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5 Key Wine Components And How To Detect Them

Posted: 08/17/2012 7:22 pm

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How often have you run across these phrases when you're reading a wine review: "highly structured," "crisp," "bright," "firm tannins," "fine-grained tannins."

How do they translate into your flavor experiences?

It's nothing too mysterious. "Structure" is most often used in reference to relative levels of acid (especially whites) and/or tannin (reds). But there are other things that come into play such as alcohol, sweetness and body.

Isolated, none of these components are tasty or interesting. Think of them as the framework of the wine, just waiting to be fleshed out by delicious things like fruitiness, fermentation character, oak, floral character, herbaceousness, minerality, etc.

Fortunately, Mother Nature has made it remarkably easy to detect the relative levels of the main wine components. Grab a glass of red wine and taste as we go and you'll see what I mean.

Alcohol is the only one of the main components that has an aroma, so you'll have to rely on your palate to differentiate between the rest. Using the slurping technique will really help.

For the uninitiated: Take a little sip of your wine. Taste good? Now, all you have to do is take another small sip and hold it in your mouth. Purse your lips and pull some air in through your teeth and over the top of the wine (kind of like whistling in reverse). Swish it all around your mouth, like mouthwash, and chew on it a little. Wow -- flavor explosion in your head, right? Now, we're ready to get started.

Important: All of us have different sensitivities, so you might detect alcohol more readily than I do -- I'm a cheap date. And, I might notice acid more easily than someone else.

Acid
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Of course, acid has a tart flavor. Incidentally, if you refer to high-acid wine as sour you’re going to get a very sour look from the winemaker. In wine parlance, sour means spoiled, as in gone to vinegar!

If you want to become acquainted with the tart flavor of relatively high-acid wine, some common white examples are sparkling wine, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling. Northern Italy turns out a lot of lean, zippy reds.

Some wines, especially reds, are so flavorful that it’s difficult to taste the acid. Usually, you can still gauge it. As you taste the wine, notice the way your mouth begins to water, especially along the sides of your tongue and under it. Thus, the birth of the phrase “mouth-watering acidity.” Now that you’ve noticed it, you’ll begin to differentiate the levels as you taste different styles of wine. Generally, white wines are higher in acid than reds. Well-made dessert wines can really turn on the water works in your mouth because the sweetness needs to be balanced by a high level of acidity.

Why do you care? Acid is important because it keeps the wine fresh and lively on the palate. It has a cleansing effect and makes the wine easy to pair with food. Acid is a great, natural preservative! Wines that are high in acid (but balanced) will have fairly long lives and a better chance of retaining their fruitiness and freshness as time goes by.

The source: The grapes, although acid additions are permitted in many wine regions. As the grapes ripen, the sugar increases and the acid decreases. At harvest time, timing is everything!

Descriptions: Crisp, lively, bright, racy, nervy, vitality
Antonyms: Flat, flabby, soft, dull, insipid

Photo courtesy of *shanghai*sparkles* via Flickr/CC
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