When a wine reviewer completes an assessment, the critic will describe the wine in terms relating to as many as 8 different components. These include:
- Anthocyanins (colour)
- Aromatic compounds
- Sweetness or Sugar
Acid is one of the most important elements in the pulp. As a grape ripens, its sugar content increases and its acid content decreases; the challenge is to harvest precisely when the optimal balance is struck.
Acid balances alcohol and sweetness and sometimes adds a crisp, refreshing sensation. It may cause your mouth to pucker (like if you were biting into a lemon wedge). Grapes grown in cooler regions tend to have higher levels of acidity.
Alcohol is produced during fermentation when yeasts come in contact with the natural grape sugar in the grape pulp. High-alcohol wines are full-bodied with a richer mouthfeel. Alcohol generally has a sweet flavour. A wine with high levels of alcohol sometimes gives off a hot, burning sensation that can be both smelled and tasted.
High levels of alcohol indicate that the grapes were very ripe at harvest.
Observing a wine’s colour can be a valuable clue for determining the vintage and assessing the wine’s quality.
Red wines lose colour as they age, becoming more garnet and eventually turning brown. As much as 85% of anthocyanin is lost after 5 years of aging, even though the wine may still appear quite red.
Red wines that are more opaque generally contain higher levels of tannin, though Nebbiolo is an exception to this rule.
There is reduced colour intensity when there is higher sulfite content. Also, red wines fermented at higher temperatures will have reduced colour intensity.
The hue in red wine is partially affected by the pH level of the wine. There are many variables that will affect the colour but generally wines with a strong red hue have high acidity; wines with a strong violet hue have a mid-range of acidity; and those with a blueish tint (magenta) usually have a low amount of acidity.
White wines darken as they age, becoming a deeper gold or yellow and eventually turning brown.
Rosé wines are stained pink by macerating the skins of red grapes over an average period of 4 hours to 4 days.
Finally, oxidation in wine causes it to become brown in the same way as an apple browns that is left out on the kitchen counter too long.
The aromas of wine are more diverse than its flavors. The human tongue is limited to the primary tastes perceived by taste receptors on the tongue – sourness, bitterness, saltiness, sweetness and savouriness.
The wide array of fruit, earthy, leathery, floral, herbal, mineral and woodsy flavours present in wine are derived from aroma or “nose” as it is often referred. In wine tasting, wine is sometimes smelled before being drunk in order to identify some components of the wine that may be present.
Different terms are used to describe what is being smelled. The most basic term is aroma which generally refers to a “pleasant” smell as opposed to odour which refers to an unpleasant smell or possible fault in the wine. The term aroma may be further distinguished from bouquet which generally refers to the smells that arise from the chemical reactions of fermentation and aging of the wine.
It’s all about mouthfeel and weight. The body of a wine is due to its alcohol content; however it also includes the perception of alcohol in a wine, associating with the balance of a wine.
- Light wine is often perceived and described as bright and acidic, fresh, citrusy and having fresh fruit notes.
- A medium bodied wine is one with lower alcohol levels, softer acids, little to no sugar content and little to no tannin.
- A fuller body wine is the result of several factors. Alcohol content creates viscosity, which adds to the fullness of the body. Tannins give wine structure, creating a thicker sensation in the mouth. Finally, sugar levels increase the viscosity of the wine, making it more syrupy and less watery.
Sweetness / Sugar
Sugar comes from ripe grapes (although some grape varieties naturally contain more sugar than others). It is mostly converted into alcohol during fermentation. Any remaining sugar is referred to as residual sugar.
A wine with high levels of residual sugar generally tastes sweet, has a richer mouthfeel and fuller body. Grapes grown in warmer climates tend to get riper and contain more sugar. Those wines having no apparent sweetness are referred to as being “dry”.
Tannin belongs to a class of compounds called phenols and comes from grape skins and seeds; it is mostly found in red wines but can be found in some white wines.
Tannin is an important compound that plays a role in the aging of wine; therefore high-tannic red wines such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Nebbiolo are those that can be aged longest.
A good way to understand the effect of tannin is to think of a cup of hot tea in which the tea bag has steeped for too long. The tea will taste very strong, harsh and rather bitter (tannic). The flavour of the tea can be softened by the addition of milk. This same concept applies to wine, thus the reason why cheese and wine is a classic pairing. The protein in cheese neutralizes or balances the tannins in wine.
Viscosity refers to the liquid consistency of wine. Viscosity will make the wine appear thin and watery, or may make it appear thick and syrupy.
Viscosity is affected by the levels of sugar and alcohol found in the wine. Generally speaking, the higher a wine’s levels of sugar and alcohol, the higher the wine’s viscosity will be.
Wines with high viscosity tend to cling to the side of a wine glass longer, and may leave “tears” or “legs” as the wine begin to slide back down into the glass.
Reviewer impressions are often very subjective and will reflect personal bias. However, these descriptions and impressions are our best source for determining whether it is worth our while to invest in a particular wine or even a certain grape varietal.