Written by Allen R. Balik
For most people, their first impression (and often their lasting impression) of a wine is taste. Little attention is directed toward the wine’s aroma and even less to its texture and balance. And virtually no notice is given to the components responsible for these very important elements and how they work together to make the entire experience more rewarding.
Flavor is, of course, an important aspect when drinking wine. Most of us don’t think about the well-documented fact that flavor is dominated by our olfactory senses working together with our taste buds to provide the overall concept of taste. As a general rule, many people relate taste to the perception of flavor in the mouth and aroma to the nose. But, in fact, they work closely together to produce a whole that is far larger than the sum of its parts.
Texture is a far more difficult sensation to define and conjures up both positive and negative associations. With a wine, it’s generally thought the combination of acidity and tannin produce what we define as texture or mouthfeel. On the one hand, this can be a very silky sensation. Or on the other, it can be seen as rough and unpleasant with a feeling of sandpaper. Of course, there are also countless sensations in between these two extremes.
Balance is often the overlooked character in wine by those drinkers solely fixated on flavor. But it could be the most important aspect in enjoying wine, especially those at the higher end.
Balance is the delicate interplay between acidity, fruit, tannin and alcohol and is closely aligned with texture. When a wine is in balance, no individual component stands out on its own. Rather, the impression of each component is intricately interwoven with the others so a seamless impression becomes the overriding character of the wine.
Taste and aroma are the most commonly understood components in a wine’s description but fall far short of truly explaining all the complexity that may be in the glass. In fact, who would think of marketing a wine (at any price) without some level of taste appeal? Perhaps a deeper look into a wine’s personality could lead to a further appreciation.
When I began learning and exploring wine, I was told by good friends, vintners and educators that understanding the balance of a wine will make all the other characteristics come more clearly into view. That was a difficult concept for me to grasp in the early stages as I kept relating primarily to what I was smelling and tasting until it finally clicked.
I clearly remember when that happened. I was tasting a group of Napa cabernets from the late 1970s with a group of seasoned tasters when I began to describe the “fruit bowl” of flavors and aromas I was observing. One of the group stopped me and suggested (rather forcefully) I look beyond that and tell him how the wine felt in my mouth and what component if any stood out. Suddenly, I realized what texture and balance meant to the tasting experience.
Since that interchange more than 30 years ago, I found that focusing on the balance and texture of a wine—as we often automatically do with food—yielded a whole different interpretation and broadened my horizons. And the best part is this exercise enhanced my sense of taste and smell, completing the vinous circle.
Balance becomes even more important when tasting wine from barrel or in its youth from bottle as this can be the most reliable factor in determining how it will develop over time. If a wine is in balance in its youth, it will (in most cases) remain in balance as it ages. But a wine that is not balanced when young will never attain this trait as the aging process proceeds.
My column “Demystifying wine—yes or no” received many responses mostly weighing in on making wine less about the mystery and more about the appreciation.
Randy—Spot on. One of my great enjoyments with wine is sharing basic, easy-to-understand observations and thoughts with my friends—information, which served as the building blocks to my own vinous knowledge. Far more often than not, this has led to a much greater interest for them.
Frankie—Demystifying wine to make it more accessible and less confusing does not mean sacrificing its “romantic” element as an historic beverage of enjoyment, celebration and intrigue.
Ken—The “mystery,” if any, is in the tasting and what that experience evokes. It’s the promotion of “mystique” that may be putting off some people.
Peter—As a retired wine merchant, I admire all paths to wine consumption.