In the appreciation of wine, it’s often difficult to convey the pleasure it gives us because we find it hard to analyse all the different sensations that make up the composite experience we call flavour. Perhaps it is worthwhile to explore how we identify taste to understand better what we like (and possibly dislike) in a glass of wine.
In this first instalment, I start off by taking you around a discovery tour of your own palate. The best way to undertake this is by tasting two wines side by side while focusing on just one particular aspect of the whole experience.
Today’s tasting session deals with acidity, one of the basic tastes and the vital spark of wine, drinks and foods. While it’s one of the easier taste sensations to pinpoint, the varying degree of acidity in wine might be difficult to assess.
You’ll need two equally well chilled wine samples, a lemon and still water, apart from wine glasses and a corkscrew. The recommended wines are Delicata’s Girgentina Frizzante (or a dry Prosecco) and Medina Girgentina-Chardonnay (or an unoaked fresh Chardonnay).
Don’t touch but just look at the sour lemon, imagine halving it with a knife, bringing a juicy slice to your mouth… Probably the suggestion alone is strong enough to make you start salivating. That’s what acidity does: it’s a prickling sensation that makes your mouth water.
Drink some water before taking a sip of the first wine, Girgentina Frizzante, which you waltz uninhibitedly into all corners of you mouth. Could you resist gulping it? Hardly, right, because the wine’s crisp attack leaves you wanting more. It whets your appetite and makes most dry white wines, especially sparkling ones, suitable to be served as an apéritif.
Acidity refers to the sour attributes of the wine. It adds a sharpness which needs to be in balance versus its sweetness (the leftover natural sugars from the grapes) and the more bitter components (most notably tannins from red grape skins or wooden barrels).
Now swoosh around some wine from the second bottle, Medina Girgentina-Chardonnay. You’ll appreciate that this unique white with delicate scents of new-mown hay is also lovely green-appley crisp to drink. The question is, though, whether or not this still wine is more acidic than the fizzy first one?
The answer, I hear you ask? Medina Girgentina-Chardonnay also shows a similar wonderful sappy, citrussy acidity. However, it’s not as ‘dry’ (a wine term for the dominance of acidity over sweetness) as the more vibrant, flirtatious bubbly Girgentina Frizzante. That sparkle is CO2, a natural gas which adds some extra freshness to the wine and increases the perception of the wine’s natural acids.
Perception is the keyword here. The tongue isn’t an instrument that measures acidity in absolute quantifiable measurements but weights it up relative to other tastes and sensory impressions.
And, your tasting experience can be surprisingly subjective. As we’ve established, both wines are well balanced, neither too sharp or flabby. Now have another sip of Medina Girgentina-Chardonnay to rinse your palate. Do you remember how the sparkler Girgentina Frizzante tasted just a tad tarter?
Guaranteed though, if you were to take another sip of the Frizzante, your perception will be thrown off.
As if touched by a magic wand, the sparkling wine this time round appears somewhat excessively sharp. Why is that? The wine hasn’t changed – actually it’s still as delicious as before. The reason is that you have tasted the wines in the reverse order.
This illustrates the importance of wine service, the variability of your palate and why one should not rush to conclusions.
Experiment to your heart’s content and enjoy the rest of these two wonderful apéritif wines, as always, in moderation but with ample consideration.
This article first appeared in The Times of Malta, Friday 12 February 2016