We’ve all seen it before: sprawled across the back of a wine label, written in a tasting note online, or heard it uttered from the mouth of a sommelier at a restaurant. The term “well-balanced” seems to be thrown around like crazy in the wine world, but what exactly does it mean? We’re here to break down the definition of what it means to have proper balance in the bottle.
Plain and simple, where there is harmony, there is good balance. There are five major components that make up your bottle of wine: acid, alcohol, sugar, tannin, and water. For a wine to be considered well-balanced, all these parts must exist in proper ratio to each another. Each of these five components play a vital role in the creation of a good bottle of wine; too much of one part and the wine will suffer, not enough of a specific component and the wine will be lacking. Let’s break these components down one step further.
As strange as it may sound, acid is an essential component in wine. The pulp of grapes is predominantly composed of water, sugar, and acid. Sugar and acid work adversely during grape ripening; as the percentage of sugar in grape pulp goes up during ripening, the levels of acid go down. Deciding when to harvest grapes is a crucial step for winemakers and must only be completed when sugars and acids are in perfect harmony. The acid in grapes balances out the sweetness from the sugar, creating crisp, zingy flavor profiles. Too much acidity and your wine will cause your lips to unpleasantly pucker; not enough acidity and your wine will feel flat and flabby. Cooler-climate regions tend to produce wines higher in acidity, as the level of ripeness that grapes reach is not as high as in warmer regions.
A more obvious component in your bottle of wine is most likely the reason you bought it in the first place: alcohol. Alcohol is the direct product of yeasts eating sugars during the process of fermentation. We can all certainly agree that alcohol is a vital component of any bottle of wine, though again, it should remain in balance with its other partnering components. Too much alcohol and your wine might leave you with a slightly burning taste in your mouth — and a wicked hangover the following day.
Grapes’ sugar levels are at their highest when they reach optimal ripeness. When this ripeness is reached, the grapes are ready for harvest. The main purpose of sugar in grapes is to be converted by yeast to alcohol. Leftover sugar from the fermentation process is called residual sugar. Too much residual sugar and your wine will taste sickly sweet; not enough sugar and your wine could be austere and harsh. Warmer, sunnier regions produce riper grapes, aka grapes with higher levels of sugar.
Tannin is another tricky wine word that is too often thrown around yet not fully understood. Tannins are the components in wine that leave your mouth feeling dry; they come from grape skins and seeds as well as oak barrels. Red wines tend to have higher levels of tannin than white wines due to their skin and seed contact during maceration. Tannins are crucial in the process of aging wine, softening out over time. But beware that too much tannin in a wine will leave your mouth feeling uncomfortably parched, leading you to crave the last essential component of wine — water.
Would you believe that water makes up roughly 85 percent of your bottle of wine? Rip-off, right? Wrong. Water is an essential component in balancing out the four previous parts of your bottle, finding its way into your glass via grape pulp. Put all these components together in the proper ratio and you’ve got yourself a solid, well-balanced bottle for the night.