I remember the first time I tasted Tempranillo. I was a novice, no, an infant wine drinker at the time and didn’t expect the rugged flavor or chunky mouthfeel. It filled my mouth with tobacco and rich leather. Another unexpected quality was the higher than average alcohol content. I recall intentionally enjoying only one glass. I imagined an unexpected, cigar smoke-filled visit to Hemingway’s study but at a sprawling chateaux in Spain.
Ah yes, mouthfeel. As my kiddo would call in “texture.” And oh how texture makes a huge difference, especially with Mac and cheese. If I were to, for instance, hide some cauliflower in that Mac, you better believe my five year old would detect it on texture alone and spit it directly into the garbage while giving me the look that says, “nice try.”
Texture is tricky when it comes to wine. You may ask, isn’t the texture “liquid?” My original thoughts exactly. But after drinking copious amounts of wine with many wine snobs and professionals, I began to detect the texture for myself. My early descriptions of textures in wine were less than desirable, I admit.
I remember my first experience with Gewürztraminer. I’d never tasted lychee before. The touch of sour fruit left the same sensation on my palette as a handful of gummy bears. So in my notes I wrote, “gummy bearish” for texture. Maybe not my finest moment, particularly since I love to read things aloud. I’m pretty sure I heard some snickers.
As I became more accustomed to detecting textures in wine, I would enjoy a glass at home where I didn’t feel like basic Becky for noting the creaminess of Chardonnay or the delicate smoothness of a good Pinot Noir. I wasn’t quite into my Valpolicella or Bordeaux phase quite yet.
Where does mouthfeel or texture come from in wine? According to Wine Spectator: “Mouthfeel is influenced by wine components, as acidity can be sharp, alcohol can be hot, tannins can be rough and sugar can be thick or cloying.” Gosh I love the word, “cloying.” It reminds me of cats for absolutely no reason.
Once before my professional days I described a Cabernet as hot. And it was. That particular vintage had a very high alcohol content. But I’ve never used rough. I often describe tannins in unfiltered wine as “chunky” rather than “rough.” And I’m not the only one. I’d rather eat a Chunky bar than a rough bar if I’m stealing my kid’s Halloween candy. Nobody wants a rough bar.
Other fun descriptors, both positive and negative that can and should be used while consuming: viscous, supple, flabby, watery, thin, aggressive, smooth, and fat.
I like to compare mouthfeel to other taste sensations like lip smacking, or gummy-bearish. Because everyone has smacked a lip, and gummy bears are wonderful. And I will never, not ever ever feel shame for using my own fun descriptions while tasting wine.
I haven’t purchased a bottle of Tempranillo in some time because I hate to waste and can’t drink more than one glass in a sitting-even still. But one day I will. And hopefully it will transport me back, by yacht of course, to that imaginary Hemingway study off the coast of Spain.