A wine as complex means different things to different people. Let’s clarify using recent scientific data. This is the first article of a series.
Roger asked me a question that prompted this reflection during one of my recent classes.
Do wine aroma compounds mixed together and creates an integrated aromatic profile? Or do they retain their characteristics, even though they co-exist?
It reminded me of another question posed by Andy.
How do you describe a good wine? Because I usually can’t take it apart.
I love learning from my students their wine discoveries. I also want to help them with their struggles when describing wine aroma.
And these two questions are challenging to answer because there is no easy answer. Complexity in wine doesn't have a formal definition.
According to Wang and her colleagues, the Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) defines a complex wine as "having multiple flavors that span multiple clusters."
Most sensory scientists embrace Berlyne's definition that a complex product has multiple and distinct components.
But recently, Wendy Parr and colleagues reported that "Perceived harmony and balance of a wine, presumably linked to a degree of perceived integration, were linked positively to perceived complexity." Their study was on Sauvignon blanc wines.
Wine professionals also use the word complex to describe older wines, which develop tertiary aroma with aging.
Let me know your thoughts below, and learn from other readers.
In this first article on the topic of wine complexity, I'm sharing results from a study conducted by Janice Wang and her team on aged Madeira wines.
The researchers wanted to assess if perceived complexity increased with wine aging. They wondered if a complex wine was defined by its components (sometimes called depth), its evolution, or persistence in the mouth (or called length).
Participants evaluated 6 wines from 2 grape varieties (Tinta Negra and Malvasia) with different aging times (3, 10, or 20 years).
A group of wine experts, freshly graduated from the WSET Diploma, one of the highest wine certifications, participated in the study.
Wines were served in coded black glasses, and their order was randomized among the tasters.
The wine evaluation was three-fold.
It aged at least 10 years in wooden casks, has a bitter taste on the onset, along with ground coffee notes and burnt caramel, and ends on a roasted walnut aroma.
These results only pertain to this category of fortified wines and may not apply to table wines.
I will explore another definition of a complex wine: A wine perceived as the blend of its components and evoking one integrated perception.
In the meantime, please share with the other readers and me what YOUR definition of a complex wine is.