Structure and Texture II
Written by Brian Hoffer
Filed Under: Wine Terms
Now, with the concepts in hand from Structure and Texture I, we're ready to tackle the lingo:
Tight/Firm/Closed-- A reference made mainly to a wine's tannin, but also often to acidity. A tight or firm wine is one in which the tannins are pronounced and may appear to mask other qualities of the wine. When used in a positive sense, tightness often assumes that those other qualities will be revealed as the wine matures and the tannins become less prominent. This is especially the case when we see the term â€˜closed', which assumes that the wine will eventually become â€˜open'. Sometimes, however, tight or firm wines do not soften or open up very much over time.
Grip/Cut-- A reference to the quality of a wine's tannic or acidic firmness. A wine with good grip or cut is one with pleasingly pronounced tannin or acidity.
Chewy-- Another reference to tannin. In this case, the tannins are definitely pronounced, but they're less astringent or harsh. Generally used when a wine's tannins are full and pleasant. Occasionally you'll see reference to â€˜sweet tannins'; this term can be considered to be related to chewiness.
Lean-- When used in terms of structure, lean wines are often those that have too much tannin or acidity and not enough of everything else. In this sense, a lean wine is like a vacant, but solidly built house: plenty of structure, but nothing to fill it up.
Green-- Lean and green often go hand in hand where tannin is concerned. Tannins come from the seeds and stems of grapes as well as from the skins, but stem and seed tannins tend to impart a more astringent, vegetal quality to a wine.
Big-- When we say that a wine is big, we usually mean that it has lots of everything-- tannin, alcohol, flavor, aromatics, the whole shebang and then some. Big wines do not, however, necessarily have lots of balance. Increasingly it seems that bigness is more a matter of alcohol and flavor than anything else, but the term may also imply lots of tannin. (As an aside, lean is generally regarded as being the opposite of big, huge, behemoth, and all the other superlatives of scale. For some reason, though, we don't refer to wines as being small or petite or miniscule. But perhaps we should. Couldn't the opposite of a mammoth Zinfandel be a bitty Beaujolais?)
Extracted-- Closely associated with bigness, extractedness is a fairly literal term. It refers to a great deal of extraction from the grape skins during and following fermentation: lots of color, tannin, flavor and aromatics. The conditions that allow for big-time extraction often go hand-in-hand with those that lead to higher alcohol wines, and therefore most big wines are also often very extracted wines.
Round-- Round wines are those without firm, distinct delineation or â€˜hard edges'. Roundness is generally a pleasing sensation in the mouth, so this term is almost always a positive. The â€˜hard edges' come from tannin and acidity, and roundness usually comes at the expense of these qualities and with an emphasis on alcohol or sugar, combined with lots of â€˜sweet' tasting flavors.
Flabby-- When roundness goes too far, the wine becomes flabby. Specifically, flabbiness means that a wine has far too little acidity to provide backbone to everything else going on; generally speaking, though, flabby wines are also often low on tannin as well. Although flabby wines can sometimes be pleasant on the attack (more on that later), the lack of acidity quickly leaves a dull, droopy, uninteresting texture in the mouth.
Focusedâ€”Kinda-sorta the opposite of flabby, at least where tactile impressions are concerned. While flabby wines seem to expand and sort of drool away to nothingness in the mouth, focused wines are more compact in the mouth and seem to retain all their verve and intensity from start to finish. Focus is often closely associated with grip and cut.
Dry-- As discussed in the section on flavor, a dry wine is simply one having no residual sugar. But the sensation of dryness is strongly connected to acidity and tannin. If a wine has high acidity, it can still feel very dry in the mouth, even if there's still a lot of chemical sweetness. Acidity has a cleansing effect on the palate and will wash away (so to speak) sugar before it has a chance to become cloying. The astringency of tannin can behave in the same way.
Food-Friendly-- Food-friendly wines, of course, are wines that will go well with food. They tend to have decent acidity, which cuts through fat left on the palate, and they're not so big or round or rich that they'll overwhelm the flavors of the food they're meant to complement. Sometimes we'll refer to a wine as being â€˜more of a food wine than an aperitif wine.' What we mean by this is that it was intended to complement food and that it simply won't show as well on its own. Many, if not most, food-friendly wines are also just fine when drunk on their own.
Attack-- The very first impression that a wine gives as it hits the palate, usually dominated by acidity and the wine's more volatile flavors and aromas.
Mid-Palate-- A term we use to describe that comparatively long period between the attack and the finish, and also to describe the place in the mouth where most of the (hopefully) interesting stuff is going on. In tasting a wine, this is the place/period where the wine will show most of its up front or dominant characteristics.
Finish-- After swallowing the wine, the finish is what you're left with at the end. Great wines generally have very persistent finishes; not-so-great wines don't. The importance of the finish is that there are often subtle flavors and aromas that are masked by a wine's more dominant qualities at the attack and mid-palate. The complexity of a wine's character often isn't revealed until the finish.
And speaking of finish, we've just reached ours.
A genuine concern in writing something like this is that it can be all too easy to obfuscate the very subject that one is trying to simplify. Wine itself should be complex, wine writing shouldn't be. Hopefully this article, in both its parts, has helped to clarify the subject.