We wine tasters constantly reach for the right words to describe what we're drinking. Fully understanding that casual observers truly believe we are either pretentious or nuts, I try to keep it real as much as I can.
Sometimes I latch onto a word because it seems to reflect exactly what I'm finding in the wines. My most recent favorite term is "transparency." I worry that it won't communicate, that it will sound more pretentious than I mean it to be.
What makes a wine transparent? For me, it's when all the aromas and flavors shine through the other elements with clarity. It's the opposite of dense.
For me, the moment of revelation came a few years ago when I took a sip of Bruno Giacosa Barolo Falletto 1997. The wine simply transported me, because it shot a rainbow of flavor through refined tannins, balanced with lively acidity and enough alcohol to propel the whole thing with power. For all that, it was elegant, notable for the way all the pieces blended harmoniously.
Elegance, harmony, refinement: these are words we wine folk use a lot. But what jumped out vividly was the flavor definition. It was like watching a program on HD after seeing so many other wines in fuzzy analog. The word that popped into my mind was transparency.
I have been tasting a lot of Oregon Pinot Noirs the past few weeks, and Pinot is a good example of a wine that should have transparency. Pinot lacks the density of color that makes Cabernet and Shiraz so impressive, but it can make up for it by unfurling a lot of flavor on a refined frame.
Lately, I've been finding transparency in unexpected places, notably Australian reds such as Penley Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Coonawarra Reserve 2005. Like many Coonawarra Cabs, it's not as dark and powerful as what we may be accustomed to seeing from California, or even Washington, but I thought it showed real transparency as the cherry, currant and delicate sage, white pepper and cream flavors flitted through.
Most unexpectedly, I found it in Elderton Shiraz Barossa Command 2004, which I just tasted last week. Usually a big, broad wine, this one was supple, with silky tannins and plenty of cherry pie, cherry jam and dusky spice flavors. It had enough transparency to hint at licorice and coffee around the edges and make it all feel remarkably open, not closed or tight.
When I sense this transparency, I know the wine is special. What wines do you find it in?
Scott Oneil — UT — September 8, 2008 2:59pm ET
Markus Nybom — September 9, 2008 2:18am ET
Jarrod Ward — Kansas City, MO — September 9, 2008 8:46pm ET
Harvey Steiman — San Francisco, CA — September 10, 2008 1:43am ET
Scott Oneil — UT — September 11, 2008 11:55pm ET
Sips & Tips | Wine & Healthy Living
Video Theater | Collecting & Auctions