Drinking wine must be a pleasant experience – otherwise why do it? The simple judgment is “does it taste good”? Different grapes produce different fruit tastes – so that’s the primary taste to look for. But then you need to look for the other four key factors that produce a pleasant and harmonious wine with “balance”. Its all about balance!
Sweetness/Residual Sugar: If a wine tastes sweet & coats the tongue and feels viscous and sensual there may be some residual sugar lurking. Wines with high residual sugar such as Sauternes or Liquor Muscat match up particularly well with desserts, Foie Gras & some cheeses – ‘dessert wines’ are some of wine’s great hidden treasures.
Acidity: Acidity is sensed first on the side of the tongue – without it wines become flabby and lack charm. A good way to gauge the acidity is after you swallowed the wine hold your mouth open to encourage extra air. If your mouth begins to salivate, this is the acidity. Wines too high in acidity become austere and tough – think ‘wine vinegar’. Acidity is necessary, as long as it is balanced with the other components.
Tannins: Tannins are mostly found in red wines (but can be found in some whites depending on style). Derived predominantly from the skin and seeds of the grape, tannins can also come as a result of oak aging. A wine with high tannins will grip and coat the gums and the middle of the tongue, giving a drying sense of bitterness and astringency. Tannins help enhance the texture of the wine, and are one of the components of ‘balance’. A good way to familiarize yourself with tannins is the taste cold tea.
Different varieties of grapes exhibit different levels of tannins. Nebbiolo & Cabernet Sauvignon have inherently high tannins, whereas Pinot Noir and Ruché from Italy (pron. Roo-Kay) have inherently lower and lovely soft tannins. Wines that are produced for consumption when young are designed to have softer, rounder tannins to give a softer ‘mouthfeel’. Wines produced for longer ageing with pronounced tannins such as those from Bordeaux need bottle age to come into balance
Alcohol: The final piece of the jigsaw is the alcohol. Wines too high in alcohol taste ‘hot’, – if you taste a bit of heat at the back of your palate (think of brandy after taste), then the alcohol is probably out of balance with the other components. The alcohol can be high but if it blends seamlessly with the sweetness, acidity and tannins it completes the balance jigsaw. But high alcohol wines where the alcohol is prominent are tough to drink in Singapore’s tropical temperatures – beware!
Look at the parts of the wine as a whole and try to match it to the occasion. Its not an exact science and there is no right answer – but its not hard to match up to the food you are serving. e.g. grilled salmon matches well with Pinot Noir but not a rich Cabernet Sauvignon.