The fruit of the vine

Getting to know a wine's structure is like becoming acquainted with a new friend

By Genevieve Oswald
Posted 1/30/20

While tasting wine is often depicted as a poetic diatribe of exciting flavors and sensuous textures sumptuously rising out of a glass, skillful wine tasting is hardly that. The bouquet of the wine matters but only to a degree - it is the wine's acidity, alcohol, phenolic bitterness and tannin that matter. This is the structure of the wine, the elements which tell the wine's story.

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The fruit of the vine

Getting to know a wine's structure is like becoming acquainted with a new friend

Posted

While tasting wine is often depicted as a poetic diatribe of exciting flavors and sensuous textures sumptuously rising out of a glass, skillful wine tasting is hardly that. The bouquet of the wine matters but only to a degree - it is the wine's acidity, alcohol, phenolic bitterness and tannin that matter. This is the structure of the wine, the elements which tell the wine's story.

Acidity in wine makes your mouth go zing, lights up your taste buds, hits the refresh button on a hot summer day, entices a pop of the lips. Alcohol rises like heat dancing in your throat and cheeks. Phenols are bitter and phenolic bitterness is just that - a bitter flavor specific to white wine, bitter and astringent. Tannin is specific to red wine, some have more, some have less. All tannin creates the sensation of having grit on your teeth.

These four elements reveal, each in their own way, the nature of a particular wine, its family history and home life as well as what the wine has done since leaving home. If you're any level of sommelier, these components lend themselves to the business of deduction - on a practical level, the wines serving or selling value; less practical, in the effort of identifying a wine blind.

For the amateur wine aficionado, understanding the structure of a wine enables successful wine and food pairing, providing the basis to understand the simple rule, like with like or contrasting.

Getting to know these elements in a wine is similar to becoming more deeply acquainted with a new friend. You ask questions and they are answered. The conversation reveals personality, character, interesting things from their past, their family history, the adversity they have known and sometimes more if you ask those questions, too.

Like strangers who became acquaintances and then friends, with time a wine will reveal its character, its personality, its family homeland, its age, what kind of adversity it grew up with and the class of its roots. While personality and family life is not necessarily what someone thinks of with regards to tasting wine, that's exactly what a wine aficionado is looking for and has found when they speak of notes of chocolate and molasses, textures of velvet, traces of chalk and age versus youth.

Thankfully one does not need to be a master sommelier to enjoy tasting wine, and fortunately for those who want to know more about wine in Taos, there is plenty of opportunity to do just that. This weekend's annual Taos Winter Wine festival will provide a bounty of opportunity for learning, and for the occasion many businesses around town provide complimenting services, with restaurants all over town hosting wine dinners.

For those who balk at the cost of the aforementioned events, the specialty wine and spirits store The Cellar, at 623 Paseo del Pueblo Norte, will be hosting winemakers both Friday and Saturday afternoon (Jan. 31 and Feb. 1) for free wine tastings.

To maintain stamina through such a weekend, it is recommended to follow the golden rule: spit don't swallow.

What's in your glass? Cheers.

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