It’s time for another edition of Wine WTFs! In this series we’ll explore wine terms and ideas and try to figure out what the fuss is all about. Last time we discovered wtf the deal is with sweetness in wine.
This time around we tackle a concept that has confounded many, including myself, at one time or another. It’s a weird word for the wine world. It feels like it fits better in relation to sculpture or architecture.
Seriously, wtf is structure?
What is structure?
You might remember that we’ve already learned about tannins, acidity, and sweetness. Well, structure is the combination of all of those things plus glycerin (aka alcohol). Think of structure as all the things happening in the background that make up the backbone of a wine.
How it all works together
Tannins, acidity, sweetness and glycerin all contribute in their own way to a wine. Each of these things needs to be present and work with the others to work.
Like a stew that’s better a few days after you cook it – the flavours have all melded into each other to create something better than the sum of its parts.
You know the saying ‘wine gets better with age’? A wine’s structure is the reason for that. But it’s not enough to have these four things in your wine. You need the right amounts so that they can work together in the best way.
- Too much tannin and a wine will taste too astringent, drying out your mouth before you’re finished taking a sip.
- Too much acidity and a wine will taste, well, too acidic! Like a lemon. It’ll override all the other flavours.
- Too much sweetness or glycerin and a wine will taste flat, or ‘flabby’.
Structure is all about balance.
How to taste for structure
It’s a bit tricky to taste for structure because it’s not a flavour. Instead, it’s a combination of things that you can train your palate to recognize. You might already recognize these things, but didn’t notice that they were factors in a wine’s structure!
Let’s break it down.
- Tannin has a drying, astringent effect.
- Acidity tastes bright and slightly sour.
- Sweetness tastes just that – sweet!
- Glycerin (aka alcohol) is often more easily recognized as a ‘hotness’ or peppery quality
If you know what you’re looking for and a wine has good structure you’ll be able to taste all four of these things in harmony with each other. And if you do? Get more bottles and lay them down – you’ve found yourself a gem!
Have you ever tasted structure in a wine?