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  Editorial Issue 91, December 2010   
A Matter of BalanceA Matter of Balance  Contents 
Issue 90, November 2010 Follow DiWineTaste on Follow DiWineTaste on TwitterIssue 92, January 2011

A Matter of Balance


 The quality of wine cannot be defined according to strict criteria. Likewise, agreeability of a wine cannot be defined according to absolute principles. Wine, a rich and complex beverage, has the evident power of stimulating our senses and, with them, to give different emotions according to external and humoral factors. Subjectivity of the taster, as well as a psychological predisposition, undeniably affect in a determinant way the agreeability of a wine. A wine, tasted in a specific context, could be found very agreeable; the very same wine, tasted in a different context, could also result indifferent or even unpleasant. There however are objective criteria on which most of the lovers of beverage of Bacchus agree, aromas and flavors which can be generally defined - and therefore, objectively - pleasing or unpleasing, appropriate or extraneous to wine.


 

 This concept can be explained, for example, by vinegar. Its aroma and its taste can be liked and wanted in many foods, even in the case its presence is dominant, whereas when its aroma or taste is perceived in a wine, it becomes an unpleasing factor, inexorably compromising its quality. Quality of a wine is not measured by the number of qualities it has; indeed it is the quantity of faults to make its quality and, of course, in the least possible quantity. There are faults to be objectively recognized as detrimental for the quality of wine - cork smell and taste, for example - while others are subjective only, such as the excess or the lack of aromas and tastes of cask or barrique wood. De gustibus non est disputandum (there is no dispute about taste), we could say. Finally, there are faults, or qualities, changing with the course of time and with the unavoidable change of taste occurring in any era.

 Those which in remote times were considered wines of absolute value, today - in case we evaluate them with the taste of our times - would probably be considered not very pleasing or even undrinkable. Taste changes, evolves and gets adapted according to the circumstances of the society and of culture, as well as fashion and trends of the moment. Aromas, tastes and agreeability of wine are determined by that factor technically defined as balance, that is the condition - sometimes magic and precarious - in which every organoleptic stimulus seems to be perfectly opposed to others or to one in particular. In this complex “game” of senses chasing each other, supporting or opposing to each other, have been formulated many “rules”, trying to define the point of balance in a wine, at least in objective terms. And every wine has its own: the condition of balance for a white wine, for example, it is not wanted in a red wine and vice versa.

 According to a technical point of view, the change - either in excess or deficit - of a specific organoleptic stimulus, requires a proper increasing or decreasing of another stimulus, complementary or antagonist according to case, in order to reach balance. Explained this way, it seems to be simple, indeed it is an extremely complex art with which a wine is made, from vineyard to glass. For example, in a wine in which seems to prevail an acidic taste, therefore compromising its agreeability (which is however subjective), we could increase roundness - and this usually means to age the wine in wood or to add proper substances - or to increase sweetness or the quantity of alcohol. At the same time, the aging in wood could excessively increase the astringency of wine, therefore, in order to reach balance again, we could increase the quantity of alcohol or roundness. In other words, by changing a single parameter of the sensorial profile, it is also needed the adaptation of the other ones in order to not compromise balance.

 In the last thirty years, in the world of wine, therefore not only in Italy, we have witnessed a competition against balance. Thirty years ago wines had a personality very different from the ones we are used to have today. It was possible to perceive, for example, basically crisp tastes - that is acidity was more evident - and the alcohol by volume was of an average of 12.5%. Wines with “round” personality and basically sweet, with a pronounced wood character and with alcohol more than 13.5% were rare, as well as not very appreciated. Then it became common belief great wines could be made with a barrique only, convinced the success of France depended on this cellar tool only. With the arrive of the barrique, wines were loaded with tannins and therefore of unripe astringency, the one - in other words - puckering teeth and inner cheeks. Acidity left its place to tannins, and not only in red wines. Together with barrique, Merlot and Chardonnay became very famous - considered at those times the only grapes capable of making valuable and great wines - which also had the advantage of rounding the strength of barrique's tannins, therefore contributing to reach balance again.

 Then arrived great concentrations, which, in turn, increased structure and body, therefore astringency of wines, and balance was reached again by concentrating sugar in grapes, therefore with alcohol. A frenzied race in search of balance in order to remedy to modern concepts which colonized cellars and vineyards. Wines with a lower alcohol by volume, delicate and elegant, once considered as “normal”, were now relegated to the bottom of the pyramid of quality, lesser wines, of low quality and value. In the forthcoming years the great wine was the one which could be almost chewed instead of drunk. Body, structure, power, concentration, alcohol: the criteria of the new quality. Wines of which are admired technical and stylistic performance, you usually have a couple of glasses and then you leave the bottle on the table. Elegant on their own, however not truly elegant, supported by almost precarious balances in which muscles are well shown off. While dreaming a “lesser” wine capable of giving emotions with its balanced elegance.

 







   Share this article   Share on Google+   Summary of Editorial column Wine Tasting 
  Editorial Issue 91, December 2010   
A Matter of BalanceA Matter of Balance  Contents 
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