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Secrets of Quality

At the end of the three organoleptic evaluations, there are plenty of information to define the real quality of a wine

 The organoleptic evaluation of a wine is done in distinct phases in order to properly identify, and with proper attention and care, its characteristics according to visive, olfactory and gustatory analyses. In every phase the taster evaluates the single aspects of wine and according to them determines its level of quality and its typicality. Wine is made of hundreds of chemical and organoleptic elements, and each element must be present in proper quantity, according to the wine's style, without prevailing, covering or diminishing others. Quality of a wine is essentially determined by precise balances which are constituted by every single element, a critical condition which makes a wine great or just modest.

 Harmony and balance of elements which make things, not just wine, is a characteristic that, even though it should be considered as subjective, influences in a determinant way on agreeability and pleasantness. Inadequate elements, either lacking or excessive, give things a less pleasurable and less harmonious aspect, therefore it will be judged in a more or less negative way just because of these worsening conditions.

 Balance in wines, represented by the right quantity of gustatory elements, is considered as one of the fundamental factors which make quality. Despite the fact this characteristic is determinant, alone is not enough to make a wine pleasing, agreeable and therefore a quality wine. Other factors which work for the determination of quality are also aromatic balance, that is the elegance and the finesse of the olfactory profile, the olfactory-gustatory correspondence, that is the perception of flavors related to the aromas perceived to the nose, persistence, that is the quantity of time the gustatory-olfactory sensations are being perceived after the wine has been swallowed and, lastly, the harmony of the single characteristics of wine related to the others.

 

Aromatic Balance

 The evaluation of aromas in a wine anticipates its level of quality and tasters pay particular attention on the analysis of this very important organoleptic aspect. A wine which has a pleasing aroma, as well as positively predisposing to the evaluation of other characteristics, is considered as a quality factor, provided the other organoleptic characteristics are found to be of quality as well.


 

 Aromatic characteristics of a wine depend on the grape or grapes used for its production, the cultivation area, climatic and meteorological conditions, production methodologies as well as the level of ripeness of grapes. Every grape has proper aromatic characteristics, more or less intense and more or less agreeable, and its aromas can be accentuated, attenuated or covered by other factors, in particular, by production processes.

 When a wine's olfactory profile is being evaluated, it will be pretty difficult to just perceive a single aroma, in the majority of cases are perceived a group of aromas and with different intensities. Often the quantity and intensity of aromas are considered as a quality factor, however it is necessary that every aroma is in harmony with the others, in particular there must not be invading aromas which tend to cover in a pretty evident way the other ones. Wines which evidence a single, although pleasing, aroma, in particular when this aroma has no connection with the grape used to make the wine, it cannot be considered as a quality factor. A typical example of this condition is represented by the exaggerated use of wood aromas. No matter personal preferences are to be considered, which certainly are indisputable, a wine which main aroma is just that of wood, while covering primary and secondary aromas of wine, cannot be considered neither balanced nor of quality. Balance in this kind of wine is compromised by the excessive presence of just one characteristic which, moreover, is not connected to grape. Wood aromas are certainly pleasing and the use of casks is surely useful in wine making, however, as it is often said, the best wines aged in wood are the ones where the wood is not noticed, that is the ones which have wood aromas in perfect balance with all the other aromas.

 A particular consideration should be made for wines produced with the so called “aromatic” grapes, such as Muscat Blanc and Gewürztraminer. The aromatic characteristic of these grapes, in case they are vinified alone, is always intense and recognizable in every wine. However, any taster who pays sufficient attention will notice the aromatic mark is not the only aroma to be perceived, indeed, great wines produced with aromatic grapes always have other aromas, even though with lesser intensity, and that contribute to balance and to make more elegant and interesting an aromatic wine.

 Lastly, it should be remembered that it is the richness and the balance of aromas which make interesting the olfactory evaluation of a wine and that certainly makes it elegant. A wine having just one kind of aromas is not considered as interesting just because it is not capable of catching attention; after having smelt it few times, any interest for its aromas is lost.

