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Of Wine And Balance

March 21, 2015 13 comments

Domaine de Saint Paul CdPWhen assessing the wine, there are many characteristics which are important. The color, the intensity and the type of the aromas on the nose, the bouquet, body and flavors on the palate, the finish. When I’m saying “important”, I don’t mean it in the form of the fancy review with “uberflowers”, “dimpleberries” and “aromas of the 5 days old steak”. All the characteristics are important for the wine drinker thyself, as they help to enhance the pleasure drinking of the wine.

One of the most important wine characteristics for me is balance. Well, I’m sure not only for me, otherwise the organizations such as IPOB (In Pursuit Of Balance) wouldn’t even exist. Of course as everything else around wine, the concept of the balance is highly personable – or is it? What makes the wines balanced? What does it even mean when we say that “the wine is balanced”? This is the big question, and I don’t mean to ponder at it at a great depth, as this is a purposefully a short post. But nevertheless, let’s just take a quick stub at it, shall we?

In my own definition, the wine is balanced when all the taste components are, well, in balance. Okay, don’t beat me up – we can replace the word “balance” with the word “harmony”. In a typical glass of a red wine, you will find acidity, fruit and tannins (which is mostly a perceived tactile sensation in the form of drying feeling in your mouth). You will also often find other flavors such as barnyard, toasted oak or burning matches, which are typically imparted by the vineyard’s soil and/or a winemaking process, choice of yeast, type of aging and so on. But – in the balanced wine, nothing should stand out – you don’t want to taste only fruit, only tannins or only acidity – you want all the components to be in harmony, you want them to be complementing each other, enhancing the pleasure you derive from drinking of the wine.

And then you got an alcohol. On one side, I should’ve listed the alcohol above, as one of the components of the taste – alcohol often can be associated with the perceived “weight” of the wine in your mouth, which we usually call a “body”. Alcohol can be also related to the so called “structure”. But the reason I want to single out an alcohol is because way too often, we tend to use it to set our expectations of the balance we will find in the glass of wine, as this is the only objective, measured descriptor listed on the bottle. You might not taste the “raspberries and chocolate” as the back label was promising, but if it says that the wine has 14.5% “Alcohol by Volume” (ABV), this would be usually very close to the truth. Of course there is a correlation in the perceived balance and the alcohol in the wine – if you taste alcohol in direct form when you drink wine, it will render the wine sharp, bitter and clearly, unbalanced. But – and this is a big but – can we actually use the ABV as an indicator of balance, or is it more complicated than that?

When IPOB started, this was their premise – search for the wines with lower alcohol content (don’t know if it still is). Typical ABV in the old days was 13.9% (there were also tax implications of crossing that border). So should we automatically assume that any wine which boasts 14.5% ABV will not be balanced? I do have a problem with such approach. I had the wines at the 13.5% ABV, which were devoid of balance – including one from the very reputable Napa producer who will remain unnamed. And then there is Loring Pinot Noir, where ABV is dancing right under 15% (at 14.7% to 14.9%). Pushing envelope even further, you got Turley and Carlisle Zinfandels, where ABV is squarely stationed between 15% and 16% (occasionally exceeding even that level). Have you tasted Loring, Turley or Carlisle wines? How did you find them? To me, these wines are absolutely spectacular, with balance been a cornerstone of pleasure.

What prompted this post was the wine I had yesterday – 2007 Domaine de Saint Paul Cuvée Jumille Chateauneuf-du-Pape (95% Grenache, 5% Muscardin), which was absolutely delicious, and perfectly balanced, with round, smokey, chocolatey profile. The wine also had a touch of an interesting sweetness on the finish, which prompted me to look carefully at the label – and then my eyes stopped at 15% ABV, with the first thought was “this is amazing – I don’t find even a hint of the alcohol”. Judging by this ABV number alone, the “alcohol burn” would be well expected.

Yes, the notion of the balance is personal. Still – what makes the wine balanced? Can we say that some types of grapes, such as Grenache or Zinfandel, for instance, are better suited to harmoniously envelope higher alcohol levels? Is it all just in the craft, skill, mastery and magic of the winemaker? I don’t have the answers, I only have questions – but I promise to keep on digging. Cheers!

