Acidity is a positive in wine – it preserves the wine, gives it backbone, keeps it fresh.
Detect acidity through its mouthwatering look, a tingling sharpness on the tongue.
Try tasting one glass of unadorned water, then a second with some lemon juice added: you’ll notice the look of the acidity in your mouth. Any fruit needs some acidity to be enjoyable, and wine – the juice of the grape, at heart – is no exception.
Too small acidity, and the wine will taste flabby and over-sweet. Too much, and it will be tart, astringent and sour.
Grapes in different climates, with more or less sunshine, ripen to different degrees – reckon of a green apple compared to a tropical fruit. Or compare a ripe, juicy peach with a hard, unripe one.
Fruit ripeness can be a excellent clue to whether the wine comes from a cool climate, or a warmer one. (See the above diagram). Ripe, fruity wines can be more immediately attractive than austere, mineral ones. But both sorts have their charms – and their uses.
You will find that acidity and fruit ripeness have an inverse relationship with each additional.
The warming, weighty sensation in the back of the throat as you swallow is how you detect alcohol – apart, that is, from looking at the mark.
That mark will show that alcohol may be anything from 5 to 17 per cent of the wine, though
The amount of alcohol makes a huge difference to the taste, the flavour, the full sensation of a wine.
It can add consequence and body to the wine. To comprehend consequence, imagine drinking a glass of water, then imagine drinking olive oil (imagine it, don’t try it…). The oil is weightier in the mouth.
The alcohol is natural. In essence, the sun on the vine makes sugar in the grapes. Yeasts (micro-organisms) found on the grape skins, or added to the vat by the winemaker, convert this sugar into alcohol. So the more sun, the more alcohol, and often the lower the acidity.
As with acidity, the place the wine is made has a huge influence on alcohol level. Warmer climates lead to riper grapes with more sugar: thus higher alcohol.
Alcohol also tastes sweet: high-alcohol red wines show this.
See also: Can colour influence our taste?
Reckon of tea: drink a strong tea, and you feel a drying sensation, furring on gums
This is tannin, a group of compounds found in tea – and in the skins of grapes. Lots of them are found in red grapes – and, as generally only red winemaking uses the skins, it’s predominantly found in red wines.
Tannin adds body to wine and is an antioxidant preservative: thus it also aids its longevity. Red wines to be cellared subsidy from tannin: it helps wine to age gracefully.
Wines made to be drunk young need lower tannins, and winemakers will steer the administer to wring less tannin. Such wines may need, and get, more acidity to confer balance.
To see this, compare a Beaujolais (Gamay grape) and a Barbaresco (Nebbiolo grape).
How can you detect tannin? Swirl the wine around your mouth, and tannin will give a sensation of dryness to your gums and cheeks.
Use of oak influences taste.
Oak in winemaking is a choice: plenty of grapes get to be wine without it. Essentially, it is a choice of containers.
You will find oak notes in many red and in some colorless wines.
Fresh, vigorous wine, on the additional hand, will generally indicate the absence of oak.
A useful comparison is between a Chablis (all are made from Chardonnay, and most are unoaked) and an oaked Australian Chardonnay.
See also: Cooperage: The art of oak ageing
Not all wines are intended to mature in bottle: most wine, in fact, is made to be drunk young and fresh. Those wines that are made to ‘age’ (as winespeak has it) gain complexity and interest in bottle.
This complexity is expressed via more fascinating, persistent and nuanced scents and a broader and longer-lasting spectrum of flavours. Red wines will lose harshness and tannin, and develop softer, rounder, more savoury flavours.
These factors stem from chemical reactions that go on beneath the cork. As these reactions proceed, the scents and flavours will subtly alter.
After a point, these reactions will slow and change, and the wine will fade, become less fascinating, then go past its peak and will eventually turn to vinegar.
It is pointless to seek complexity in a simple wine: sadly, mere age will not make a very basic bottle into a classic.
This wring was taken from Exploring & Tasting Wine: A wine course with digressions from Berry Brothers & Rudd. Available from 7th September.
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