The Texture of Wine in Shape, Movement and Conflict

“I like conflict. It gives life texture, “ is what my 17 year old daughter said as she defended her reasons for fighting with her long-time friend. It is hard to argue with that. Conflict does add texture both in life and in wine.

Light-bodied, acidic wines are described as lean, angular and vibrant, terms of shape and movement, as if one feels the shape and movement of the wine. It is the conflict of acidity and alcohol, with acidity winning, that creates an angular mouth-feel.

IMG_1212Savory Chablis is a lean, angular wine with a vibrancy that feels like quick rapid movement in the mouth. This quick movement is why angular, kinetic wines are used as aperitifs. They open the meal with sudden motion, like a jolt in the opening of a dance or a piece of music. That bolt of vibrancy wakes up one’s senses.

Full-bodied wines are described as round, and while one would never call a wine lethargic, heavier wines do seem to curl up and take a nap on one’s palate. Lingering isn’t quite all of it. Sauntering might come closer. The origin of the word saunter is described by John Muir as, “ Away back in the Middle Ages people used to go on pilgrimages to the Holy Land, and when people in the villages through which they passed asked where they were going, they would reply, “A la sainte terre,’ ‘To the Holy Land.’ And so they became known as sainte-terre-ers or saunterers.  The reverence with which one would go ‘ a la sainte terre’ accurately describes the movement of a full-bodied wine. It is slow and thoughtful.image

A wine like Chateau Brane-Cantenac, 2008, though it has moderate acidity in its structure, is a round, slow moving wine. Here the elements of alcohol and tannin are softening the acidity. There are no jolting angles in this wine. It is a deep, rich wine, much denser than the Savory Chablis. Its energy is more static than kinetic. Its movement is more of a slow waltz, a reverent walk, a saunter. This is a perfect wine to enjoy after a meal, at the end of the day. It is a thoughtful, lingering wine.

We often talk about the aromas of wine and the structure of wine. But, though we use the vocabulary of shape and movement, we don’t really talk about the shape and movement of wine. Yet, the shape of wine, the movement of wine is so paramount to the experience of wine. How it feels in your mouth, how the structural elements in conflict play out is what gives the wine texture.