When I ask casual wine consumers what they like in a wine, the most consistent answer I get is “smooth.” This is odd since “smooth” is not a word you will find wine educators, sommeliers, or wine critics using.
When I ask the non-experts what they mean by “smooth,” I often get a puzzled look as if the answer is obvious. But some will try to explain what they mean and give me examples.
They often seem to mean that the wine is sweet, not like a dessert wine, but with that heavy, viscous mouthfeel of, for instance, Meomi Pinot Noir or Apothic Red. Some seem to mean wines with few tannins since they complain that some wines make their mouth feel too dry. I suspect this accounts for the growth in appreciation of Pinot Noir over the years.
And the many people who don’t like white wine are put off by too much acidity, Sauvignon Blanc being the often-mentioned culprit. Those who like white wine usually extoll the virtues of fat, buttery Chardonnay because the weight and sweetness mask the tart acidity.
Apparently, what they value is that nothing jump out at them and command their attention. Nothing too sharp or too aggressive and thus “easy drinking.” In other words, they want a wine that doesn’t evolve in the mouth. The want that big gob of introductory fruit to hold its ground—a static wine is a good wine.
The problem with this is that acidity and tannins are what give a wine life and interest. If I were forced to define what a smooth wine is I would say a smooth wine is an elegant wine. As it evolves in the mouth, the transitions occur gradually and with subtlety and finesse. But without acidity and tannins you would have no evolution. Acidity and tannins drive the changes in the wine as we taste it. Without those transitions, wine is as boring and lifeless as grape juice.
The biggest hurdle to getting casual wine drinkers to become wine lovers is getting them to appreciate tannins and acidity and what they contribute to a wine’s evolution.