Four wine words not to fear, for they are your friends
Women like to talk, we talk all the time … about everything. And when we get together all kinds of subjects arise.
While I was at a party last month, I stood with a group of couples and I couldn't help but notice a distinct separation as we conversed. Gradually the men at the party migrated to one side of the room, while we ladies took seats on the other side. You would think Moses was in the corner parting us like the Red Sea.
So, I sat and listened to my girlfriends talk and declare the usual resolutions: to get in shape, spend less time at work, get organized, etc. But we asked each other, "how do we find time to do all the things we want both personally and professionally?" I began to wonder ... Is it a statement of resolution we need, or are we really just looking for balance?
Finding balance in life is a desirable quest, as is finding balance in wine. Often defined as "harmony among the parts of a whole," balance is one of the most sought after characteristics in wine. You could say it's like a group of girlfriends who have similar personalities and yet each has a unique strength that complements the bunch. When all the friends feel as if they are being heard, one doesn't need to shout out over the rest. And so it is with the components of wine: acidity, alcohol, fruit and tannins; when they are in harmony, you have balance. But what do these wine words mean?
Acidity is like the energetic girlfriend who rarely rests, she keeps the conversation lively and you can't wait to see what she'll say or do next. Acidity is a key element in the structure and longevity of wine. You can feel its tang on the sides of your tongue as you sip. With the right amount, you have a refreshing wine that is food friendly and makes your mouth water (literally) for more. Think of how your mouth feels when you take a bite from a crisp, cool, green apple, like granny smith. Too much acidity will make you pucker and squint; too little, and your sips fall flat; often referred to as "flabby." In the case of sweet wines, if there isn't enough acidity, the wine will be tacky and syrup-like; this is referred to as "cloying." If you want to know more about acidity in wine, try a German Riesling. One example is J & P Matheus (JPM) Piesporter Goldtröphen Kabinett, 2007.
Alcohol is the friend that boosts your confidence, a little or a lot. She'll talk you into that new interpretive dance class and get you to expand your horizons. We all know when we have had a wine high in alcohol. Aside from the fact that you may get the hiccups or trip over the dog, you can feel the burn in your throat. When you smell the wine, it can hit you right between the eyes. If alcohol overwhelms the wine, it drowns out the other aromas and flavors that should be enjoyed. Most wines we drink will fall between 8-15% alcohol. There are, however, some wines with a high alcohol content that can maintain balance. One example I recently tasted is 2010 Seghesio "Rockpile" Zinfandel.
Fruit … she is the chameleon friend. Sometimes she is up front; she may be sweet or not, and sometimes she is quiet and earthy. You may describe the fruit aromas in wine as the fruit's colors, such as black, blue or red. Perhaps you'll describe fruit by its type, like citrus or stone fruits, or maybe by its condition, such as dried or jammy. People often confuse sweetness with fruitiness. You can have a fruity red wine, like Barbera, or a fruity white, like Pinot Grigio, but it is still a dry wine. Generally, sweetness is a taste you perceive on the tip of your tongue, and whether the wine is dry or not depends on how much sugar is left after wine's fermentation is complete. Any sugar that remains is referred to as "residual sugar." A nice, deep, fruity red I had with dinner recently was Braida di Giacomo Barbera d'Asti "Montebruna" 2010.
Tannins … this is the reliable friend. She's your shoulder to lean on and she provides the stability in the group. Primarily found in red wines, tannins give wine texture and longevity. They come from the seeds, stems and skins of grapes and also from the wood of wine barrels. Some people believe tannins are a flavor, but it's a feeling in your mouth. Personally, I describe it this way: the inside of my upper lip wants to cling to the front of my teeth. Tannins are mouth-drying, sometimes referred to as "astringent." Tea has tannins and if you have ever steeped a cup of tea too long, or the tea bag has split and you get a nip of tea leaves, you know how this feels. In a balanced wine, the tannins are integrated and you can feel them come through, but they don't overwhelm other aspects of the wine. Some wines, like red Bordeaux, take years for the tannins to mellow. One thing you may consider is decanting your wine to speed up this process, but if you find your wine has been decanted for hours and it's still too tannic, then it's probably too young to drink. To give you an idea of tannins try a Cabernet Sauvignon or a Sangiovese (Chianti) wine. I tried a 2007 Montagna "Tre Vigneti" Cabernet Sauvignon several months ago and this wine was tannic at first; but it did mellow within an hour.
This article is a light-hearted comparison, but balance in wine is difficult to explain. For you, the wine drinker, you'll know it when you have a balanced wine. If you want to learn more about balance in some California wines, you may want to visit this site: http://inpursuitofbalance.com.
Here's to finding balance in your life and in your wine. And, the next time you're at a party with mixed couples, notice if the room "balances" with the guys on one side and the girls on the other. I seem to observe this more often than not. Cheers!