A Post by Pete Thibault
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I must admit, when the idea of writing a post about wine came up, I was immediately interested. Oh all right, I was downright enthusiastic. Wine has been a passion of mine for some time and though I am far from being an expert on the subject, I feel more than comfortable to share a few of the insights I’ve gathered over the years. So here I sit with a charming glass of Cote du Rhone to inspire me and I ponder where to begin. One glass turns into two and I’ve barely begun to write. Writers block? Heck no! I quickly realize that I can’t possibly condense my love of wine into one meagre post. So I call up the Phatman on the Phatphone ™ and we agree to meet the following day to plot a course on how to write an ode to wine and still keep it about food too. Hey, if Montréal can have a week dedicated to poutine, these humble bloggers can surely pay homage to this sweet nectar of the gods.
Given that we’re planning several more posts on this topic in the coming weeks, I thought it might be best to start with a quick review of wine’s basic characteristics. The balance struck between these elements is what helps shape a wine’s structure.
The body of a wine refers to its weight in your mouth, how thick, heavy or light it feels. A wine’s body comes from the level of dissolved solids from its grapes and its alcohol content. Alcohol contributes to the viscosity of a wine. The higher the alcohol in a wine, the weightier the mouthfeel, and the fuller the body. Wines with alcohol levels above 13.5% are generally considered full-bodied. Helpful hint: Describing wine as full bodied=good, describing your loved one as full bodied=bad.
Acids are very important structural components of wine. If a wine is too low in acid, it tastes flat and dull. If a wine is too high in acid, it tastes too tart and sour.
You know that dry mouth feel you get from some red wines? Tannin is responsible for that. Tannin is found in the skins and seeds of grapes and produces most of the bitterness and texture in the wine. Red grape varietals are generally higher in tannin than white varieties. When you wake up hungover and your tongue is stuck to the roof of your mouth do not blame tannins. It is not responsible for THAT dry mouth feel.
A wine’s sweetness comes from the fruits flavors and the residual amount of sugar left in the wine. Sugars and alcohol enhance a wine’s sweetness; acids and bitter tannins counteract it. Sugar and alcohol can enhance sweetness in people too.
Fruitiness and varietal characteristics
Intensity of the fruit flavors in a wine is dependent on the variety of the grape used. Different grapes conjure different fragrances and flavors. The climate conditions can also have a significant impact on the overall quality of the wine. For example, grapes grown in warm weather regions tend to be afforded more time to ripen than their colder climate counterparts. This allows the grape to build up its internal sugars and decrease its acidic content. Grapes with a higher sugar content have the potential to produce more alcohol. Conversely, grapes with little to no sugar produce dry wines with lower alcohol content.
Now that we’ve covered these basic characteristics, we can link them to different areas on the palate which can help you identify the different components. The image of the tongue map below can help illustrate which components affect which areas of the mouth.
Found on the tip of the tongue. If there is any sweetness in a wine whatsoever, you’ll get it the moment it hits you since the tip of your tongue is sensitive.
Fruit and Varietal Characteristics
Found in the middle of the tongue.
Found at the sides of the tongue and cheek area. It is most commonly present in white wines.
Found in the back of the tongue. Tannin exists in red wines or wood-aged white wines.
- If you ever find yourself confused about whether a wine is acidic or tannic, pay attention to how your mouth feels once you’ve swallowed the wine. If the wine is acidic, you mouth with produce saliva (alkaline) to neutralize it. Tannin will leave your mouth dry. Hat tip to my Sommelier on the Carnivale Cruise ship Liberty for the little pearl of wisdom.
So the next time you are slamming back glasses of wine, you do use glasses from time to time I hope, consider how it feels in your mouth. What part of your tongue is reacting to it? Swirl the wine around a bit and breathe through your nose to see if you can taste any difference. Now, crack open a bottle and practice cause there are plenty more articles on this topic in the coming weeks including tips and strategies for pairing wine with your favorite dishes.
Categories: Pete Eats