The Good, The Bad, and the Diffuse
December 4, 2014 1 Comment
Last summer when I was putting together my “Palate Tune-Up” session for the SWE Conference in Seattle, I spent a great deal of time researching, thinking about, and (yuck) experiencing wine faults. After all, the main premise of the session was to learn to recognize faults – sulfur dioxide, TCA, excessive Brett and other such imbalances – in wine.
It soon occurred to me, however, that giving such a session based on the ick-factor might be something akin to career suicide. Why would people choose to attend the ick-factor session, when Cru Artisan Bordeaux was being poured right next door?
With that in mind, I decided to start the course off by pouring three spectacular wines – each chosen to represent a specific aspect of what we expect in an excellent wine – before we tested the faulty wines. So, my next challenge was to define – and then demonstrate – what makes a wine “excellent.”
As every wine lover knows, defining what makes a wine “excellent” is a challenging – and very subjective – proposal. Every time I came up with a succinct definition, I could hear the arguments and rebuttals from my future audience.
Thus, it was several weeks before I came up with my examples. I would choose a wine to represent the following three aspects of an excellent wine: Complexity, Balance, and Structure. Complexity and balance were relatively easy to define, demonstrate, and provide with near-perfect examples.
Structure, on the other hand, eluded me. I thought I knew what it meant, and I could definitely recognize both its presence and absence in a wine, but it was difficult to put into words without talking around and through the matter for less than ten minutes.
So…of course I went on a research bender. What did the wine experts among us have to say about structure? The New Wine Lover’s Companion had a pretty good definition, basically stating that structure referred to a wine’s “architecture – its plan – including the building blocks of acid, alcohol, fruit, glycerol, and tannins.” It went on to say that the term “structure” is meaningless without an adjective in front of it, such as “well structured” or “strong structure.”
The Wine Spectator’s online glossary also had a decent enough definition – saying it was related to “mouthfeel.” Many other references used the rather clichéd “its like milk versus cream” line of reasoning or provided a multitude of synonyms for body – texture, backbone, weight – or provided adjectives to describe it – mouth-filling, brawny, rich, lean, gritty, velvety, smooth.
But I still wanted to know just what it was…the technical-sorta definition as to what provides a wine with good structure. Professor Emile Peynaud came as close as anyone could possibly, it seemed, to delivering what I wanted to know with his definition of “structure” as “impressions of volume, form, and consistency.” In other words, structure is the taster’s sense of the wine’s physical make-up.
But it still seemed that I would need to write my own definition to convey just exactly what I meant to say. So I came up with the following: I would explain what is meant by a wine’s structure beginning with the interplay of the same set of attributes that contribute to balance in flavor. In my definition, therefore, a wine’s structure is composed of the sensory impact of acid, sugar, fruit, tannin, extract, and alcohol – but instead of noticing how these components impact flavor, we draw our attention to how they work together to create the tactile sensation of the wine.
So much for the definition! Now, I needed to define and demonstrate how a lack of structure would be described in a wine. Defining the opposite of balance was easy: unbalanced. Defining the opposite of complexity was very easy: monotony. But the only “textbook” opposite of “structure” I could find was “unstructured.” That just didn’t seem right.
So I went on another month-long research bender to find the perfect word that meant “unstructured.” I could find many ways to discuss wines with inadequate or unbalanced structure. For instance, the term “hollow” is also used to denote lack of structure; hollow wines are diluted and lack depth. A “brawny” or “rustic” wine may be described as a hefty wine with plenty of weight, flavor, and grit; but lacking in the complexity needed to bring the elements together in a refined way. And everyone’s favorite – “flabby” to describe a wine lacking in acid, or missing its “backbone.”
But there was no real “winespeak” term to define lack of balance, texturally speaking. So I found an excellent word to portray what I meant – diffuse. The term diffuse is used to describe a building or structure with no strength, or something that is scattered, spread out, or dispersed. Remembering that “structure” refers to the elements of texture and their relationship, I think it describes a wine lacking in the regard quite well.
The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas – email@example.com