Phenolics is a term that is bandied about in the wine business, like we at this level actually understand chemistry. Speaking for myself, I don't. But I want to try to further the understanding of the subject and as long as I do no harm, I may be doing some good. So here goes...
Wine is 95% water and alcohol so it is in that remaining 5% of its chemistry that all of the flavors in wine reside. With red wines those flavors mainly come from the tannins and those tannins come primarily from the grape skins, secondarily from the seeds, and remotely from any stems in the mix. Moreover in the winery the optimal varietal flavors for the wine come from the skins and are extracted early in the winemaking process followed by the less desirable bitter tannins from the seeds and stems. These flavors go on to form phenolic compounds and polymers as the wine develops with any oak barrel aging further building the flavor complexity.
Red wine phenolics actually fall into two categories: flavanoids and non-flavanoids. Flavanoids are those phenolic qualities in wine that are experienced by our senses of taste, smell, sight, and touch. Non-flavanoids include stilbenoids, phenolic acids, and resveratrol which while offering nothing flavor-wise, contribute to the antioxidant health benefits in red wine. Flavanoid phenolics also have antioxidant qualities by the way.
Last Friday night at our weekly tasting, among the six wines tasted were three inexpensive Portuguese reds and a great red blend from California. Two of the Portuguese reds were noticably lighter in body than the third but all three were great in the nose and on the palate. In short, the Dao was a soft round light summer quaff of a red wine. The Lisboa red was finer and more feminine than the Dao and more pronounced in the nose. The Douro was far bigger in the mouth than the other two but its most startling feature to me was its texture on the tongue which evoked comments like "velvety" and "silky". All of these observations depict our experience of phenolics in red wine.
The big California red blend was Villa San-Juliette Chorum, a blend of seven grape types with the base of the blend being the 36% Syrah. It was huge in the mouth with a spicy-peppery flavor. Most tasters thought red meat on the grill would be an ideal complement.
So of the four senses mentioned above in the phenolics/tasting context, the flavor of the wine, of course, trumps all others in the experience. But since so much of tasting is done with the nose, smell would have to be right up there with taste. Thirdly would be the experience of touch in the mouth and on the tongue with lightness and heaviness being only part of it. The one sense I have not mentioned is sight and no one at the tasting here last night commented on the wine coloration and I am thoroughly deficient in that area. No one commented on "hearing" the wine either by the way.
Join us here this Friday July 19th as we taste California Pinot Noirs, Italian whites, and Spanish roses along with new cheeses in the store and become a follower of this blog if you enjoy what you see here.