ABBY NASH: In this section, we're going to cover wine evaluations, specifically, what's in this stuff? In the last section, we learned how and why the pros evaluate wine and the difference between wine tasting and wine drinking. We touched on wine components, but now we'll go into more depth. Knowing more about wine will enhance the experience.
Let's start with a look at wine components and quality factors. Wine components are essentially predetermined by what's in a given batch of grapes, itself a function of qualities intrinsic to the different grape varieties along with the influences of climate, terrain, and human factors like grape growing practices. Wine components are objective or measurable. Many, if not most, wineries now have labs to analyze them.
Though basically determined by the grapes, just as you need real lemons to make real lemonade, wine components can be adjusted during winemaking. To start, wine, of course, is mostly water. Next is alcohol, which varies widely from 6% in German sweet wines to 14% to 15% in hot climate red wines. Fortified wines can reach 20%. Most dry table wines are 11% to 14%.
Next component is extract, also known as concentration, body, weight, power, depth, richness, or the intensity of flavors. We describe wines as being light, medium, or full bodied. That is how extracted they are. More abstract-- the difference between jam and jelly or half and half and heavy cream. It does not necessarily equate to higher quality, though I'm not sure all wine writers understand this.
Next is sweetness. All wines are distinguished by the amount of this component they have or their lack of it. Wines with under 0.5% residual sweetness, also known as residual sugar or RS, are dry. Some dry wines may seem sweet due to ripe fruit flavors and the tendency to perceive alcohol as sweet. Since sugar is a natural preservative, sweet wines tend to age very well and keep well once the bottles are opened.
Then there's acidity, the component that gives wine its trademark refreshing quality, the component relatively lacking in beer and spirits. Acidity in wine includes several types, tartaric is the most prevalent, along with malic, citric, lactic, and acetic. Sweeter wines need more acidity than dry wines for balance. Acidity provides the structure or backbone in white wines, enabling some to age well.
Tannin, more precisely tannic acid, is the principal structural component in red wines. In wine, we perceive it more as a texture than a flavor. In some young red wines, tannins can be unpleasantly chalky or mouth-drying, like pekoe tea brewed too long. Over time in the bottle, tannins combine with flavoring elements, also called phenolics or phenols, to form sediment. Sediment is harmless, but has an unpleasant muddy texture.
Components aren't necessarily the whole story, though. There are also human or subjective factors. Different taster's may disagree about these, or the same taster may even perceive them differently on different occasions.
The first is the balance of components. Sweeter wines need more acidity, or they seem cloying and syrupy. Tannic wines need high extract-- remember, that's concentration-- or with aging, they remain too tannic.
In other words, even though the lab can spit out numbers for extract, residual sweetness, acidity, and tannin, each of us perceives the same wine differently. One of us feels a certain wine has too much acidity, another too little. And another may feel it's just right. There's also complexity along with length, the benchmark of wine greatness. These were covered in the previous section.
Next is oak. Increasingly, wines are aged before release to the market in small new oak barrels or oak chips to impart oakey or smoky, spicy, and vanilla flavors. Wine makers like oak, though it's expensive at $150 to $600 a barrel, because it adds complexity and can cover up mediocre winemaking. Consumers, especially those relatively inexperienced with wine, like oakey flavors. And many wine critics, despite occasional comments to the contrary, can't seem to get enough of it.
Last, is age-ability or age-worthiness. Less than 5% of wines are made to be aged. That is they're meant to be drunk on release, like this Borsao. Almost all bottles of wine in the United States are drunk the same day they're bought, though hopefully not on the way home from the wine shop.
A few wines can improve in bottle for several years, if not decades. But most fine wines will not improve after release from the winery. Red wines age better than white wines due to their tannin levels.
Aged wines are an acquired taste. They trade in their bright fresh fruit flavors for dried or cooked fruit and gain earthy, decaying leaves, mushroom, and other flavors that gain complexity, subtlety, length, and smoothness. That's all for now about what's in that-- this glass of wine. Next, we move on to wine service.
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Join Abby Nash, lecturer in the Hotel School, for the basics of wine appreciation in a 'How To' format. Starting with your basic senses, you'll learn to discern flavor through smell and taste. Moving on, you'll learn the art of buying, serving and storing wines, how to open and preserve wines, manage the restaurant experience, and select wine and food pairings.
This video is part 3 of 10 in the Wine Appreciation series.