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Balance in Wine - Part 2

Thursday, November 16, 2006

This is the second part of Peter Bell's article on "Balance In Wine". The first part can be found on Tuesday, November 14, 2006 post.

These concepts find very useful application during the barrel-aging of red wines. It is often found that a young Pinot, for example, tastes vaguely out of balance with regard to alcohol, acid and tannins. Small additions of acid to a laboratory sample seem to improve the wine. But what it really needs is more time in barrel, to pick up some tannins from the oak. After eight months or so the low acid becomes not only acceptable but desirable.

In some wines, notably those from Alsace, there is an interplay between small amounts of sweetness and bitterness. Remove the sugar, and the bitterness becomes too apparent; remove the bitterness, and the sweetness (exacerbated by low acid and high alcohol) will play too much of a role in the finish. Alsatian wines in some ways redefine the concept of balance.

Flavor intensity, sometimes referred to as extract, exists in balance with sweetness. Good late harvest wines, as well as sweet fortified wines, have an enormous amount of extract to give the wine interest. This is how such wines can be almost syrupy sweet while still managing to finish dry - a seemingly contradictory situation. These wines also have lots of astringency to aid in this effect. Australian wine tasters refer to the flavor intensity which balances sweet wines as 'lusciousness'.

Other aspects of wines which exist in balance are oak vs. fruit and age vs. youth. As you can imagine these are almost entirely in the realm of subjective response; some tasters love very oaky wines, while others would call the same wines horribly unbalanced. Whole nations can exhibit a preference for one character over another - in Great Britain, for example, there has traditionally been a strong leaning toward wines with extreme bottle age. To these drinkers a wine showing any fruit flavors is one which needs more cellaring.

The temperature at which a wine is served can have a dramatic effect on the balance of its various elements. Low temperatures make tannins seem much more apparent - try chilling a full-bodied red wine down sometime to demonstrate this to yourself. Most people find that wine tastes less acidic at a low temperature. Sweet wines taste sweeter at higher temperatures, and by extension slightly sweet wines, served cold, will generally be perceived as dry.

High temperatures tend to make the alcohol in wine more apparent. This can be a problem with red wines drunk in the summertime - the alcohol, being very volatile, will spoil both the nose and the palate of the wine.

See also the article "Making a Reserve Wine".

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