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.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Books for Christmas: Jancis Robinson “Wine Grapes” and Nick Stock “Good Wine Guide 2013”

Wine Grapes by Jancis Robinson MW, Julia Harding MW and Dr José Vouillamoz is an astonishing book. Its 1241 pages details almost 1400 distinct grape varieties, as well as a myriad of correct (and incorrect) synonyms. Cutting edge DNA and relentlessly patient and detailed research lies behind the book, which comes in a huge cloth-bound volume and cloth slipcase. Ecco is an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers and is above and beyond all but a handful of books among the many hundreds in my personal wine book library. I assume it will ultimately be sold in Australia, but I obtained my copy through Amazon at a total cost of US$136.23 (including postage and packaging). One of the features of the book is the reproduction of 80 colour paintings of some of the most obscure grape varieties imaginable alongside better known varieties. Thus you get a picture of Amigne, Arvine, Bagrina, Biancolella, Portugais Bleu, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Canaiolo Nero, Chaouch, Jaén Blanco and Pinot Blanc Chardonnay – the latter the last illustration in the first group, and with a cross reference at its foot to the correct (and simple) Chardonnay. The paintings come from a seven-volume, 3200-page work published in French between 1901 and 1910, compiled by Pierre Viala (1859-1936) a professor of viticulture in Montpellier, supported by no less than 85 grape experts from several countries. When you see the acknowledgements page in Wine Grapes, I didn’t count the names, but Jancis Robinson has secured the support of well more than 85 people in compiling the ultimate wine grape book.

Nick Stock Good Wine Guide 2013, published by Penguin Australia under the aegis of The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald (a humble 450 pages, RRP $26.99) provides tasting notes for over 1500 wines with the usual database extracts to help you navigate. It presents the wine in varietal groups, with scores out of 100, and as an added attraction includes the recipe for the Penguin Bloody Mary and a selection of sake reviews.