To illustrate the structural elements of acidity, alcohol and residual sugar in wine, we tasted eight different wines in four pairs.
A Muscadet Sèvre-et-Maine is an archetypal bone dry, light-bodied French white. Made from the Melon de Bourgogne grape, this wine is watery-white in appearance, is very acidic, not particularly aromatic with an almost salty approach on the palate. I paired this against an Alsatian Gewurztraminer for the complete contrast. The Gewurz had rich aromas (rosewater, tropical fruits, canned lychees, and honey), a medium body, lowish acidity, noticeable alcohol (13%) , and medium dry in terms of sweetness. Everything the Muscadet was not, and a good example of contrast between body, sugar levels and acidity.
The second pairing was a Marlborough Chardonnay and a Mosel Riesling. Again, poles apart and useful for talking about alcohol levels. The Riesling was typically low (8%) against the New World Chardonnay at a high 13.5%. Both wines had medium acid and body. These two wines proved a useful comparison between the ideas of fruit ripeness (or ‘sweetness’) and actual sugar sweetness. The Chardonnay was completely dry, however a novice could be forgiven for calling the wine ‘sweet’ as its fruit characteristics were very ripe – plenty of tropical fruits, guava, along with apricots and apples. The Riesling similarly had ripe fruit aromas, but also had a decent amount of residual sugar – ‘medium sweet’ was my note.
Red wines are (with a few exceptions) completely dry. I used the pairing of a Touraine Gamay with an Argentinian Malbec-Cab blend to illustrate body, acidity and alcohol. The Gamay was light in body, had pronounced acidity, and low (for reds) alcohol, clocking in at 12.5%. By contrast, the Malbec was low in acidity yet full bodied with noticeable high alcohol (14.5%). The wine wasn’t at all unpleasant. It is a weighty wine, designed to be drunk with a hearty meat dish. From the 2003 vintage, the additional bottle age has helped to round this wine out nicely. As an aside, Argentinian reds are exceptional value if you’re looking for a wine with a bit of age on them.
The final pairing of the night was a couple of Italians. A Chianti Classico from Tuscany and a Primitivo from Puglia in Southern Italy illustrated the uncanny knack that Italian wines have of being both highish in alcohol but still maintaining decent acidity levels. The Chianti was a classic example, sour cherries, vanilla and hazelnut from French oaking, crisp acidity with highish alcohol and firm, dominant tannins. Primitivo is the ancestor grape to California’s Zinfandel. This example was very much like a Zin from California – very ripe fruits: jammy ‘raspberries and cream’, deep ruby colour, high in alcohol, lowish but still noticeable acidity, and soft but very present tannins. It is in the last two notes where I think you could distinguish this Primitivo from a Zinfandel – higher acidity than you might expect and certainly more prominent tannins than I’ve had in Zinfandels in the past.
This week we move on to Tannins and Oak, so stay tuned for the next post!