An Introduction To Wine (Part 3): What To Look For?

Wine has five qualities:

1. Distinct Varietal Character

In other words – “The more Granny Smith-ish the Granny Smith apple is, the more it can be savored and appreciated.” The same is true for grape varieties. Each variety of grape presents itself in a different way.

You either love Bleu Cheese or you hate it, but should every cheese taste like Kraft Singles just because it has widespread appeal? Nonsense!

2. Integration

The second quality to look for in wine is integration. That is, when the aspects of a wine (acid, tannin, alcohol, etc.) are so perfectly interwoven that no one aspect stands out from another. It is important to note, wine that is NOT integrated is far easier to describe than wine that is.

Karen McNeill, in the The Wine Bibledescribes non-integrated wine like a star. You can taste and talk about the “points” of acidity, tannin or oak.

She says an integrated wine presents itself in the mouth like a sphere. So round, so harmonious that one cannot easily grab onto any single sensory or intellectual aspect.

3. Expressiveness

The third quality to look for in a wine occurs when the aromas and flavors are well-defined and clearly projected. While some wines seem muddled and diffused, others have transcendent clarity and focus.

It is the difference between a pixelated You Tube video on a small computer screen and a Blu-Ray DVD on a large screen LED television.

Kermit Lynch says it this way, “Great wine is about nuance, surprise, subtlety, expression – qualities that keep you coming back for another taste. rejecting a wine because it is not big enough – is like rejecting a book because it is not long enough, or a piece of music because it is not loud enough.”

4. Complexity

Complexity is not a thing – but a phenomenon. A thing is jamminess or acidity. A phenomenon is a force that pulls you into a wine and impels you to return again and again – and every time you return you find something new.

Movie critics say that the greatest films are those that continue to crop up in your consciousness days after you have seen them. Art critics say it is the difference between a momentary response and art that you cannot stop looking at. In his description of beauty, Aquinas calls this “radiance”.

5. Connectedness

This aspect is perhaps the most elusive of all the five qualities to ascertain. It is the bond between a wine and the plot of ground it was born in. Connectedness makes a grape different from other grapes and therefore worthy of appreciation. It is like the link between a person and their culture and hometown.

Wine without connectedness to the ground from which it came may be of good quality, but like a modern Hampton Inn in Italy, there is a limit to how deep one’s aesthetic appreciation of it can be. For example, an Amarone can derive from nowhere other than the Piemonte region of Northern Italy. It is singularly connected to that tiny region of the world.

Finally, to appreciate what makes wine great – we must SLOW DOWN. This is tough for those of us who have been reared in the Westernized culture of America. I have a friend whose glass always gets filled up first by the waiter or Sommelier at a restaurant because he gulps it down. At first, it infuriated me that he receives more quantity of wine, until I realized that the quality and pleasure of my experience was far more enjoyable.

  • To discover varietal character, try a Sauvignon Blanc and look for distinctiveness.
  • To discover integration try a white Burgundy, such as a Mersault and look for harmony.
  • To discover expressiveness try a Viognier, and look for intensity.
  • To discover complexity, try a ten year old plus Napa Cabernet or Italian Barolo and look for naunce.
  • To discover connectedness, try an Italian Amarone, and look for uniqueness.

Tomorrow, Part 4 of an Introduction to Wine, “Where It All Begins”

Created by Randy Elrod

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