Understanding The Wine Basics

Wine tasting can be an intimidating experience, particularly in the presence of seasoned tasters who discuss the various attributes of a wine in depth. These attributes are critical in determining a wine's overall quality. Among the characteristics, there are five fundamental elements that are most important in understanding wine: sweetness, acidity, tannins, alcohol, and body.


The sweetness represents the residual sugar (RS) that remains in the wine after the fermentation process. Most wines undergo fermentation until they reach near dryness.

Sweeter wines, often produced from grapes affected by noble rot, offer a syrupier consistency. Swirling the glass visualizes a denser liquid. One can observe the 'legs' or 'tears' of the clear rivulets that run back down into the wine, which are formed by the glycerol from the wine's sugar and alcohol content.

Complex Acid Structures

The acidity in wine is a crucial component, defined primarily by three types of acids: the sharp malic acid, the refreshing tartaric acid, and the soft lactic acid. Each type of acid plays a significant role in shaping the wine's mouthfeel and texture.

Malic acid is commonly associated with wines from warmer climates, where it tends to be present in lower concentrations. In contrast, wines from cooler regions or those made from early-harvested grapes often retain higher levels of malic acid, resulting in a more pronounced, sharper acidity. This sharpness is a defining feature of wines that embrace their natural acidity, such as those from colder growing areas.

As grapes mature, the levels of malic acid decrease while tartaric acid, another key component, becomes more prominent. Tartaric acid is notable for contributing to the pleasant crisp texture of wines like Sauvignon Blanc. The balance between malic and tartaric acid levels is essential in achieving the desired acidity profile in a wine.

Lactic acid is perhaps best recognized in the context of buttery Chardonnays. This softer, creamier acid is the result of malolactic fermentation (MLF), a process that occurs either during or after primary fermentation. MLF converts the sharper malic acid into the softer lactic acid, imparting a buttery or creamy texture to the wine. To achieve a better balance between acidity and tannins, the majority of red wines undergo MLF. 


Tannins are perceived in the gums or at the back of the mouth. The texture of tannins can range from very tannic and grippy to moderate and smooth. Over time, tannins evolve from a sandy to a grainy texture.

Alcohol and Body

The alcohol content in wine is closely linked to its body. Alcohol contributes to the wine's weight and mouthfeel, which is often confused with the wine's intensity. While intensity refers to the concentration of aromas, the body is more about the wine's lightness or richness on the palate.

Evaluating and Tasting Wine

To fully appreciate a wine's quality, there are essential steps to follow:

Visual Assessment:

Color Analysis: Begin by observing the wine's color. This can give clues about the wine's age, grape variety, and potential flavor profiles.

Glass Tilting: Tilt the glass and examine the wine against a white background such as a clean white sheet of paper. Pay attention to the center and the rims. Browning edges might indicate an older vintage or possible oxidation.

Bubbles in Sparkling Wines: For sparkling wines, observe the bubbles. High-quality sparkling wines often feature slower-rising bubbles, while a Frizzante style typically has smaller, quicker-rising bubbles.

Smelling the Wine:

Concentration: Take a moment to sniff the wine and consider the concentration of the aroma. Is it faint, moderate, or intense? This can provide insights into the wine's character and complexity.

Aroma Identification: Try to identify the specific aromas present. Are they fruity, floral, earthy, or perhaps spicy?

The Taste Test:

When assessing the quality of wine, the most fundamental question is whether you enjoy it. This subjective aspect forms the core of wine appreciation.

However, for a more in-depth analysis, one can employ the "BLIC-Method," which stands for Balance, Length, Intensity, and Complexity. This method provides a structured approach to evaluating a wine's characteristics.

Balance: Balance is key in evaluating a wine. It involves considering how various elements like sugar, acids, tannins, fruit, and oak integration harmonize with each other.

Length: The length refers to how long the flavors of the wine linger on the palate. A longer finish is often associated with higher quality.

Intensity: Intensity is about the strength of the wine's aromas and flavors. However, higher intensity is not always better. The ideal intensity should complement the wine's body – a light-bodied wine with moderate intensity can be more appealing than a full-bodied wine with weak fruit intensity.

Complexity: Complexity in wine is characterized by the range and intricacy of aromas and flavors it presents. These can be categorized into fruity, oaky, savory,  or developed aromas.

Evaluating a wine's quality is an art that requires practice and patience. It's a journey that not only enhances your understanding of wine but also heightens the pleasure derived from each glass.

Share via
Sign in to leave a comment
What is Natural Wine?