 

Balance

 When balance in a wine is considered, without making use of any other indication, it is uniquely referred to gustatory balance, that is to the balance among specific gustatory sensations. The determination of balance in wines mainly depends on the category to be evaluated, therefore the determination of balance in white wines is different from red wines as well as for sweet wines.

 Balance is determined by the right quantity of the single elements in order not to be too much or too few according to the overall gustatory profile of a wine. Substances which are considered for the determination of the balance of a wine are sugars, alcohol, acids, mineral salts and, in case of red wines, tannins. These substances have the property of accentuating, neutralizing or opposing specific gustatory sensations and it is the result of these effects which makes balance. In order to better understand the relation and effects of every substance in the determination of balance, it should be considered what follows:

 

  • Sweetness balances acidity
  • Sweetness contrasts bitterness and salty
  • Sweetness attenuates astringency of tannins
  • Alcohol accentuates the sensation of sweetness because of its taste
  • Acidity and astringency exalt one each other
  • Bitterness and astringency exalt the sensation of acidity and salty
  • Carbon dioxide accentuates acidity and astringency
  • Carbon dioxide attenuates sweetness

 By considering these rules it is possible to define the gustatory balance in a wine according to the substances contained in it. It should be noticed alcohol, besides being cause of a pseudo-caloric sensation, has a taste which is fundamentally sweet and therefore contributes to balance just like any other sweet substance.

 Temperature at which a wine is being served also influences the perception of organoleptic qualities and therefore on balance as well. It should be noticed that a wine lacking balance may “appear” better when tasted at a proper temperature, however this factor alone will not make it better. Temperature can influence balance of a wine according to the following factors:

 

  • High temperatures accentuate the perception of sweetness while attenuating bitter and salty tastes
  • Low temperatures accentuate the perception of bitter and salty tastes while attenuating sweetness
  • Perception of acidity does not change with temperature however it should be remembered an acid beverage is more agreeable when served at low temperatures
  • Low temperatures accentuate the perception of astringency of tannins

 

White Wines

 Balance in white wines is more easy to determine than red wines because it is mainly defined by two factors: acidity and sweetness. By considering the lower number of factors which determine balance in white wines it is advisable, for beginners, to make practice with the study of balance with this kind of wines before considering red wines.


Balance in White Wines
Balance in White Wines

 White wines are produced in different styles (dry, sweet and sparkling) and although the rule of balance for these wines is practically valid in all cases, it is necessary to evaluate each kind by itself as well as the substances contained in it and their effects on balance. The graphic shown in figure illustrates the relation of the elements according to balance in white wines. Substances present in white wines are essentially four: sugar, alcohol, acids and mineral salts. These substances are ideally positioned in opposing sides, sugars and alcohol to one side, acids and mineral salts to the other, and in the center is positioned the balance point represented by the exact quantity of sweet substances capable of contrasting acidity and salty. An excessive quantity, either on one side or the other, tends to accentuate the dominating side while attenuating the opposing one, which is also in lesser quantity, therefore creating unbalance. It should be remembered sweetness contrasts, that is balances, acidity and vice versa.

 In dry white wines, or however wines having a negligible quantity of residual sugars, balance is determined by alcohol and acids. It should be observed that white wines, usually having more acids than red wines, must also have a tolerable quantity of acid in order not to excessively irritating the gustatory apparatus as well as balance; a sour wine, having a high quantity of acid, does not improve by adding a quantity of alcohol in order to reach balance, the result will be anyway an alcoholic wine and, worse of them all, sour and unpleasing. The following list shows the many cases, and the relative organoleptic quality, according to the excess (+) or lack (-) of one of the two substances. It should be noticed that greater the excess or lack, greater the effect will be accentuated.

 

  • -Alcohol, -Acid light wines, thin and fundamentally sweet
  • +Alcohol, -Acid wines having vinosity, round, soft and boring
  • -Alcohol, +Acid light wines, thin and sour
  • +Alcohol, +Acid alcoholic wines, hot, vinous and sour

 In the determination of balance in sweet white wines, or wines having a certain quantity of residual sugars, can be used the same rules applied to dry white wines, however higher quantities of sugars need a proper balance in order not to appear as “mellow” or “sickly”. Balance can be obtained, in this very case, by a proper quantity of acids or by a higher quantity of alcohol in order to contrast a condition which would get too sweet and unbalanced. For this reason, generally speaking, sweet white wines and “passito” have an alcohol by volume pretty high.

