Ever hear someone say that a wine has “good structure” and wonder what they were talking about? Seems strange but actually, it is quite important. Good structural components in a wine mean your sensory experience will be better and that it will age well. But how do you know what to look for?
Think of a bottle of wine as an ongoing chemistry experiment. There’s a bunch of different type of compounds present in the wine that are constantly interacting with each other – like acids, tannins, sugars, alcohol and flavor compounds. These interactions affect how the wine tastes and feels in your mouth. As these interactions change over time, so does the taste and feel of the wine. This is why you can experience a wine one way when you first taste it and another way after some aging.
All these different compounds are what collectively make up the “structure” of a wine. That’s in technical terms, anyway. In general, though, whenever someone refers to the structure of a wine, they are talking about the acidity and the tannins. These are the two components that are most important in determining how a wine will fair over time and how you’ll experience it in your mouth.
Good acid levels will make a wine seem fresh and vibrant while the right amount of tannins will make a wine seem pleasant texturally in your mouth. Too much or too little of either can make the wine seem bitter, astringent, tired or old, acidic, flabby, one dimensional, etc. Basically, it won’t be quite right. Also, the wine may or may not be a candidate for aging without good structure ie the right amount of acids and tannins.
Try and see if you can observe this yourself. You can tell the amount of the tannins in a wine by the level of grippyness you feel on your cheeks or tongue. (Note that tannins are predominantly found only in red wines but can sometimes be present in white or rose wines if there was skin contact during fermentation or if the wine was exposed to oak aging.) And you can tell a wine’s acid levels by how much your mouth waters when it’s in your mouth.
If you’re trying to decide whether or not a wine is worth buying, be sure to ask about its structure. You don’t have to spend a fortune to get a well-structured wine. Once you start looking for this – whether you’re reading tasting notes or asking a wine pro – you’ll see that there are tons to choose from!