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Monday, July 05, 2010

David Dickson

From time to time, I’ll take a few of the most used and misused wine terms and try to make they a little more understandable. In this column we’re only going to tackle five such terms, but they are five that I think are widely misunderstood.

Dry: I think “dry” is one of the most misunderstood terms used by wine drinkers. Dry is simply the absence of sugar (sweetness). When wines are fermented, the sugar in them is converted to alcohol. If most of the sugar is converted in this way, the wine is left dry. Dryness is not sourness, that’s acidity; nor is it astringency, that is caused by tannins. Many people say they don’t like dry wines, when in fact what they don’t like are acidic or tannic wines. Personally, I’m not a fan of sweet drinks. In general, I don’t care for sweet soft drinks, sugar in my tea or coffee or sweet wines (except dessert wines). I know a lot of people with similar tastes who also say they don’t like dry wines. In most cases, I find that it’s actually not the dryness they dislike, it’s either the acidity or the tannins that bother them.

Mouth Feel: I always get strange looks when I talk about how wine feels in my mouth. How food feels in our mouth is a very important component of taste. Peanut butter would not “taste” the same if it was thin and watery. We sense the consistency of peanut butter, thick and creamy vs. thin and watery, via our sense of touch, how it feels in our mouth. There are six mouth-feel sensations associated with wine: irritating, heat, texture, weight, acidity and intensity. Common examples of these are peppery – as in black pepper (irritating); astringent – tannic or puckering (irritating); buttery – creamy or smooth (texture); cloying – overly sweet (texture); full bodied – dense (weight); thin or watery – the opposite of full bodied (weight); acidic – tart, crisp (acidity); and intense or bigness – concentrated flavors (intensity).

Body: When we say a wine has good body, we’re not talking about how it looks in a swimsuit. Body is a sense of the weight of the wine in your mouth (its mouth-feel again). We say that wines are light, thin or watery (light weight), medium bodied (medium weight) or full bodied (heavy weight). The weight of the wine in your mouth has to do with the wine’s density (literally how heavy it is) and the alcohol content. Higher alcohol wines have a heavier feel than lower alcohol wines. Many Pinot Grigio’s can be described as light bodied, Chardonnay’s as medium bodied and red Zinfandel’s as heavy or full bodied.

Tannins: As I mentioned above, tannins are the reason that many people think they don’t like red wine. That puckery, astringent feeling that fills your mouth when you drink a young Cabernet Sauvignon is caused by tannins. Tannins occur naturally in grape skins and oak, and are tasteless and odorless. You feel tannins rather than taste them (yes, its mouth-feel yet again). As I mentioned earlier, there is a tendency to confuse tannic with dry. Most red wines are dry, but most are not tannic. Consider the difference the next time you try one.

Meritage: Meritage is a proprietary term used to denote Bordeaux-style wines without infringing on the French Bordeaux region’s legally protected designation. To use the term on a label, the maker must license the Meritage trademark from the California-based Meritage Alliance. This is an effort to reign in the use of the term which had become almost meaningless through unregulated misuse. Red Bordeaux is made principally from a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, with lesser proportions of Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec. A red Meritage must be made from at least two of these grapes (or the less well known St. Macaire, Gros Verdot, and Carmenère), with no varietal comprising more than 90 percent of the blend.

- Cellar Notes -

Call them Meritage, Claret or Bordeaux: whatever you call them, these blends of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and lesser other varieties are among my most favorite wines. These big, full bodied mouthfuls of fruitiness can also hit you hard in the pocketbook. Here are three fairly reasonable, yet very drinkable Meritage wines. The Blackstone is not labeled a Meritage because its blend includes small amounts of varieties not included in the definition. It is however very much a Bordeaux-style wine. Enjoy.

Vintners Collection Meritage

Maker: Sterling Vineyards

Style: Red Wine, Bordeaux Red

QuickClass: Dry Red

Grape(s): 52 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 44 percent Merlot, 3 percent Malbec, and 1 percent Petit Verdot.

Cost: $12

Tasting Notes: Sterling Vintner’s Collection Meritage is a distinct blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec and Petit Verdot. Each grape varietal contributes layers of flavors and aromas that live together in perfect harmony. This richly textured wine has hints of cherry, chocolate, black raspberry and vanilla, which leads to a full, lingering finish.

Nine Points Meritage

Maker: Nine Points Winery

Style: Red Wine, Bordeaux Red

QuickClass: Soft Red

Grape(s): Unspecified Meritage varieties

Cost: $17

Tasting Notes: Nine Points is a pleasant, easy drinking, red Bordeaux-style Meritage, with dark likeable fruity flavors soft tannins and a velvety finish.

Rubric Blended Red Wine

Maker: Blackstone Winery

Style: Red Wine, Bordeaux Red

QuickClass: Dry Red

Grape(s): 59 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 10 percent Merlot, 8 percent Petit Verdot, 8 percent Syrah, 7 percent Cabernet Franc, 6 percent Petite Sirah, and 2 percent Tannat.

Cost: $20

Tasting Notes: Rubric exhibits a dark, inky black hue, displaying aromas of black cherry, blackberry jam, cassis, cigar box, and coffee, with a hint of toasted spice. This blend carries layered flavors of ripe, jammy black fruit with undercurrents of caramel, vanilla, coffee, and varietal herbaceousness. This is a concentrated wine with a rich mouthfeel and silky texture. Fine, supple tannins provide a lingering finish.

A note about vintage – If you can’t find a particular vintage discussed here, with some significant exceptions, you may find the next vintage year very similar. Modern viticulture and production methods have reduced, although not eliminated, dramatic year-to-year variation. Food pairing suggestions are available at virtualwineknow.com.

Wines listed are typically available at Kroger, HEB, Randall's or Specs Liquor stores.

Local oenophile David Dickson has been a wine educator for nearly 30 years. He welcomes question and suggestions for columns at ddickson@ourtribune.com. Visit his web site at www.virtualwineknow.com for past columns and more about wine.

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