 The presence of carbon dioxide in sparkling wines, because of its natural tendency to accentuate acidity and to attenuate sweetness, as well as having a fundamental acid taste, will need a proper quantity of alcohol, in case of dry sparkling wines, or a proper quantity of sugar, in case of sweet sparkling wines.

 

Red Wines

 The determination of balance in red wines is based on the presence of another sensation which is usually absent in white wines: astringency. This sensorial factor is originated by tannins which presence is determined both by the maceration of skins in the must and for any possible aging in cask. For this reason, balance in red wines follows a proper rule, different from the one applied to white wines and, instead of opposing elements in two different sides, the many substances usually found in red wines are ideally positioned in three opposing sides where in the center is found the point of balance, that is the presence of substances in right quantities in order to balance all the other ones and in the proper way. The graphic shown in figure illustrates the existing relation among the many substances which are considered for red wines.


Balance in Red Wines
Balance in Red Wines

 In practical terms, the quantity of alcohol contrasts acid and astringency because, it should be remembered, acidity and astringency exalt one each other, therefore a very astringent wine cannot have lots of acid and vice versa. In any case it is the alcohol which determines the balance by contrasting these two elements. Acidity in red wines is tolerable only when astringency is low, such as for nouveau wines, whereas full bodied and austere wines, aged in casks and macerated for a long time in skins, have a clearly perceptible astringency and an acidity pretty low, with a proper quantity of alcohol, in both cases, in order to determine a proper balance. Likewise a red wine having little acid and little tannins will need a quantity of alcohol pretty low in order to be balanced.

 A final consideration should be made for fortified and sweet red wines. While the indications provided so far for balance are applicable, in particular, sweetness, besides attenuating astringency, slightly slows down the perception of this organoleptic characteristic.

 

Persistence

 Gustatory persistence is one of those factors which determine, just like balance, the quality of a wine. This characteristic, sometimes defined as “length”, is defined as the quantity of time in which gustatory-olfactory sensations of wine continue to be clearly perceived after the moment the wine has been swallowed or expelled. Persistence is mainly determined by the quality and quantity of aromas perceived during the gustatory evaluation, their tenacity of permanence in mouth, and therefore in taste buds, allows the stimulation and the perception of flavors and aromas even though the wine is not present in the mouth anymore.

 Persistence is measured in seconds, sometimes indicated with the French term caudalie, and it is the quantity of seconds in which the gustatory-olfactory perception is measured that determines quality. A wine is defined as persistent when this quantity of time is from 10 to 12 seconds, sometimes even 15, any higher time is an exclusive prerogative of great wines and, as it can be easily realized, it is pretty hard to find.

 Premises for the evaluation of persistence begin as the wine is introduced in mouth; during the evaluation of wine's characteristics it will be paid attention on the more intense flavors and aromas and on them will be paid attention and concentration at the very moment the wine is swallowed or expelled from the mouth. In this case flavors are exclusively intended the ones of aromatic origin, such as flavors of fruit, and not fundamental tastes, such as acidity or sweetness, not even tactile sensations such as astringency or alcohol strength, factors which usually have an appreciable duration, therefore persistence, which is usually higher than any other aromatic flavor of wine. In case a wine denotes in the mouth sensations of acidity, sweetness, astringency or alcoholic, instead of other aromatic flavors, it cannot be considered as persistent. Attention must be paid on the more intense aromatic flavor and therefore measure the quantity of time this flavor is perceivable before disappearing completely.

 

Harmony

 Harmony is what makes things pleasing and agreeable. In the sensorial evaluation of wine harmony is represented by the proper relation and correspondence of the three phases which make the whole examination: visive, olfactory and gustatory. A harmonic wine must have a good aspect, elegance and quality of aromas, a good balance, both aromatic and gustatory, and, last but not the least, a good correspondence of aromatic flavors withe the aromas perceived to the nose.

