Taste and the tactile components
Describing how a wine tastes involves evaluating the tactile components of the wine, evaluating its finish, as well as the overall body and harmony of the wine.
Sugar and Acidity
The intensity of sweet and acid tastes are described in relation to sugar content and fixed acidity. Degree of sweetness is measured on a scale of grams of sugar per liter in five basic categories.
The standard adjectives used to describe positive degrees of acidity are:
- Fresh (0.5-0.6 g/l): typical of refreshing young wines
- Crisp (0.6-0.7 g/l): for wines with marked, dry acidity
- Nervy (0.7-0.8 g/l): for wines in which acidity predominates.
Around 0.5 g/liter of total fixed acids are necessary to give balance and bring flavors to life. A wine with less than 0.5 grams will probably taste “flat” or “flabby”. Words used to describe an excess of acidity (>0.9 g/l) include “green”, “sharp” and “acidulous”.
Of the other basic tastes, saltiness is barely perceptible and serves mainly heighten sweet and acid flavors. Pronounced bitterness is noted as a defect.
Alcohol gives a sensation of warmth in the mouth, which is described on a scale using the following terms. Alcohol content of 12°-12.5° is normal in a balanced, well-made wine.
- Light: denotes a wine which is balanced but which does not give any impression of warmth. Corresponds to around 11° alc.
- Warm, Hot: denotes a distinct impression of alcohol. Corresponds to around 13° alc.
- Generous: used for a wine in which the sensation of warmth is one of the predominant features.
In normal table wines an alcohol content over 15° alc will create imbalance and an unpleasant hot sensation. On the other hand wines with less than 9° alc will usually seem “weak and thin”.
Tannins are an important component of red wines for ageing. In mature wines they should be present in balanced amounts. Young or immature full-bodied wines can have excessive tannins, which interrupt the lubricating flow of saliva in the mouth and create an uncomfortable sensation of astringency.
The non-soluble substances in wine are known as dry extract. These combine with alcohol to create the “body” of a wine. Wines with good body give a feeling of weight on the palate, which should be in balance with the other sensations. Wines lacking body are often described as thin or lean. Those with too much body, making them tiring and unpleasant to drink, are referred to being fat or heavy.
Texture refers to how wine feels in the mouth. Good balance between alcohol, acidity and other elements makes a wine feel “supple” and “well round ed”. Wines with high alcohol, glycerin and extract in proportion to their acidity and (in red wines) tannins can be described as fleshy. An excessively soft texture can give an unappealing oily sensation. At the other extreme wines, which are described as “stringy” have a rough, coarse texture.
A slight prickle in certain young table wines is a lively, refreshing feature. Ina fully sparkling wine the slow but steady flow of carbon dioxide should give a sensation of foamy or creamy smoothness. Excessive carbon dioxide creates a sharp, biting effect that distracts from the basic flavors. Too little makes the wine taste flat.
After the basic flavors and feel of a wine are registered, the palate records the finish, while the olfactory system records the lingering sensations of aroma known as “Intense Aromatic Persistence” (I.A.P.).
The duration of I.A.P. is an important indicator of quality. Lt can be measured in seconds. In a well-made young wine aromas usually last from 3-7 seconds. In a fine, mature wine they should last from 7-10 seconds and in exceptional cases they may linger up to 15 seconds or more. A wine is described as short if the I.A.P. lasts less than 2 seconds or in any case less than the norm for its type.
The finish on the palate is important for evaluating balance. In white wines it depends on the equilibrium between the impression of acidity and that of softness. In red wines these two components should also be in balance with a third, the tannins.
BALANCE AND HARMONY
Balanced flavor in wine depends on how the basic elements of taste and touch interrelate on the palate. Some elements heighten other flavor sensations: Acids and tannins reinforce each other.
- Carbon dioxide heightens sensations of acidity and tannicity
- Saltiness increases the sense of sweetness and acidity…
Other elements have attenuating effects:
- Acidity attenuates the warm feel of alcohol
- Alcohol lessens the sense of bitterness.
In other cases, certain elements are masked:
- Carbon dioxide partly covers the sense of sweetness
- Alcohol masks salty flavors.
Harmony in a wine depends on the way tastes, aromas and tactile sensations combine. The point of perfect balance is that at which no single element dominates the others.