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Balance, quintessential quality in great wine, or is it?

By Denny Wang
CEO Yats Wine Cellars
Philippines

Ask any wine lover, connoisseur or critic what in their minds is the universal hallmark of a great wine and the word balance will find its way into an answer. True enough any wine that is out of balance will by definition exhibit at least one feature that sticks out like a sore thumb. That feature could be excessive alcohol frequently a flaw with wines from hotter regions like Barossa Valley. It could be that unpleasant green unripe flavors in Cabernets struggling with insufficient sunshine during those so-called lesser vintages in France.

Bierzo Mencia Wine served at Yats Restaurant Clark Philippines

Bierzo Mencia Wine served at Yats Restaurant Clark Philippines


As an axiom, one would desire a wine that achieved harmony among alcoholic heat, tannic astringency, piercing acidity and that oaky cosmetics. Winemakers tell us that this requires expertise, experience and a deft touch. Fine but is balance a quantifiable object, one on which degrees of perfection can be defined? The logical answer is no and that’s because our palates are not homogenous and our states of mind are even more fluid.

My sense of balance be drastically different from yours, from his and from hers. My tolerance level for dry astringency of tannins is quite low but I know people who not only can handle very tannic young wines but actually prefer it that way. Some even like that mouth-puckering tannins in their wine and routinely uncork bottles years before they reach the outskirts of their respective drinking windows

Even within the inconsequential paradigm of my own palate preferences and tolerances, huge variations exist from week to week, sometimes day to day. Here is a real example. It was a 2008 Bierzo Mencia Crianza that I drank and critiqued in no less than four occasions over a stretch of just 8 weeks, each time it gave me lots of pleasures and plenty of good things to say about it. Focusing hard on flaws alone, the first bottle felt a touch tannic, the second one acidic, third time flawless, and most recently, lacking in body. This experiment shows me that my standards change all the time. This means to me a wine may feel balanced one day and off the other.

This begs the question of what it means when a wine critic says a wine is well-balanced. Perhaps it means it was balanced to him/her during that particular tasting. I am very tempted to draw a conclusion that there is no practical way for one person, no matter how well versed and experienced he/she is about wine, to tell another person something definitive about the balance of a wine. And if balance is a if not the quintessential quality of a great wine, then it follows that no critic can tell anymore that a wine is indeed great or not.