Finding Balance In Life — And Wine

Roberto Viernes
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Wednesday - June 30, 2010
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One night I was rushing home from work, thinking about what I would cook for dinner.

How quickly would I be able to make the dish? Am I going to have time to spend with my son before he goes to bed? I still have to pay some bills. I might have to sacrifice the time so I can get to bed myself so I’m not tired in the morning.

Then one word came to my mind. Balance.

This is a forgotten term when people think about wine. Is balance determined by the terroir or by the wine-making? How does one wine manage to be more balanced than the other?

Balance is not an objective term. It means that everything is in its place and that all the quantities are managed properly and in relatively equal terms.


Balance is difficult to quantify. It either is or is not. Even a non-wine-geek will be able to tell if a wine is balanced.

More specifically we can talk about the different measurable components of the wine: alcohol, tannin (for reds), sweetness (for dessert wines) and acidity. Alcohol gives body to the wine. Texture is allied directly to the alcohol content of the wine. The thicker and more viscous a wine, typically the wine will have a higher alcohol level.

Tannin is derived mostly from the skins of the grape with small additions from oak barrel aging, pits and stems of the grape bunch as well. Sweetness is the amount of sugar that is left over in the wine after the fermentation. Most wines are actually dry or have sugar in a quantity much lower than the threshold for us to detect it.

Acidity or total acidity in the wine after the mal-olactic fermentation can still be quite high in wines that are naturally high in acidity such as Riesling or Chenin Blanc and in wines that are grown in cooler climates or in colder vintages.

The last but not altogether scientifically measurable is the fruit flavor and intensity of the wine. This could be the most important part, as we do not drink wine just for the buzz or refreshment, but for the flavor. This “flavor” comes from the grape flesh, skins and even the barrels the wine might be aged in. The intensity level is decided by the yield of the vines, the age of the vines, clonal selection and even the growing season of the vine.

I would also add that the intensity of the wine can be lost in the winemaking process if one chooses to manipulate the natural aromas and flavors too much.

The mélange of all these components and how they react with each other on the palate determine the balance of the wine. Balance is not an exact formula. A wine with 14 percent alcohol can still achieve balance just as a wine with 11 percent alcohol. A sweet wine can be just as balanced as a dry one. Balance is a moving target. Each vintage, vineyard, harvest, clone or varietal shows differently each year. You can imagine how balance can be so elusive.

And yet when we find it, there is a particular harmony and beauty in it. It makes us want more of it or to find wines that share it. It is that special thing that we derive so much pleasure from. No hard edges, nothing too overbearing, simply serenity in a glass.

It is also rare to find this serenity in life. But it is a worthy goal in both wine and life.

Recommendations: 2007 Le Terrazze Rosso Conero ($16) Made with Montepulciano, it boasts sweet, red cherry with hints of mocha and spices, it is clean and lip-smacking red berry flavors that stain the palate. NV Ferrari Brut ($21) This is better than any prosecco because it is made using the Champagne method (metodo classico to Italians). Superbly fine mousse with hunks of white fleshy fruit and lovely persistence. What better wine for hot summer evenings?

Roberto Viernes is a master sommelier. E-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
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