Complex and Elusive: Mouthfeel

Categories: Wine

This is a post about body and mouthfeel. Whoa…! Easy killer. This is a wine blog! We’re talking about the texture of wine here…

Creamy, rich, smooth, silky, juicy, supple, viscous, lean… These days, balance, body, and astringency (all factors contributing to the texture of wine) are right alongside aroma and flavor as factors leading consumers buying choices. Said some Pacific Northwesterner somewhere: It’s all about the way it feels.

Contributing market trends, nationwide:

–         Steady influx of new wine consumers who are demanding “smooth” wines—more inclined toward fruit and silk and less so leather, cigarbox, or firm tannins.
–         Consumers who are not aging their wines but drinking them relatively quickly after purchase—a turn toward winemaking techniques that “do the cellaring” for them.
–         Trend toward high-extract, high-alcohol reds, adjusting winemaking techniques so that high tannin levels don’t stick out.
So how do we go about catering to this in our highly tannic Washington state? Here are some of the traditional techniques:
–         Malolactic fermentation (the effect that made California Chardonnay famous) produces a broader, fatter mouthfeel by transforming sharp malic acid into gentler lactic acid.
–         Barrel aging can add oak tannin for structure and, over time, increase roundness through evaporation and concentration.
–         Yeast additives, which break down and contribute to a creamy texture.
–         Residual sugar, a natural mouthfeel enhancer (think dessert wines), can make wine feel full, like syrup. Even a half percent more residual sugar can change the entire feel of the wine.
Matt’s philosophy is that mouthfeel is predicated on how everything is in balance—alcohol, acid, fruit, oak. Harvest decisions play a lot into it—too early, more acidic; a bit later, lower acid, etc. We do a bit of experimentation every year with the yeast we use, must mostly for the purposes of creative exploration.
So when you walk into a winery with mouthfeel on your mind, go forth! Be not afraid of that elusive but oh so important quality of the you consume. And use some fancy words while you’re at it:
–         Weight (viscous, full, thin, watery)
–         Texture (syrup, creamy)
–         Heat (hot, warm)
–         Irritation (spritz, prickle, tingle, pepper, chili)
–         Dynamic (puckery, chewy, grippy, adhesive)
–         Harsh (hard, aggressive, abrasive)
–         Patriculate (talc, clay, powder, plaster, dusty, grainy, chalky, sawdust)
–         Surface Smoothness (furry, fine, energy, velvet, suede, silk, chamois, satin)
–         Complex (soft, supple, fleshy, mouthcoat, rich)
–         Drying (numbing, parching, dry)
–         Unique (green, sappy, resinous)
–         Acidity (metallic, steely, sour, soapy)
–         Flavor (concentration, activity, lift)
[developed by researchers at the Australian Wine Research Institute]