|Understanding the nine basic essences of wine
There are hundreds of different wines made throughout the world. With each type of wine comes a set of varying essences. For example, the aromas of a chardonnay (white Burgundy) may suggest essences of pineapple, apple, fig and oak. Tasting this wine may reveal the same essences, plus essences dealing with the texture of the wine in your mouth, i.e. buttery (smooth). Even though each different grape varietal has its own set of essences, many of these overlap from one wine to the next. There are nine basic essences characteristic to all wines: sweet, bitter, sour, smooth, acetic, flowery, fruity, oak and tannin. These essences, although sometimes barely noticeable in some wines, should be understood, both literally and physically, to better understand and determine the reason you either like or dislike a wine.
The integration of sugar with wine’s other constituents is intriguing. Sugar masks the effect of tannin in wine, subdues the alcohol and is sometimes used to disguise (hide) defects in lesser quality wines. That’s why “jug” wines are usually fairly sweet — to hide flaws caused by using inferior grapes. Sweetness is not undesirable in wine — it should exist in an amount appropriate for each specific type of wine. Much more significant to the quality of a wine than sugar content is the balance between all its components: sugar, acid, fruit, tannin, etc.
Bitter is sensed almost as an after-taste. A slight bitterness in wine can give an appealing aftertaste and is found in higher levels in wines like Valpolicella and Bardolino from Italy.
At one extreme, low acidity results in a wine that’s flat and flavorless. At the other extreme, high acidity causes excessive sharpness.
Many wines, particularly chardonnay, may suggest an aroma of fresh apples. Malic acid’s responsible for this characteristic. Apples, basically, are balls of malic acid. The word malic is derived from the Latin word malum, meaning apple.
Acid’s indispensable to a sound, stable, balanced wine. It also intensifies any bitter taste present. Excessive lactic acid leads to an unpleasant flavor and instability and shortens the life of the wine. Hence, many wines that have undergone 100 percent malolactic fermentation MAY not age as well as those that have not undergone any malolactic at all.
New wines normally contain about .02 – .03 percent acetic acid. (This can rise to as much as 1.5 percent in some wines.) Generally, the cause of an acetic wine is overexposure to air because of a leaking cork or barrel. However, this isn’t a common problem today thanks to modern winemaking technology in which, for example, the addition of sulphur dioxide (in small amounts) reduces the amount of acetic acid formed.
While aging in wood can give a wine added complexity, additional depth, softness and roundness, an oaky or woody quality should complement a wine’s flavor, not dominate it.
Something to remember: Tannin isn’t the only component responsible for the ageability of wines. Acids play a significant role in a wine’s aging process. So just because a wine has a lot of tannins doesn’t necessarily mean it will age gracefully.