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Dear Dr. Vinny,

What does “high-toned fruit” mean in a tasting note?

—Tammie, Seattle

Dear Tammie,

The term “high-toned” usually indicates a lively, bright, high-acidity note. I think the closest synonym in the wine world I’d compare it to is “nervy.” Fresh, vibrant raspberries or cranberries are more likely to be “high-toned” than fruit flavors that seem baked or wrapped in spices or earthy notes.

For some, “high-toned” is also used to indicate a faint but noticeable touch of volatile acidity (or VA) that the taster finds agreeable. Wine typically contains a small amount of acetic acid, which adds positive notes and can make fruit flavors seem fresh. At higher levels it shows its vinegary side, which reminds some people of varnish, Magic Marker or nail-polish remover. “High-toned” can be used when someone notices this element but doesn’t mind it. For example, sometimes I sense a touch of VA that reminds me of balsamic vinegar, and if it’s in balance with the other components of the wine, I can rather enjoy that note.

—Dr. Vinny

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