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Five Key Wine Components and How to Detect Them

A lesson on the basic words and phrases you need to know about wine

 


How often have you run across these phrases when you’re reading a wine review: “highly structured," “crisp,” “bright," “firm tannins,” “fine-grained tannins.”

How do they translate into your flavor experiences?

It’s nothing too mysterious. “Structure” is most often used in reference to relative levels of acid (especially whites) and/or tannin (reds). But there are other things that come into play such as alcohol, sweetness and body.

Isolated, none of these components are tasty or interesting. Think of them as the framework of the wine, just waiting to be fleshed out by delicious things like fruitiness, fermentation character, oak, floral character, herbaceousness, minerality, etc.

Fortunately, Mother Nature has made it remarkably easy to detect the relative levels of the main wine components. Grab a glass of red wine and taste as we go and you’ll see what I mean.

Photo courtesy of shutterstock images


Alcohol is the only one of the main components that has an aroma, so you’ll have to rely on your palate to differentiate between the rest. Using the slurping technique will really help.

For the uninitiated: Take a little sip of your wine. Taste good? Now, all you have to do is take another small sip and hold it in your mouth. Purse your lips and pull some air in through your teeth and over the top of the wine (kind of like whistling in reverse). Swish it all around your mouth, like mouthwash, and chew on it a little. Wow – flavor explosion in your head, right? Now, we’re ready to get started.
Important: All of us have different sensitivities, so you might detect alcohol more readily than I do – I’m a cheap date. And, I might notice acid more easily than someone else.


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Comments

  • Snooth User: Eric Guido
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    92549 162,988

    Thanks for this great article. It's a topic that's not covered often enough and can really help people understand what they're tasting. Well done!

    Aug 15, 2012 at 12:57 PM


  • Snooth User: bassogary
    790815 13

    this was a great article again i learn a lot more thank you!!

    Aug 15, 2012 at 1:23 PM


  • An excellent article. I learned a few new things I didn't know and intend to pass it on.

    Aug 15, 2012 at 2:09 PM


  • Snooth User: TomG
    40947 44

    I want to echo what's been said - an excellent article. If there's anything I'd like to have seen more of, it would be an elaboration of smell. I realize that you were talking about five major taste components, but in terms of the experience, the smell/nose/bouquet/whatever of a wine is, or can be, incredible. My first "wow" moment with wine was a 2001 Rioja that provided a hit of tobacco and saddle leather that I still remember. How can wine do that?

    Aug 15, 2012 at 2:36 PM


  • Snooth User: jtryka
    Hand of Snooth
    312799 2,061

    Great article, nice way to explain these things in more layman's terms.

    Aug 15, 2012 at 2:39 PM


  • Snooth User: Tim4C
    875219 21

    This is great. It fully, and easily, explains some of the more esoteric terms and descriptions used for wine tasting. Thank you.

    Aug 15, 2012 at 3:18 PM


  • Snooth User: Richard Foxall
    Hand of Snooth
    262583 2,931

    Nicely done with a balance of comparisons to everyday experiences, scientific facts, and vocabulary that often goes unexplained but is really pretty straightforward.

    Aug 15, 2012 at 3:32 PM


  • Snooth User: lakenvelder
    Hand of Snooth
    544484 519

    Nice article, The vocabulary is often not something most beginners understand and are explained to.

    Aug 15, 2012 at 5:11 PM


  • When I taste unknown wines for the first time I focus on the alcohol content, tannin levels, acidity and residual lingering taste and more on how it stays on the palate. the bouquet is of less important for me (poor smell ability) but after reading this post it is an important step in the enjoyment process. Get more tips on wines from le Marche by visiting this useful blog: vinomarche@blogspot.com

    Aug 16, 2012 at 2:13 AM


  • Thanks to all of you for taking the time to make these lovely comments! You've made my day! TomG, yours is a really great question that's hard to answer since there are so few absolutes in wine. But - I think you've given me the inspiration for my next post! Thanks! Nancy

    Aug 16, 2012 at 1:46 PM


  • Very didact and clear. I loved it!

    Aug 17, 2012 at 5:28 PM


  • Snooth User: mjapka
    656126 44

    This was a very interesting article. I appreciate the section on acidity and tannins and oxidation, leading to eventual softening. My wife and I lived in West Germany and Southern Italy for quite a long time, and we are often amazed at what we call "the big red California thing." A very high percentage of the CA cabs, in particular, just seem so uniform and less distinct to us, like there is a mouth feel that everyone is striving for. We have encountered it in some French reds and in the Cusomano family Noa and some 100% cab sauv from Sicily -- and we like that smooth velvet -- but it just seems that the red cab blends we drink now that we have moved back to the US are almost standardized. I think, now, that it must be because of that combo of high alcohol and the tannins from grape sources and the newer oak. We were beginning to assume that Michel Rolland had somehow taken over the entire state of California and was micro-oxygenating everything.

    Aug 18, 2012 at 4:29 PM


  • Snooth User: ps
    70694 347

    Great article! I had a wine day before yesterday that made my mouth feel warm and I thought of this article. I wouldn't have noticed it otherwise. I still have trouble with dry vs. sweet though.

    Aug 22, 2012 at 7:40 AM


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    549743 54

    this is a great article, thank you so much for that

    Oct 09, 2012 at 4:30 AM


  • Well done I always find it hard in the tasting room to have the time to explain all the points you put in this report. The new taster wants to know which wine is best? Hard to answer I feel the best wine is the one you love to work with the food you intend to serve We all benefit from listening. Often one of my servers seems to jump the gun and start talking about the wine before the taster has really had a chance to take it all in. The tasting room can be a good place to learn about wine and tasting. Never be afraid to ask questions.

    Nov 15, 2012 at 7:54 PM


  • I agree, Geneventiv. I used to do an hour-long class to go over these things. No way you could get it done in a tasting bar situation. Looks like we have similar backgrounds - I've spent a whole lotta time in tasting rooms. I wish people would trust their palates to tell them which wine is best. Thanks for the comment! n

    Nov 15, 2012 at 8:06 PM


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  • Thanks to all of you for taking the time to make these lovely comments! You've made my day! TomG, yours is a really great question that's hard to answer since there are so few absolutes in wine. But - I think you've given me the inspiration for my next post! Thanks! Nancy

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