Quality Considerations


Balance in White and Red Wines
Balance – a Quality Parameter

At the dining table or in the kitchen, you may have had the opportunity to ‘fine-tune’ a dish. A salad dressing may have been lacking in ‘liveliness’ and you could have added more lemon juice or vinegar to ‘tart’ up the dressing. Your curry might be too salty and you may have stirred in a tablespoon of sugar to ‘mask’ the salt and so on.

Professor Emile Peynaud wrote an excellent chapter on the Balance in Wine. Here is the summary.

  • Wine Structure – Wine contains sugars, salts, acids and phenolic substances. These different components interact by highlighting, opposing or neutralizing each other. The taste in wine is therefore a sum of these sensations. Like the bricks and mortar of a wine shop, they are the framework or skeleton of the wine.
  • Alcohol – High alcohol wines may leave a sensation of ‘warmth’ in the mouth but it also provides a sensation akin to sweetness, softness and silkiness and like sugar in wine contributes to body.
  • Masking – Bitterness and acidity mask each other. Sweetness and bitterness also mask each other. And Sweetness and saltiness has a similar effect. (Recall adjusting the curry described above). Finally Sweetness masks bitterness and acidity.

Max Leglise researched the interactions between Alcohol and Acid components in wine and how them come across in white wines. Here is how the diagram (White Wines) should be interpreted.

Sweetness <—> Acidity
Sweetness <—> Bitterness
Sweetness <—> Bitterness + Acidity

In essence, a wine with lots of sugar can support lots of bitterness and acidity. That is bitterness and acidity will not be apparent as sweetness ‘masks’ it.

Alcohol and acidity levels in white wines also interact.

High Acid + High Alcohol in wine = hot, alcoholic, vigorous, firm or hard
High Acid + Low Alcohol in wine = light, weak, thin, acidic or green
Low Acid + High Alcohol in wine = alcoholic, supple, rich or mellow
Low Acid + Low Alcohol = flat, thin or insipid

With red wines, the astringency of tannins is an additional component to the ‘balance’ equation. Here is a table that will assist you to make judgements about a red wine’s four components and its personality and character.

Low levels Well Balanced Overly High levels
Acidity Flat Fresh Green
Alcoholic Weak Generous Hot
Sweet Dry Smooth Cloying
Astringent Hollow Soft and smooth Chewy

CONCLUSION

The well-balanced wine is a wine of a higher quality when compared to other less well balanced wine.

The well-balanced wine will have a ‘good’ structure. You will not sense the warmth of alcohol even if the wine has relatively high alcohol levels of between 12-16 degrees, you detect very little bitterness, the acidity is crisp but not ‘sour’, and any sweetness in the wine is not cloying.

Structure & Balance will also enable you to judge a wine’s age-worthiness.

See 708.

Don’t forget that temperatures affect how the wine comes across.

Ever had a warm Coca-Cola? Bet you found it overly sweet, too bubbly and it probably made you more thirsty rather than quenching your thirst. Indeed, in the mouth nerve fibres that are sensitive to heat and cold are located in different parts of it. Here are the various sensations that are accentuated or diminished by the various temperatures that wine is served at.

At < 6 degrees Centigrade Anaesthetizes the taste buds, white wine flavours seem very light
At < 10 degrees Centigrade Sensations of acidity are reduced in white wine
At > 20 degrees Centigrade Increases apparent sweetness
At < 10 degrees Centigrade Red wines taste astringent or more tannic, but fuller
At > 22 degrees Centigrade Red wines taste hot and thin
Higher temperatures Wines taste more bitter

If you are a serious wine drinker, you will rate wines with respect to the above-mentioned criterion – The Aroma and Bouquet, The Balance, The Length and Finish of the wine, The Evolution of the Wine – is it youthful but drinking well; is it at its peak or over the hill (are the colours true to the wine’s maturity), etc. In 701.8 we provide a conceptual approach to assessing whether a youthful wine will mature gracefully.

THE QUICK OVERALL ASSESSMENT

Perhaps you just aren’t that methodical and fanatical about wine. But knowing all of the above enables you to make a quick Overall Assessment of the wine – How did it measure up to other wines you had previously tasted and which cost about the same?

All you have to do is then to place the wines you taste within the categories shown.

Poor Acceptable Fine Outstanding Memorable
1 – 2 * 3 * 4 * 5 *
never again will drink if nothing else available always welcome will make efforts to locate and enjoy

Once you recall which wines fall into the poor category, you will be able to avoid the wine in future. Ditto for wines that you want to be able to locate for a fine dining experience or to offer as a present!

Above all, include the price of wine as one of the criteria in your assessments.

Afternote

Depending whether you are a follower of Michael Broadbent (Christie’s /UK style), Wine Spectator, Robert Parker, a wine professional with the Associazione Enotecnici Italiani, a wine judge in the Australian wine circuit etc., your rating system might differ (over 100 pts. / Gold standard, Silver standard / over 20 points etc.). Wow! It gets confusing!

We’ll discuss the various standards in 804, the advantages and the drawbacks of various systems of scoring, but most importantly, we will show you how to ‘read’ into the various rating systems in order to locate the wine in the quality level you want. You might consider yourself to be a qualified wine judge after learning it all!

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