 Every element of a wine must be adequate for its structure, in a sense, it must be dressed up with the suit which is suitable to it, without heavy or light details which would just be disturbing elements. To make this concept clearer, it would be like seeing a robust person dressed up with very tight clothes or a thin person dressed up with very large clothes. Harmony in wines, just like balance and persistence, is a prerogative of great wines and it takes quality materials, as well as considerable skill and capacity of the wine maker, in order to be properly and correctly expressed.

 



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Wines of the Month


 

Score legend

Fair    Pretty Good    Good
Very Good    Excellent
Wine that excels in its category Wine that excels in its category
Prices are to be considered as indicative. Prices may vary according to the country
or the shop where wines are bought




Alhué Sauvignon Blanc Chardonnay 2002, Finca Alma (Argentina)
Alhué Sauvignon Blanc Chardonnay 2002
Finca Alma (Argentina)
Grapes: Sauvignon Blanc (60%), Chardonnay (40%)
Price: $9,50 Score:
The wine shows a soft straw yellow color and nuances of greenish yellow, very transparent. The nose is very elegant and refined with evident typicality of the grapes used to make this wine. The wine's olfactory style is mainly of fruit with evident aromas of pineapple, litchi, pear, peach, grapefruit as well as elder flower, sage and acacia. The mouth has a good correspondence to the nose, it is intense, crisp and well balanced by alcohol. The finish is persistent with pleasing hints of peach and elder flower. A well made wine. This wine is produced with fermentation and maceration of skins at a controlled temperature.
Food Match: Spiced fish, Risotto and pasta



COF Chardonnay Ronc di Juri 2000, Girolamo Dorigo (Italy)
COF Chardonnay Ronc di Juri 2000
Girolamo Dorigo (Italy)
Grapes: Chardonnay
Price: € 36,80 Score: Wine that excels in its category
The wine shows a beautiful and brilliant straw yellow color with nuances of greenish yellow, very transparent. The nose reveals a great personality with elegant, clean and refined aromas as well as evident aromas of wood however not excessively disturbing other aromas perception. There can be perceived intense and clean aromas of apple, pear, peach, banana, lemon, grapefruit, yeasts and vanilla as well as hints of flint and coffee. The mouth denotes good crispness well balanced by alcohol, it is intense and full bodied, very good balance and good correspondence to the nose. The finish is persistent with pleasing and elegant hints of pear, apple, vanilla and grapefruit. A well made wine. This Chardonnay is fermented in barrique and aged on lees until few days before bottling.
Food Match: Pasta and risotto with fish, Roasted fish, Crustaceans, White meat



Ghiaie della Furba 1999, Tenuta di Capezzana (Italy)
Ghiaie della Furba 1999
Tenuta di Capezzana (Italy)
Grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon (60%), Merlot (30%), Sirah (10%)
Price: € 25,00 Score: Wine that excels in its category
The wine has a beautiful intense ruby red color and nuances of garnet red, little transparency. The nose denotes a clean and prominent personality: intense, clean and well defined aromas of black cherry, plum jam, raspberry, blueberry which are pleasingly followed by aromas of cocoa, eucalyptus and vanilla. The mouth reveals a full body and intensity of flavors, powerful and prominent, with agreeable tannins well balanced by alcohol which is also present in good quantity. Excellent correspondence to the nose. The finish is persistent with clean and evident hints of black cherry, plum jam, blueberry and vanilla. A very well made wine. Ghiaie della Furba is produced in steel containers and is aged for 16 months in barrique followed by bottle aging for at least 6 months.
Food Match: Hard cheese, Roasted meat, Game, Braised meat, Stewed meat



Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 1999, Fattoria di Palazzo Vecchio (Italy)
Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 1999
Fattoria di Palazzo Vecchio (Italy)
Grapes: Sangiovese (87%), Canaiolo Nero (10%), Mammolo (3%)
Price: € 13,00 Score: Wine that excels in its category
The wine shows a brilliant ruby red color, little transparency. The nose is elegant, refined and of good personality with intense aromas of black cherry, ripe cherry, blueberry, plum and black currant followed by aromas of chocolate, fennel, thyme and violet as well as hints of vanilla. The mouth reveals good correspondence to the nose, it is intense, full bodied and has a tannic attack balanced by alcohol. The finish is persistent with hints of black cherry, plum and blueberry. A well made wine.
Food Match: Roasted meat, Broiled meat and barbecue, Game, Hard cheese



Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Le Balze 1997, Novaia (Italy)
Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Le Balze 1997
Novaia (Italy)
Grapes: Corvina (50%), Corvinone (20%), Rondinella (30%)
Price: € 31,20 Score: Wine that excels in its category
Interesting example of Amarone. The wine shows a beautiful intense ruby red color and nuances of garnet red, little transparency. The nose denotes a clean and strong personality and richness of clean and elegant aromas. There can be perceived clean and intense aromas of black cherry jam, blackberry jam, peach jam, plum jam, ripe fruit, dried rose and dried violet followed by aromas of vanilla, cocoa, candies and nutmeg. The mouth has a pretty alcoholic attack, however well balanced by tannins as well as the full body. Good correspondence to the nose with intense and agreeable flavors of jams. The finish is persistent with pleasing and long hints of black cherry jam, plum jam and blackberry jam. A very well made wine which will give great emotions with a further aging in bottle. This Amarone is aged in barrique for 27 months followed by a bottle aging of 7 months.
Food Match: Game, Braised meat, Stewed meat, Roasted meat, Hard cheese



Barbera d'Alba Superiore I Filari de I Maschi 2000, Le Vigne di Canova (Italy)
Barbera d'Alba Superiore I Filari de I Maschi 2000
Le Vigne di Canova (Italy)
Grapes: Barbera
Price: € 9,60 Score:
The wine shows a beautiful aspect and a ruby red color with nuances of purplish red, moderate transparency. The nose reveals intense aromas and good personality, mainly of fruit, such as raspberry, blackberry and plum followed by elegant and interesting aromas of coffee, chamomile, chocolate and hints of toasted. In the mouth the Barbera express its typicality with a crisp attack, however well balanced by tannins and alcohol. Good correspondence to the nose and good intensity of flavors. The finish is persistent with pleasing hints of plum and raspberry as well as chamomile. This wine is produced with maceration of skins for 14 days followed by an aging in cask for about one year.
Food Match: Roasted meat, Broiled meat and barbecue, Hard cheese



Radici Taurasi 1998, Mastroberardino (Italy)
Radici Taurasi 1998
Mastroberardino (Italy)
Grapes: Aglianico
Price: € 16,55 Score:
The wine shows a ruby red color with evident nuances of garnet red, moderate transparency. The nose reveals a series of fruit aromas such as black cherry, cherry, blueberry and plum followed by pleasing hints of black pepper, dried rose, toasted and vanilla. A clean and pleasing nose. The mouth has pleasing tannins well balanced by alcohol with slight flavors of black pepper, very pleasing. The finish is persistent with evident hints of black cherry, plum and blueberry as well as hints of black pepper. Radici Taurasi is aged for 24 months in cask followed by an aging in bottle for at least 12 months.
Food Match: Hard cheese, Braised meat, Broiled meat and barbecue, Roasted meat



Moscato TerrAntica, Casano (Italy)
Moscato TerrAntica
Casano (Italy)
Grapes: Moscato Bianco
Price: € 5,00 ($5.00) Score: Wine that excels in its category
The wine shows a deep amber yellow color with nuances of amber yellow, transparent. The nose denotes the typical characteristics of the grape with intense and pleasing aromas of dried apricot, anise, candied fruit, caramel, dried fig, marzipan and raisins. The mouth corresponds to the aromas perceived to the nose and reveals a pleasing roundness and sweetness as well as a good alcohol. The finish is very persistent with long and pleasing hints of dried apricot, dried fig, candied fruit and aromatic hints of Muscat.
Food Match: Confectionery, Piquant cheese






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