Balance is a word you very often hear wine people talk about.
Do you ever wonder what it means in the context of a wine? What exactly is a balanced wine?
Balance is extremely important in any wine and one of its most sought after characteristics. A wine is balanced when all the different components are working in harmony - a balanced wine is one where no one component protrudes or awkwardly sticks out.
The key components in a wine that should be in balance are alcohol, acidity, tannin, sweetness and fruit concentration or extract. Balanced wines are refreshing, elegant, pleasant to drink, and they tend to age longer than those that are not.
In sweet wines, acidity is a very important balancing partner. The best off-dry and sweet wines tend to be made form grape varieties with natural high acidity such as Riesling. If a sweet wine does not have sufficient balancing acidity it can taste syrupy and overly sweet.
Wines that have too little acidity taste flabby, heavy or flat. In contrast, wines with too much acidity are very hard to enjoy, are austere with a tart taste. A little residual sugar can help soften the acid attack.
When it comes to tannins, it is a little more complex, as young age-worthy red wines have very marked tannins - tannins that resolve and integrate as the wine matures. With high levels of tannin, the wine needs to have sufficient fruit concentration and extract, so that when the tannins do resolve there is still plenty of fruit left in the wine.
Alcohol is another very important component that needs to be in balance. Too high alcohol and you have a burning sensation on the finish, that cuts the wine short. Too little alcohol, relative to the wine's other components and the wine can taste hollow.
Having sufficient fruit is critical in a wine, both in easy-drinking everyday wines as well as age-worthy wines. Wines with insufficient fruit are weak in flavor, thin, insipid, dilute and even hollow. The fruit concentration is akin to the 'flesh' that fills out the other more structural components in a wine.
Achieving balance is the aim of every winemaker around the world. There is no one set recipe to get there. Attention to detail and careful viticultural and winemaking practices are key to achieving balance in the resulting wine.
Mary Gorman-McAdams, MW (Master of Wine), is a New York based wine educator, freelance writer and consultant.
Previous Wine Words
• Wine Words: Complexity
• Wine Words: Texture
• Wine Words: Aromas
• Wine Words: Alcohol
• Wine Words: Body
• Wine Words: Tannin
• Wine Words: Acidity
• Wine Words: Minerality
• Wine Words: Length and Finish
• Wine Words: Sweetness
• Wine Words: Style
• Wine Words: Oak