June 28: There may be a plethora of words describing the flavours of a wine but one does not find the two words commonly used by many novices-Strong and Sour, to define the characteristics of a wine, as I have discovered during my intereaction and discussions with several wine drinkers in India, especially women.
Acidity in a wine, especially the white wine is a very important characteristic. When the wine has too much acidity, it is the most common though incorrect refrain to say the wine is sour which has a negative connotation and means the wine is bad. In fact, the person is describing the wine which can be harsh, having racy acidity. A wine with balanced acidity is crisp-it gives freshness to any wine. Several white wines have racy acidity which helps them age for a long time but most Indians find them ´sour´.
‘Strong’ on the other hand is a lot more commonly used term and can mean several different, unrelated experiences. The most common refers to the tannins. When a red wine is too tannin and rather astringent- perhaps a young Cabernet Sauvignon, Barolo or a Tempranillo or a powerful California Cab, many people say it is a bit too strong. Same is the case when the wine is powerful, full~bodied, rich or opulant.
High alcohol in wine also makes it a candidate to be termed strong by the novice. Generally speaking lower alcohol wines are easier on the palate but when 15% or more hits the palate, wine becomes strong.
Many white wine producers in Australia, US, Chile, Spain and those seeking to have the wines age-worthy or complex either ferment the wines in <small oak barriques or store the wine in them for an extended period of time. This brings out the oak character and the vanilla flavour and to the uninitiated, it is a strong wine. Although there is a universal trend to cut down on the oak contact, these wines remain strong for the novice.
Similar is the case for minerality in wines, especially white. Due to the soil characteristics or grape varieties-many Rieslings tend to have a mineral character, for instance and I tasted a Portuguese Alvarinho recently which had a beautiful mineral flavour. But for a casual drinker such wines would be strong.
Sometime, I come across people calling wine strong based on the colour or the texture. When the wine is too inky or dark, it is termed strong and sometimes the viscosity on the palate, the oily or buttery texture gives the feeling of ´strong´.
Interestingly, sometime when the wine is gone bad due to poor storage, it has strong ´dislikable´ and unbearable flavour as many people noticed at a recent wine dinner where most of a Chilean oaky Reserve wine had gone bad because of poor storage over a long period of time. Several people felt the wine was too strong.
These are only a handful examples that come to mind. there are many more cases and every time a person says the wine is strong, I make it a point to understand exact what he or she feels. I have personally never come across a wine that is´strong´-neither should you. It would do you good if you could go a step further and try to define what it means to you. Perhaps any of th terms above means something to you?
And of course, any wine technically wellmade can never be sour- even when it turns vinegar