What are wine tasters trying to communicate when they describe “texture”?

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Dear Dr. Vinny,

What are wine tasters trying to communicate when they describe “texture”? For example, how is a wine “taut”?

—Joseph, Bellport, N.Y.

Dear Joseph,

Describing wine’s flavors can be difficult. Describing its texture might be even more challenging. But texture is an integral part of the best wines in the world, and winemakers employ a whole arsenal of techniques to create a desirable texture, from barrel aging and lees contact to malolactic conversion, among others.

Texture (sometimes referred to as “mouthfeel”) refers to the way the wine feels in your mouth. It can be smooth, coarse, creamy, waxy, velvety or silky. “Taut” is another way to describe a wine that’s “firm,” which I’ll get to in a moment.

The texture comes from the balance of the elements in wine—alcohol, sugar, tannins, acidity. If it seems a bit silly to discuss the texture of wine, think about how texture affects they way you appreciate food. Brie is creamy, while Parmigiano is crumbly. A filet mignon is more supple than a chewy rib eye. Gelato is rich and unctuous while a sherbet is crisp. Most people prefer carbonated soda to flat, or fresh, crunchy popcorn to stale. Sometimes textures are what we do or don’t like about foods. While the range of textures in wines might seem limited, it really can help distinguish wines from each other.

As I mentioned, “taut” is another way to describe a wine that is firm or tight. It’s neither a positive nor a negative term. I’d expect a light-bodied white wine with a lot of acidity to be taut, or perhaps a young red wine with lots of firm tannins.

—Dr. Vinny

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