Wednesday’s Meritage – Wine Quiz Asnwer, Balance in Wine, Malbec Day, Food Happenings and more

April 17, 2013 9 comments

Meritage time!

Boy, is the glass full today… I got a lot of stuff to share, hopefully your glass is big enough.

First things first – here is the answer for the wine quiz #54, Grapes trivia – Merlot. In this quiz you were supposed to answer five questions related to the Merlot grape:

Q1: Merlot was named after a: A. town, B. person, C. bird, D. song

A: C, bird. The name “Merlot” comes after French “Merle”, which means “young blackbird” – the play is on the similarity of the color of Merlot grape and the bird.

Q2: Name the movie where Merlot was dissed on uncountable number of occasions

A: Sideways

Q3: One of the grapes from the list below was assumed to be a Merlot – but it was not. Do you know which grape was mistaken for the Merlot? Bonus question – name the country where confusion took place: A. Mourvèdre, B. Carignan, C. Carménère, D. Cinsault

A: C, Carménère – for a while, some of the wines produced in Chile were thought to be made out of Merlot – until 1990s, when genetic studies were conducted and concluded that the grape thought to be Merlot actually was Carménère.

Q4: Some place, some time ago, Merlot successfully crossed (by accident) with Cabernet grape, and formed a new grape which produces pretty unique wines. Can you name that grape?

A: Caberlot – a very unique grape growing in Tuscany, a cross of Cabernet Franc and Merlot. Wine is called Il Caberlot and produced by Il Carnasciale, only in magnum bottlings

Q5: Chateau Petrus in Pomerol, France makes some of the very best (and most expensive) wines in the world, and those wines are 100% Merlot. Then there is another 100% Merlot wine, made in another country, which is considered a successful competition to Petrus and done very well against it in a number of blind tastings. Can you name that wine?

A: This was definitely a controversial question, where more than one answer was expected. The wine I had in mind was legendary Masseto, a super Tuscan produced by Tenuta Dell’Ornellaia, but Tua Rita Redigaffe and Le Macchiole Messorio (also Super Tuscan wines) are equally qualified – all three made out of 100% Merlot and can give Petrus good run for the money.

Thus EatwithNamie becomes our champion, as she correctly answered all five questions, but thedrunkencyclist gets honorable mention with 4 correct answers out of 5. Great job and enjoy your unlimited bragging rights!

Now, to the interesting stuff around the net!

As you know, I’m a little REALLY obsessed with the concept of balance in wine, where all the taste components – acidity, tannins, fruit, alcohol – are in full harmony, and none of them stands out more than another. I remember once reading an article about “harmony points” in taste of the wine, and then for the long time I couldn’t find it again. So finally I spent time and found a lot of interesting reading materials evolving around the concept of “balance”. Here are two articles (first link and second link) regarding the reverse osmosis process which allows you to achieve precise alcohol content in wine, which seems to be completely changing the perception of balance – as an example, exact same wine tastes completely different at 13.5%, 14.1% and 14.5% alcohol. I think these articles are worth reading. On related subject, here is a link to the article from the Wine Spectator, talking about balance in wine – be sure to read through the comments section, there is a lot of interesting polemics among professionals and not.

Today is 3rd annual World Malbec day! Did you have your glass of Malbec yet? If you did not, don’t worry, you can still celebrate in style. Here is the link to the Malbec celebration events around the globe.

Now, a few words about food. First, here is an interesting article about five foods which can rev things up in the bedroom, coming from the Eat and Sip in the City blog. One out those five foods sounds a bit surprising to me – but read the post first, I wonder what you would think.

I also want to bring to your attention a series of events called Dishcrawl – you can buy a ticket for a certain date and time, which allows you to take a “tasting tour” of a group of restaurants located in close proximity to each other. You don’t know what restaurants you are going to until 48 hours prior to the event, so there is an interesting surprise element here. Tickets are reasonably priced – here is an example of the event in Greenwich, CT, which is unfortunately sold out – but you will get the idea.

And one more food-related note. The Capital Grille, one of my favorite restaurant chains, is starting their Spring $18 three course lunch – I took the advantage of these events in the prior years, and it definitely worth your attention.

That is all I have for you for today. The glass is empty. Until the next time – cheers!

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