Wine Tip #2: Balance is key to wine. Here's how to check

  • Spritzer cocktail with white wine, mint and ice, decorated with spiral lemon zest, vertical

    Spritzer cocktail with white wine, mint and ice, decorated with spiral lemon zest, vertical

Updated 9/4/2020 11:03 AM

Have you ever double-salted soup? It throws the flavors out of wack. In wine speak, a wine with one or more flavors sticking out is deemed unbalanced.

Balance is key to wine. To a winemaker, the balance of wine's components (alcohol, sugar, fruit extract, acids -- including tannin and water) determines the wine's chemical stability and age potential -- whether that's several decades or the time it takes to drive home from the wine shop. To the sommelier, balance indicates food compatibility: an overly-acid wine, for instance, maybe perfect for seafood -- like a squeeze of lemon -- not so much for pizza. To all wine lovers, balance means drinkability. Like a perfectly-seasoned dish, balanced wine is flavorful, refreshing and appropriately complex, no matter the price or maturation.


When bona fide cork dorks want to test a wine's balance, we use an exacting but conclusive method: we just add water.

The results are striking. Diluting an unbalanced wine casts a spotlight on dominating flavors while lighter flavors are washed away. In today's "international style" trend, dominating flavors are alcohol, overripe fruit and oak; dilution highlights scratchy texture, burned fruit and woody flavors. In contrast, adding water to a balanced wine morphs a powerful red into a silky quaff, a flavorful white into the most delicious near-water you've ever tasted. Test this test with some of your favorites or these well-balanced wines:

Paul Mas Estate, Vielles Vignes Carignane, 2016 (Pays de L'Herault, France): A producer known for quality-value, an off-the-beaten-path region and an underappreciated grape add up to satisfying bang for your wine buck. Dry and rich in ripe mulberry, bittersweet chocolate and the region's characteristic dried herb flavors, it's a match for rich and rustic cuisine like grilled meats and veggies, casseroles and olives; my aha! taste involved blue cheese stuffed green olives. Chilling -- especially with a few ice cubes -- adds vibrancy and drinkability. (About $14)

Kentia Albarino, 2019 (Rias Baixas, Spain) begins with spring sunshine color, peach skin aroma and dry flavors of lemon, peach, pink grapefruit and nearly-salty minerality. With dilution -- maybe a splash of soda water -- it's a delicious substitute for your favorite mineral water. The Albarino grape, successfully grown only in Spain's tiny northwest corner, was once price-prohibitive hard to find. Now, it appears on retail shelves in well-made and affordable examples. Why? Stay tuned. (Mariano's, about $12.99)

Dopff au Moulin Riesling, Grand Cru Schoenenbourg, 2014 (Alsace, France): Since 1574, the Dopff family has devoted 13 generations to the vine as coopers, wine brokers and winemakers. Their estate now covers 70 hectares, including portions of the Schoenenbourg vineyard, with its southeast-facing slope, rich in marl, gypsum and dolomite, producing renowned wines since the Middle Ages. The wine begins both plump and refreshing, with ripe mango flavors, zesty lemon, ginger and mineral accents with ample mouthfeel and silky texture. A splash of water adds space to flavors, like a prima ballerina in développé. My new summer indulgence is this wine, splashed with water, with a shave of fresh ginger for unique pop! (About $35)

Adding water also satisfies the wine lover's maxim: Alcohol is not a thirst-quenching beverage. Maybe you want to ease into or out of an event. Or, if you're like me, meal prep includes a glass of wine for inspiration. By the time dinner is served, I might wonder, "Where'd all that wine go?" Adding water to balanced wine -- or even splashing wine into water -- offers a delicious and refreshing "session" drink, stretches the wine budget and makes for a happy morning after the night before.

• Mary Ross is an Advanced Sommelier (Court of Master Sommeliers), a Certified Wine Educator (Society of Wine Educators) and recipient of the Wine Spectator's "Grand Award of Excellence." Write to her at food@daily

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