Is This Wine Balanced...How Do I Know?

Posted on Friday, Oct 08 2010 - 12:00 am

The whole concept of a wine being balanced seems simple, however it can be quite challenging.  It's also a concept that when grasped, can help you become a better wine taster.  However, it does take practice.

Think of balance in wine as an interaction and harmony between two or more of a wine's constituents.  When we speak of balance, we are often referring to the balance between sugar and acidity.  A good acid-sugar balanced wine will taste neither too sweet nor too acidic.

A wine that is out of balance, can have too much acid or too much sugar.  A wine with too little sugar for its acid, will taste harsh, sharp and acidic; the evolution of flavors in the mouth will be interrupted by the sensation of acidity.  A wine with too much sugar, will taste cloying, sugary and flabby, and will not refresh the palate.

It is also possible some wines have too much acid and too much sugar.  I've seen this happen during the winemaking process when the winemaker is trying to balance a high acid wine with additions of sugar.  When tasting, I find these wines to have a "sweet-tart" character.

Wine must also be balanced in other areas as well.  Balance with astringency (tannins) and acidity in red wines is extremely important.  The less tannic a wine, the more acidity it can support.  However, the higher a red wine is in tannins, the lower should be its acidity. The most astringent wines come from the combination of high acid and high tannin wines.  Too little alcohol can also cause acidity and astringency to dominate, making the wine harsh and thin.  Too little acid and astringency causes a wine to taste heavy and flabby.  Overall, a wine tolerates acidity better when its alcohol content is higher, while a considerable amount of tannin is more acceptable if acidity is low and alcohol is high.  Got that?  When making Pinot Noir, it's all very useful information, especially in reference to barrel aging.  Young Pinot often tastes out of balance in regards to alcohol, acid and tannins.  We find that the wine just needs time in barrel to pick up tannins from the oak. After 8-10 months, the more desirable flavors start coming through. 

There are other balance issues as well; flavor intensity in regards to sweetness, the interplay that exists between bitterness and small amounts of sweetness, oak vs. fruit and age vs. youth.  There are lots of things at play, even temperature of the wine can have a dramatic effect on balance perception.

Overall it takes practice, but the more you taste, the more you will begin to notice the interactions of different components in wine.  It's always a learning experience, which is what makes it so interesting.

Keep tasting and keep learning.

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