How to Describe Texture in Wine
What is texture? It’s the feel of something: the smoothness of velvet or the roughness of sandpaper. But what about the texture of wine? Isn’t wine . . . wine? Isn’t its texture . . . wet? As it turns out, describing the feel––the texture––of wine is no easy feat. It’s no wonder a New York Times article from 2006 about wine texture was titled “The Indescribable Texture of Wine.” Fear not: by learning a few key descriptors, you will be better able to understand and describe the texture of wine.
What creates a wine’s texture?
A wine’s tannins, level of alcohol, and sugars all contribute to a wine’s texture.
Since each of these components work together to create a wine’s chemistry, it can be difficult to pinpoint which of these causes a particular wine’s textural qualities. In general, a varietal’s tannins play a huge role in a its texture: consider the softer tannins of a bright Spanish Garnacha or the soft tannins of a French Burgundy, and compare these to the gripping tannins of a young, bold California Cabernet Sauvignon or Italian Sagrantino. The wine’s texture will be lighter or heavier based on the characteristics of these tannins.
Alcohol also contributes to the wine’s texture due to its glycerol content. Along with ethanol and carbon dioxide, glycerol is one of the main byproducts of wine fermentation. It adds fullness to a wine. Therefore, wines with higher levels of alcohol will have higher levels of glycerol, and tend to feel more full. In addition, alcohol adds viscosity to a wine, which is felt in the mouth when tasting.
Sugar is the final main component of a wine’s texture. Wine contains polysaccharides, which are molecules of sugar. Different polysaccharides lend different textures to wine: from sweet, thick dessert wine like Sauternes to creamy wines like Chardonnay, polysaccharides play a role in comprising a wine’s textural elements.
Words to describe texture in wine
A wine’s texture can often be described as one of the following:
Buttery wines have most likely been fermented in oak barrels. These wines typically have higher levels of diacetyl, which is a byproduct of the fermentation process.
Buttery wines often have the aromas and flavors of butter as well as a creamy texture.
The word “creamy” is often used to describe more full-bodied white wines. Creaminess is a product of the wine’s acidity profile: some wines have malic acid, which creates a more fresh wine. If the wine undergoes a second fermentation, then the malic acid may convert to lactic acid. Lactic acid gives the creamy component to a wine’s mouthfeel.
Another way a wine can be creamy is through the presence of yeasts. After yeasts convert sugars to alcohol, they can be left in the wine. This provides a fuller body to the wine.
Bright white wines are often described as “crisp” or “clean.” These wines have less sugar, higher acidity, and are usually lighter in body.
While “crisp” is a typically positive characteristic, describing a wine as “lean” or “thin” can be negative. Lean typically refers to wine that has high acidity but is not balanced with fruit flavors; thin can be a wine that lacks the body it should have for its specific varietal.
“Rich” wines are full-bodied and often accompanied by bold fruit flavors. Wines with fruits such as sour cherries or strawberries would not be considered rich, while wines with plum, raspberry, and jam could fall under the “rich” category.
Smoothness in wine comes from its mouthfeel and finish. Was there anything startling about the tasting experience? Unexpected aromas or bright flavors, or a harsh finish? Or was the wine easy from sniff to sip to swallow? If so, this wine is considered smooth.
Mineral qualities often lead to a wine being described as “steely.” These wines are typically aged in stainless steel barrels and have little to no contact with oak.
Velvet wines are typically bold, rich, and smooth. Together, this creates the “velvet” characteristic that so many wine lovers enjoy. You may also hear a velvety wine described as “silky.”
A wine’s amount of glycerol will determine its viscosity. Viscous wines have higher levels of glycerol (which means they have higher levels of sugar as well). These wines are visibly thicker and more “syrupy.” In contrast, less viscous wines may seem thin.
Perhaps one of the stranger descriptors of wine texture is “waxy.” Waxy wines have a full, rich mouthfeel that typically comes from malolactic fermentation.
Do you want to learn more about your personal preferences regarding wine textures? Our wine consultants are here to help you through the process. Contact Quigley Fine Wines to learn more.