What exactly makes a wine “structured”? Is it a good thing?

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Dear Dr. Vinny,

What exactly does a “structured” wine refer to? Does this come from a natural process, or a manufactured additive? Is it a good or bad thing?

—Jai, Honolulu, Hawaii

Dear Jai,

“Structure” is one of the most abstract of wine terms. It’s not like describing a flavor, aroma or even the texture or body of a wine. The structure is about the relationship between all the different substantive components of a wine, including acidity, tannins, alcohol, body and glycerol. A light-bodied, sleek, acidic white has a different structure than a dense, velvety, high-alcohol red.

That is to say structures are relative to each other, but if someone comments that a wine is “structured,” it’s typically a compliment. Wines with a “good” structure are thought to age well, while wines lacking in structure are unlikely to get better over time.

Where does structure come from? Many places. Tannins are a big part, and those come from the skins and seeds of grapes, as well as oak barrels. The acidity and alcohol will be affected by vintage conditions and when the grapes are picked. Winemaking choices about yeast strains and lees contact will affect the body.

Structure really is the whole sum of a wine. That said, I don’t often hear wine lovers ask for a wine based on structure alone. It’s more common to talk about flavors, tannins or even body. But if you start paying attention to the interplay of these components, you might start piecing together the outline for the types of wines you like.

—Dr. Vinny

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