Why Is Texture Often Ignored in Wine Tasting?

Texture of wineIn tasting notes, wine education materials, and wine discourse in general, aromas are assumed to be the most accessible properties of a wine. In fact many wine descriptions are nothing but a list of aromas. Of course, wine aromas are compelling and we love burying our nose in the glass to experience the heady “kaleidoscope” of incense that a great wine exudes. But there is more to wine than aromas.

That mouthwatering vivacity that demands you take another sip of Riesling or the sense of lethargy and fatigue from an overly alcoholic Zin; the seductive feel of satin or silk that makes you slow down and savor a Pinot Noir; the sharp peppery effervescence that makes sparkling wine go so well with potato chips; the penetrating breadth and burgeoning power on the finish of a young Cabernet—these aren’t experiences of aromas or flavors. It’s texture, mouthfeel, that generates these experiences.

Arguably texture has a lot more to do with whether you will enjoy a wine than the particular aroma notes that a wine exudes. Novice drinkers reporting their first impression of a wine are likely to say it is harsh (bad) or smooth (good). That is texture they’re using to judge quality. More experienced drinkers who have learned to discern aromas will still react viscerally to how the wine feels using words like “elegant”, “grip”, “cut”, or “creamy” to help with their quality distinctions, all of which are referring to texture.

Yet, you can read through 20 tasting notes and come upon only an occasional brief mention of texture. And most wine tasting manuals devote only a few pages to the topic. Few wine writers give texture the kind of focused attention they give aromas, despite the role that texture plays in our enjoyment of a wine.

This is in part because texture is hard to describe and we don’t really have a rich vocabulary for discussing the texture of wine. We usually capture texture under the general heading of structure—mentions of body, weight, the quality of tannins, and level of acidity stand in for a more descriptive account of texture. Only with certain varietals such as Pinot Noir will texture words such as silky or velvet play much of a role in our descriptions.

It might be the case that texture admits of fewer variations then aromas. We are fascinated by the hundreds of aromas we can track through the various wines we taste. Perhaps texture is simpler, subject to less variation, and thus less important to mention since it doesn’t distinguish one wine from another. But it’s hard to know if this is true because we don’t have the linguistic means to track those variations.

At any rate, that hasn’t been my experience. I find variations in texture and textural changes to be as interesting as variations in aromas, which is why the tasting model in Beauty and the Yeast: A Philosophy of Wine, Life, and Love puts such an emphasis on mouthfeel. (There have been various attempts to develop a texture wheel on the model of the aroma wheel but  I’m not persuaded that this approach quite captures how we experience texture or the role it plays in wine quality.]

In any case, this is an underexplored area of wine tasting and I want to devote a lot of focused attention on it.

You will probably be hearing a lot more about it.

4 comments

  1. Good for you, Dwight. The word most searched for by wine seekers on the internet is “smooth,” and that’s a word about texture. Consumers really care about texture. Nothing illustrates the chasm between “wine experts” and consumers more effectively than the fact that consumers consider texture crucial to their enjoyment of a wine, and (as you have noted) the wine experts almost complete avoidance of the topic!

  2. I couldn’t agree with this piece more! “Arguably texture has a lot more to do with whether you will enjoy a wine than the particular aroma notes that a wine exudes.” When I teach wine tasting courses, I make a nearly identical statement. Texture matters more than aromas. And I always make sure in my tasting notes to expound on the texture and experience of drinking the wine, but only list a half dozen aromas at most. I’m going to bookmark this article and point everyone to it when given the chance!

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