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Dear Dr. Vinny,

It feels like the new buzzword in winespeak is “tension,” but I don’t understand what it means. Help?

—Bobby, New York

Dear Bobby,

Sure, I’ll help you. I agree that I also see the term used more and more as well.

I think there are two main ways the term is used, and they both apply to different definitions of the word. First, “tension” can refer to something being stretched tight, and in wine that refers to its acidity. The vibrancy, nervy, mouthwatering juicy feeling is the tension. The opposite of “tension” here would be a wine that’s soft or even a little flat. This use is almost exclusively used with white wines.

The second way I see it used is to describe a relationship between different qualities. A wine might have a core of fruit flavors but there’s this interesting relationship between its mineral or herbal notes, and my attention keeps bouncing back and forth between these two sides to the wine. It’s a dynamic quality, and the opposite would be a wine that’s one-dimensional, direct or simple. This can be used with either red or whites.

I was about to write that “tension” isn’t necessarily a positive or a negative in a wine, but I took a peek in our database, and in the last year, our wine tasters used the word about 100 times, and nearly all of them have been for wines that scored 90 points or higher, so I think it’s fair to say it’s a mostly positive term.

—Dr. Vinny

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