that aimed to please, but will not improve with aging. It has only one direction to travel. 

However, and in a more positive perspective, while I’m not a fan of smooth-style wines, they do serve to welcome newbies, who eventually might feel the urge to experience something with a bit more character and complexity.  But for those of you who are “I know what I like, and I drink what I like,” smooth-style drinkers, isn’t it time to get a bit reckless and break out of that comfort zone?