I have written about wine descriptors in my blog before. Many of us wine drinkers enjoy talking about wine as much as we enjoy drinking it. We describe wine using many different terms such as balanced, aromas, nose, palate and finish. We describe taste with words such as red fruit, berries, smoky, fruit forward, grapefruit, and so on. Further, a lot of us oenophiles read wine critics tasting notes. In these notes there are many wine descriptors used. The critics try and identify the flavors they are tasting in the wine they are scoring or writing about.
Many times, I have to describe my own wines or others when I am asked to do so. My articles on listing and defining descriptors is as much for my wine knowledge and yours. Today we are going to discuss two very common descriptors: Balance and Smoke/Smoky.
This word is used repeatedly in wine tasting notes and other wine descriptions. Winemakers use this word a lot in their tasting notes as well.
Good balance is a wine trait I not only desire in the wines I drink, but a trait I try hard to produce in my Glenwood Cellars wines. Good balance, or the capability of achieving a balanced finish with some aging, is an important factor in a good tasting wine. Balance is the way wine handles the major components of a wine – alcohol, tannins, acidity and residual sugar (if there is any). Also included are winemaker’s techniques or style, types of grapes, etc. However, I think the three major items that are the most important to balance are alcohol, tannins and acidity.
A wine is considered balanced when all of the components of the wine are equally balanced, and one component does not stick out in an awkward or distasteful manner. What do these major components do?
Alcohol needs to be in check. If it is not then the wine can have a strong burning sensation.
Tannins need to be kept in check with enough fruit concentration. As the wine ages the tannins will dissolve. When that happens, we want to make sure the fruit flavor is not lost.
Acidity balances the sweetness of the wine. A lack of acidity can cause a wine to be too sweet.
A well-balanced wine tends to age the best and is a wonderful wine to drink.
One might and probably should ask how can a wine have a smoky taste? Notes or hints of smoke in a wine generally come from the oak barrels that wine is aged in. The intensity of the smoke flavor generally comes from the oak barrels. How much the barrel was toasted and how charred it was, has a direct bearing on the intensity of a smoky flavor.
Another thing that comes into play is how many times the barrel has been used and how long the wine was stored in the barrel. If the wine is put in a new barrel that was heavily toasted then it is very likely the wine will have a heavier smoke taste than a wine coming from a barrel that has been used two or three times. If the wine is stored in a toasted barrel of any type (new, used, etc.) the taste will be related to the amount of charr left in the barrel.
Some winemakers want a very smoky flavor which is fine as long as the wine has enough structure to handle it. Personally, I like a little smoky flavor if it is balanced with the rest of the wine.
I hope discussing these various wine terms is helpful in learning how to describe a wine’s flavors and aromas. I certainly am enjoying researching the various descriptors and learning about them.
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