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Balance In Wine

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Today I am beginning a series on balancing wine.  Since it tis the balance of acids and sugars that make a good wine great.  Maybe this will help all of us make great wine.  Anyways, I'm thinking that it will be about 6 or 7 posts and will include information on acids, pH, and sugar.   Some of the info will be from other websites because it is useful and well written.  No use re-writing a good article. To start the series off, I found a nice intro article from Cornell University.  It is a rather long post, so part of it will be on today and the other part will be posted on Thursday.

Balance in Wine
Peter Bell


This is a concept that on the surface seems very simple, but that turns out to be quite challenging. It is important to have some familiarity with what balance entails if you are to become a good wine taster.

Balance in wine refers to the interaction and harmony between two or more of the wine's constituents. By far the most straightforward balance is that between sugar and acidity. Not all wines, of course, have residual sugar, though all have some acidity. Sugar-acid balance is thus limited to wines which have an interplay between these two elements.

There is no accurate formula for calculating the perfect acid-sugar balance in a wine, despite the fact that there are some people who advance that very notion. In its simplest sense, a wine which has a good acid-sugar balance tastes neither too sweet nor too acidic: the sugar exists in the right quantity for the acid, and vice versa.

By extension, a wine which is out of balance has either too much acid or too much sugar. There are plenty of off-dry-to-sweet white wines on the market which are more or less out of balance. A wine with too little sugar for its acid will taste harsh, sharp and acidic; the evolution of flavors in the mouth will be interrupted by the sensation of acidity. A wine with too much sugar will taste cloying, sugary and flabby, and will not refresh the palate.

Some wines have too much sugar and acid. They are often the result of a winemaker trying to balance a high acid with additions of sugar. These wines don't work, because the other elements if the wine, especially 'extract', don't match the sugar and acid. Experienced tasters often describe such wines as having a 'sweet-tart' character.

The balance between astringency (tannins) and acidity in red wines is of paramount importance. French enologist Emile Peynaud, in his book The Taste of Wine, makes the following points:

    * the less tannic a wine is, the more acidity it can support
    * the higher a red wine is in tannins, the lower should be its acidity
    * the combination of high acid and high tannins make for the hardest and most astringent wines

Another important balance is that between alcohol on the one hand, and acidity and astringency on the other. This is obviously most relevant to red wines. Too little alcohol will cause the acidity and astringency to dominate, making the wine harsh and thin. Too little acid and astringency will cause a wine to taste overly soft, heavy and flabby, with the spirity quality of the alcohol playing too much of a role. Back to Emile Peynaud:

    * a wine tolerates acidity better when its alcohol content is higher
    * a considerable amount of tannin is more acceptable if acidity is low and alcohol is high
Second Part on Thursday's post.

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