More often than not when we hear somebody describing a particular wine, terms such as cherries, blackberries, green apple, bell pepper and the like are the first ones heard. Then earth, depth, powerful tannins, bright acidity and complexity may follow. While these descriptors are all relevant, little notice is attributed to texture (mouthfeel), let alone how the wine integrates with what we’re feeling at the moment.
Texture plays an important role when we think of what we’d like to eat at any given meal. Do we crave the rich hearty texture of a rib-eye steak or the flakiness of a delicate Dover sole? Do we want the crispness of rye toast with our scrambled eggs or the airiness of a croissant? Are we in the mood for the density of a dark chocolate Bundt cake or the creaminess of a chocolate mousse?
These are all decisions we make without a second thought when scanning a menu but not so often when perusing a wine list. Noted wine author and educator Karen MacNeil recently wrote about texture and its role in a wine’s flavor perception in the April/May 2017 issue of The SOMM Journal. MacNeil astutely points out that “What most people like about a wine is the way it feels. And we tend to describe a wine’s texture only after the fact.”
MacNeil also referenced a study done a few years ago stating that, “...the top three terms Americans associate with flavor were crispy, crunch and creamy.” Sounds more like descriptors for texture than flavor, so there’s obviously some cross-over in the consumer’s mind.
Although I consider mouthfeel a critical component when evaluating a wine, I do not think textural significance necessarily supersedes the importance of its aromatic and flavor elements. However, it certainly deserves equal footing in the understanding of what we are appreciating in the glass.
By just including the element of texture into the palette of flavors we are experiencing with that first sip, we will broaden our senses and better appreciate the simplicity of a beautiful dry riesling on a warm summer day or the complexity and breed of the rich cabernet we are pairing with a charred-rare steak. Wine and food pairing is really as much about the texture of the dish and wine as it is about the “fruit bowl” of flavors so often emphasized in the reviews we read.
Along with texture and mouthfeel, it is also a good idea to consider what we’re looking for at that particular time as we examine the menu and consider the wine choices before us. Bigger is not always better, and complexity does not always beat simplicity. Sometimes it’s better when we just go with what we feel.
A celebratory mood may call for something bright and cheery (Champagne, anyone?) but if you’re feeling a bit more contemplative perhaps an intriguing layered cabernet may fill the bill.
New York Times wine writer Eric Asimov, explored this most interesting topic in his June 29, 2017 column, “Don’t Think, Just Drink” where he points out, “Deliciousness and simplicity can be prized things in a wine. On some occasions they are all you need and exactly what you want.” He then goes on to say, “Every good wine has a time and place to be the ideal choice.”
What Asimov is really saying is that when selecting a wine, we should look beyond its pedigree, critical acclaim or price tag. Rather, just think about how it feels in your mouth and if it complements what you are looking for at that particular moment.
Perhaps when sniffing and sipping a glass of wine the aromatics and flavors are the first things that come to mind and understandably so. But a look beyond what’s in the glass and experienced in the mouth will yield a more lasting impression. And by recognizing the different personalities emerging will always lead to better choices.
Mouthfeel (texture) is a very important element in the composition of a fine wine, but no less important is how we approach the wine and the mood we are in when lifting the glass.