Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Structure: Myth or Reality

My attention was drawn to a recent article (or blog, if you prefer) by Matt Kramer in the Wine Spectator under the headline “Wine Myths That Need Shattering”.  The number one was “The Structure Myth”. Says Kramer ‘Structure is no more a predictor of a wine’s future career success than your fourth grade attendance record.’

Curiously, he seems to suffer from the very confusion he suggests others have when he writes ‘The myth of structure derives from a long-held and mistaken notion about tannins. Time was, wine drinkers looked at tannin levels in wines, especially red Bordeaux, as a marker of longevity.’

If you equate tannin with structure, of course it is no guide to longevity – nor, more importantly, quality. Nor can it have any relevance to riesling, semillon or sparkling wines.

In truth, structure is as important as texture, line and length. Only balance can be regarded as more important. So, what is meant by structure? What does it encompass?

One answer is that it is the framework on which the primary fruit can be draped. Another is that it is the foundation on which the palate is built. If it is an unwooded white wine, acidity will be a major component of structure; where the pH is low, and the acidity marked, structure and texture are linked. Minerality, crunchy acidity and similar terms are used in tasting notes.

For barrel fermented white wines the impact of oak will always affect both texture and structure, although the more subtle and better balanced the oak is, the less obvious will be the impact. Pinot noir can also fall into this category; in each case, tannins are an integral part of structure.

It is when you come to shiraz and cabernet sauvignon that structure comes onto centre stage. I typically assess such wines as light-bodied, medium-bodied and full-bodied, sometimes with halfway steps – eg light- to medium-bodied, or medium- to full-bodied. In using those terms I am endeavouring to convey the weight of the wine in the mouth, or the amount of extract.

Tannins are the major component of extract, whether they be ripe and round, or mean/green and unripe. Alcohol, too, comes into play, as it seems to exaggerate the other components in proportion to its strength.

So Matt Kramer should not throw the baby out with the bathwater.

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