A lesson in the language of wine

This week we are going back to basics and exploring wine parlance, parlance used in the appreciation of wine as well as the evaluation of wine. Here we go:

Clean — I think this is the basis, the jumping-off point in the appreciation and evaluation of wine. "Clean" wines are wines that have no discernible microbial flavors in the nose, sight or palate. From here, we can go forward with our appreciation of the wine. The difference, of course, between appreciation and evaluation, at this point, when we are talking about "clean," is lab analysis versus personal observation. Once we step into the lab, we are combining appreciation with scientific evaluation; in effect, numbers. Clean wines, regardless of nuance and varietal intensity, are wines uncluttered by off-odors, off-tastes and obscurations of a microbial nature which can either slightly alter the performance of the wine or be so pronounced as to make the wine not drinkable. Again, cleanliness is the base line for sound wines.

Fresh — This term applies to white and rosé wines. Freshness arrives from wines displaying balanced acidity and from newer released wines, usually with a minimum of oak treatment. "Fresh" wines are also wines intended for immediate drinking, wines not intended to age for any appreciable time. Many times we hear the term "fresh" describing, for example, newly released rosé wines. The overriding feel on the palate with "fresh" wines is one of something light, thirst-quenching and refreshing, especially when the wine is paired with food.

Mature — Mature wines, whether they are red or white, are wines showing their age in an appropriate manner, that is, showing varietal character without degeneration of structure throughout the various stages of appreciation. Correctly matured wines are wines that have peaked in their evolutionary process, that is, that the wine will no longer benefit from further aging but is at its peak of enjoyment. Interestingly, many wine folks think of mature wines as red wines only, but, of course, older chardonnay as well as (a few examples) many of the sweeter German Rieslings can go on for many years. Not long ago, I tasted a 30-year-old Auslese (Riesling) from Germany, which was spectacular. Would it have benefited from further age? No, but I think the wine will sit at this level for a few more years before slipping away.

Balance — This is what every winemaker wants to achieve. Wines in "balance" are wines that display perfect harmony in all aspects of the finished product. This means that the sight, nose, palate and aftertastes are in synch and not any one part of the wine dominates another. This is never easy to achieve and the "great" wines always start with perfection in balance. Sometimes we think of balance as that of sugar and acidity or bouquet and body or any other flavor components, the truth of the matter is that balance is about everything in the wine from tactile senses such as weight and finish to nose and flavor components. When it all comes in line, wine can equal no other beverage on the planet. When one thinks of the thousands of different wine-producing grapes, regions, winemaker practices, wood treatment, aging opportunities and amazing viticultural programs available to taste in wine, it takes one's breath away. Balance means that all of this must come together in an almost magical effort.

Lorn Razzano is former owner of the Wine Cellar in Ashland and still works there part time. Reach him at razz49@aol.com.

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