Tasting for Body, Acidity and Fruit
Written by Tynan Szvetecz
Filed Under: Wine Tasting
Some say this trio is all you need to know in order to understand and describe that glass of wine before you. Even the greatest wine connoisseurs come back to these three flavor concepts when attempting blind tastings. Like so many things in this world, true mastery is very much about mastering the basics.
So let's cut to the chase! When we say Body, what exactly are we talking about?
Milk is Milk is Milk
Understanding the differences between a light-bodied wine and a full-bodied wine is about as simple as understanding your preferences for milk. Think of light-bodied as skim milk and full-bodied as cream. In between you have 2%, and right there you have your body range.
What makes it even easier, is that a wine's body is directly proportional to its alcohol content. On every wine label you'll notice a percentage of alcohol by volume, just as with any alcoholic beverage. Note how it applies to body:
- 7.5% - 10.5% indicates light body
- 10.5% - 12.5% indicates medium body
- 12.5% and over indicates full body
It's true, legs make a great first impression. The infamous first swirl of a glass of wine can give you a good indication of the body before you even taste it.
Watch the sides of the glass as you let the swirl settle, and notice the extent to which the wine sticks to the side of the glass. Light-bodied wines will typically not leave much trace, whereas a full-bodied wine will leave obvious streams that fall slowly back into the glass. These are known as tears or legs.
Acidity is quite literally the juice behind the wine. It is that quality that makes your mouth water and your lips pucker, and without it, wines (and anything for that matter!) taste pretty flat and one dimensional. However, when acidity is present in the right quantities, it is the element that makes all of the other flavors in the wine stand out, including the undertones of fruit, spice and herbs.
Like every quality in a wine, acidity depends on the type of grape grown and the growing region where it is cultivated. As a rule, cooler climates produce wines with more acidity. An excellent example is New Zealand's infamous Sauvignon Blanc which is produced in the cooler parts of the Marlborough region. A noticeable quality in these wines is a tart apple or lime-like flavor. The zing the acidity creates is part of what makes any wine such a joy to drink.
Note that when people discuss cool years and warm years in regards to the vintage, one of the most important elements they are alluding to is the acidity level in the wine. A cooler year will produce wines with more acidity whereas a warm year will produce wines with less acidity.
While acidity, like anything, can be too much, in the wine world it tends to be the balancing quality. You can have a sweet, oaky chardonnay but if the climate is favorable enough and the right level of acidity is introduced into the wine it will be an absolute treat. Chile is famous for creating such combinations.
For most people, acidity is a familiar concept. The flavor in wine that you would describe as tangy, sharp, refreshing, bracing, bright, crisp or zingy is the acidity.
Don't get worked up - we're not talking about being able to peg the exact undertones of fruit in the nose or taste of a wine (though that will certainly come after you understand the variations in body, acidity and fruit), we're looking for you to be able to identify the fruit intensity.
This means that you can tell the difference between a white wine that is tangy and has an apple-like flavor vs. a white wine that is smoother with dense tropical fruit flavors like mango and pineapple. In regards to red wine, you might be looking for cranberry or cherries on the more delicate end and figs and plums on the more intense end.
Have you heard the expression forward fruit or big fruit when talking to friends? This is a simple acknowledgment of how intense the flavors are. Delicate to soft and juicy to ripe and intense. Once you can make this distinction, being able to peg the nuances of a wine's character - hints of lime, Indian spices or even asparagus - will not lag far behind.