A word about balance

When reading wine reviews or wine descriptions, the word balance is used often, but describing what exactly?

Balance by definition can be used as a noun, meaning a state of equilibrium. It can be used as a verb with an object, (to balance a book on one’s head). Or, it can be used as a verb without an object, (this account does not balance). It can even be used as an idiom: while the jury deliberated, his fate rested in the balance.

The definition also refers to mental stability, and while in many cases this may be relevant to a winemaker, I believe that the word balance, when used in reference to wine, has more to do with the noun equilibrium.

In fact, “To compose or arrange so as to create a state of harmony,” is my favorite definition in reference to wine.

So then, in what components are we hoping to achieve balance in our wines?  To name a few there are fruit, oak, acid, tannin, and alcohol.  Alcohol—that’s been a hot topic in the world of wine writers, sommeliers and the like.

I get a bit wound up when I hear high alcohol bashing in the industry. High alcohol is bad, high alcohol wines don’t pair with food, high alcohol this and that…

Wines that are in balance, that have a harmonious equilibrium between all the components, where the alcohol at any level is well integrated with the other facets of the wine, will not seem high or low in alcohol.

Besides giving the wine lover a harmonious warm and fuzzy feeling, the function of a wine’s alcohol content is to add texture, body, mouth feel and weight. These are some of the positive descriptors in wine reviews that refer to the alcohol content in wine.

When the alcohol level in a wine is not well integrated with fruit, tannin, acid, and oak, it may seem hot or bitter. It would not be a wine that anyone, let alone a sommelier, would recommend.

Helen Turley has been making some of her wines with over 16% alcohol for years and has been heralded as one of the best winemakers in the world. Her wines have gained critical acclaim and commanded high prices. However, some of the same wine writers who were touting her greatness are the same that are bashing high alcohol wines now.

Balance, that harmonious equilibrium of all the components, is the element that enables a wine to deliver an experience you remember for a lifetime.

Thoughts, as I admire our first effort at 16.5% alcohol….

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