Wine Words: Complexity

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When we talk about complexity in a wine what do we mean? We do not mean that it a complicated or difficult to understand wine. We mean that it is a wine with lots of interesting things to say about itself.

Put simply, wines with complexity are more than one-dimensional. They have intrigue and hold our interest. Simple wines tend to be straightforward and fruity, nothing else. In contrast complex wines have more different layers that unravel with every sniff or sip. They are not just fruity, but also have savory, earthy, mineral or spicy layers. The more different ‘positive’ things you have to say about a wine, the more complex it probably is. Much like people really!

Complexity in a wine is difficult to tightly define. It is quite a ‘loaded’, subjective term, open to interpretation. That said, complexity is considered a positive thing in a wine.

Sources of Complexity
In general, you are less likely to find complexity in a cheap, high volume, mass-produced wine than in a small-volume, estate produced, artisan wine. Nuances of complexity come from different things. Firstly, they can come from the vineyard and the notion of terroir. Older vines as well as vines grown on poor soils tend to produce less grapes, but more concentrated, flavorful ones. This adds complexity.

Secondly, winemaking techniques make a difference. In general, the more artisan and non-industrial the approach the more complex the resulting wine. Barrel fermentation, the blending of different grapes or lots, as well as lees aging are some of the winemaking technique that are considered to add complexity.

Finally, pre and post bottling maturation are sources of complexity. As a wine matures, all sorts of chemical changes occur. Existing compounds breakdown and new compounds are formed, changing and adding to the way a wine tastes.

Mary Gorman-McAdams, MW (Master of Wine), is a New York based wine educator, freelance writer and consultant.

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