the dry of it all (re:what I know about wine…)
Great post last week. I applaud you for taking the stab at confirming the things you know, or at least those ideas gathered to some approximation, since we began drinking together. You went in several directions here. Maybe a bit scattershot to tackle all in one post? But, no worries, I think taking a deeper look into the first idea is best, for the better of all those listening in on our chatter and then we can talk more on the others once we get this one down.
That said, I think we are taking on the most complicated issue first. Bravo, I love it. Lets take it head on and make it easy for anyone to understand. DRY. What type of word is this to describe the sensations of a liquid? It makes perfect sense of course, said the blind man as he picked up his hammer and saw… yet truly, it is a model word to suit the sensation.
Dry in wine speak, simply means, without sugar. All wine starts its life as grape juice, which in the process of fermentation, transfers its sugars into alcohol (thanks to out little yeasty friends). The wine maker can use this to the advantage of the textures of the final wine. She can decide to leave a bit of residual sugar to help shape the feel of the wine into something charming (against some aggressive components) or he can run it entirely out of the wine, resulting in a fuller alcohol content yet a DRY wine. The latter case would feel more clean, transparent and perhaps coarser than the first, as there is little clouding the picture. You might taste more minerals here, for better or worse. In the absence of sugar, there is no glaze to sweeten the deal, no polish over the coarse bits, less substance to hide the flaws and an openness to the rawness of it all. This may make sense for lovers of martinis, a more polarizing drink than wine perhaps. A straight vodka/gin without vermouth. Dry. A splash of Vermouth‘s delicate syrup. Less Dry. And a full on Cosmopolitan, loaded with juices and shaken. Way Off-dry.
Now, sugar is not the only intrinsic element floating in the mix of a wine. This is where a bit of confusion starts, and thus the incorrect language is applied. There a few others that can crank up the abruptness of DRY and in fact feel DRYING on the tongue and cheeks. I am willing to bet, this is what more people identify with and have a pro or negative response to when sipping. Knowing the proportion of these elements is what I believe you were referring to C, when you say “use your words”. You threw around the notion of TANNIN. Excellent! However, Acidity has a big hand in it as well. The menage a trois, if you will, is what makes the balance. It is what our ARRAY system is all about.
Tannin is a compound that actually has astringent qualities and can make the mouth pucker. You said cottony and that is exactly right. It can feel as though your tongue and cheeks, even your gums are shriveling, tightening, locking down. It is not very coaxing. There are benefits to tannin in wine (in short it is a preservative and an anchor for flavors), in red and white, but lets save that for later. For sake of our words, lets remember to describe the level you may be comfortable with, when asking for a glass of wine. Now, acidity can act the same way, in regards to a DRYING sensation. Acids in wine can be assertive, stripping the fat from every nook and cranny. If it is intense, it may even build as you sip, causing a sharp, edgy shape (less round), leaving your mouth feeling exposed. It may bite at your gum line or make the taste buds on your tongue stand at attention. On its own, this is not DRY, but it can effectively combat the sugars enough to counter balance them. The result would be a wine that tastes sweet but ends on a dry note. Very clean and very precise after a pleasantly sugared start. Just imagine this feeling married with a constricting tannin level, or made worse…. with no sugars to help the cause on the palate against this refreshing attacker or the restricting attacher? It certainly sounds uncomfortable. Maybe you are wincing as you read this? All in good balance though! This can add interest, complexity and a whole lot of time to ageing the wine once its in the bottle.
To help describe this combination, I like using a lemon and a teabag. As itself, tea is a liquid with only two pieces of the array puzzle: taste and tannin. Tea has tannin. The longer the brew time, the more it can be felt. Now, take the teabag out of the cup when ready and add a squeeze of lemon to brighten the game. Viola…acidity. It lifts the bitter quality and refreshes the drink. You can imagine where you would like the balance to be. But it is still DRY. Let’s say it is still to raw, to lean and needs a bit of charm, something sweet to coat the palate while you taste the tea. Maybe some sugar or honey makes it work so much better? It would certainly add grace and ease but you would trade in a small sense of the clear taste of the tea. Sometimes, DRY can mean clarity, transparency to the tiny details. For better or worse, sugar glazes these over. The balance is best as you like it. All of this is as true in wine, red or white, as it is here with tea. Luckily, the wine maker does all this work for us ahead of time.
Lets tie this all together then C. The best way to get a good glass of appropriately DRY wine, is to think of the 3 components. Use the words, as you said, to describe all three, as concisely or as poetically as you desire. Bone dry means no sugar whats so ever, so watch out for what it reveals. “A good, strong, dry finish” sounds more like aggression, assertion, texture, implying to me, TANNIN and could go either way with sugar still being in the mix. And never forget the cleaning power of ACIDITY as it can be the loudest note heard in a wine void of pleasures of sugar. Overall, I would describe the feeling, the combined texture, caused by these elements more than the common go-to words. like sweet and dry. Just get the conversation started. If a pro hears you identify these 3 things already, you are well on your way to a great glass of wine. Then you can start down the list of the other items you know (or don’t know) about wine!
Great thought to babble about! Thanks C.