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03 October 2005

Wine Anatomy 101

Bottle_skel2_1It’s that time of year.  Leaves are a-changing and new textbooks are a-cracking.  You see; I never thought I would admit this.  But I miss school.  I long to purchase several hundred dollars’ worth of textbooks in September, spread them out on a table, and peruse their pages.  In case you hadn’t noticed; I’m a geek.  But wait.  I get geekier: My favorite classes in college were entomology and herpetology.  I liked learning about bugs and frogs – where they lived, how they behaved, what they ate.  I really enjoyed studying insect anatomy.  Let’s see.  You’ve got the head, thorax, and abdomen..

Seeing as how I’m supposed to be writing a wine column, I’ll move along to wine anatomy.  For today’s lesson, we’ll be dissecting (and wine is much more fun to dissect than some poor critter) two wines:  Salmon Run Chardonnay, 2003 ($12) from upstate New York and Peter Lehman Barossa Chardonnay, 2003 ($11) from South Australia.  Your assignment is to identify the three anatomical components in a glass of wine:  Fruit character, acidity, and body.

Fruit Character
The fruit scents in a glass of wine often depend on the climate from which a wine originates.  Just as fruit from cooler climates is tart and tangy, fruit from warmer areas is sweet and luscious.  The same can be said for many wines.  For example, sniff the glass of cooler climate New York Chardonnay.  It is redolent of apple and Bartlett pear.  By contrast, the warmer climate Australian Chardonnay offers up scents of ripe peach and citrus.  Now take a sip of each wine.  Our NY Chardonnay possesses tart, delicate, crisp fruit flavors. The Aussie Chardonnay tastes more lush and intense.  Same grape; different fruit character. 

Wine acidity is a simple to understand and identify.  Wine grapes, just like any other fruit, contain a certain amount of acid (the zing in your glass of OJ) and a certain amount of sugar (that sticky stuff on your chin after eating a gooey mango slice).  As grapes ripen, acid is converted to sugar.  So, all things being equal, less-ripe grapes yield more acidic, crisp wine.  Riper grapes yield less acidic, lush wine.  Take a sip of the New York wine.  Does your mouth water? Now have a sip of the Aussie.  Do you experience more or less mouth-watering action? Both glasses possess acidity.  However, the Salmon Run Chardonnay has more acidity.  It causes your mouth to pucker up just a bit more. Peter Lehman Chardonnay is less pucker inducing.  In fact, it might even seem slightly sweet next to the New York Chardonnay.  As a general rule, wines with more acidity are food-friendlier – or more food-flexible.  What would you rather have with a plate of Coq au vin – a glass of crisp sparkling wine or a sugar-laden late harvest Riesling?

A wine’s body is a function of three things:  Alcohol content, residual sugar, and tannins (more common in red wine).  Simply put, body is a wine’s weight in your mouth.  You can even see body. Take a look at the color of both glasses of Chardonnay.  Salmon Run is light gold in color, while the Lehman Chardonnay is deeper yellow gold.  Which one is the fullest-bodied?  Now, swirl both glasses.  Observe how the wine clings to the sides and moves back down towards the bottom.  Our full-bodied Aussie Chardonnay is slightly slower and appears to be more viscous.  This wine has more alcohol (13.5% vs. 12% for Salmon Run), and perhaps a higher amount of residual sugar.  Both sugar and alcohol give a wine its legs – or tears that cling to the sides of a glass.  One body type isn’t necessarily best.  It’s all about your preference and/or mood. 

So tonight what will it be? You can use a wine’s origin and its alcohol content, to hypothesize at the anatomy specifics.  Are you in the mood for wine with exotic fruit character, lusciousness, and a full-body? Then look towards warm, sunny California, eastern Washington, or Australia.  Perhaps you would prefer to sip a delicate, subtly flavored wisp of a wine? Check into cooler climate wine from Germany, New Zealand, or Oregon.  In fact, try wine from many different regions and discover wine in all its anatomical forms.  Do it for science.  Cheers.


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Can it be that you REALLY picked up some NY wine in Utah? Excellent...although I'm not surprised...Salmon Run is Dr. Konstantin Frank's second label...and they have some of (if not the best) distribution of all NY wines.

It's a nice little chard though...nothing earth shattering but great with a light lunch.


Sadly, Frank wines are the only NY wines I can find in Utah. I've asked for LI wines, but the state is a bit slow on the response tip. The other Frank wines we have are the Riesling and Cabernet. Both decent wines.

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