You may have heard wine described as complex but had no idea what the person was talking about. You probably thought, why are they calling it complex?
After all, it’s just a glass of wine. What’s so complex about that?
Wines are complex. However, not in the way you think.
Often, the word complex is seen as problematic or negative. However, complex just means something consists of different parts that are connected in some way. And in the case of wine, complexity is what wine experts and lovers across the globe crave.
Understanding Complexity in Wine
Complexity is just another way of saying wine has a story to tell. Complexity gives you a snapshot of the wine’s characteristic qualities the second the aroma hits your nose. Once the wine hits your tongue, you will fully understand its complex nature as well as the wine’s unique finish.
In other words, complexity showcases the producer’s story. It’s like watching a movie. First, the movie starts out depicting the kind of grape used to produce the wine.
It shows the region the grape was grown and how it’s fermented. Wine is so complex that you can even tell the barrel it was aged and at what stage of ripeness the grape was harvested.
The aroma of a complex wine can have different components. The aroma may range from fruity to flowery, or it may be reminiscent of spices, toast, or woods like oak.
For example, Pinot Noir is a dry white wine that is light to medium viscosity. It has a vivid acidic aroma that’s filled with tannins that give it a silky-smooth texture and an alcohol content between 12%-15%. Pinot Noir’s flavor is even more complex. It has notes of mushroom, cherry, vanilla, raspberry, spice, and forest floor.
Where Does Complexity in Wine Come From?
Complexity in wine can be created in many ways. For example, the type of grape, climate, and whether the vineyard is a low-quality or high-quality environment all play a role in the complexity of the wine.
The winemaker’s experience and the particular style they want to achieve, the method they use to make the wine, the vessel it is aged in, and the length it is aged can all affect complexity.
Generally speaking, inexpensive mass-produced wine is less complex. In contrast, artisan wines made with high-quality ingredients will contain more complexity.
Complexity can come from the vineyard and even the grape itself. For example, older grape vines or those cultivated in low-quality soil have fewer grapes. However, the grapes they do produce are more concentrated, which means they are loaded with complex flavors.
Each winemaker has their own technique, which creates different complexities in wine. Typically, artisan and non-commercialized are more complex than their commercialized counterparts. For example, barrel fermentation which combines different types of grapes, maceration, or surlie aging, are techniques that can add complexity to the wine.
Maturation is also a source of complexity. Maturation can happen before the wine is before or after bottling.
As the wine matures, compounds in the wine disintegrate. New compounds will be created, changing the flavor and complexity of the wine.
How To Identify a Complex Wine
Smelling the aroma of the wine before sipping it is the easiest way to tell if a wine is complex. The aroma should be diverse but pronounced.
It’s part of the fun because you start to wonder why the aroma of the wine is so complex yet perfect. You should be able to smell a different aroma every time you take inhale the wine.
If these aromas last after sipping the wine, the wine is what we call round or broad. In other words, the wine has a smooth texture that is neither rough nor tannic. When you take a sip of the wine, you will notice it awakens all of your tastebuds.
You should be able to pick up notes such as vanilla, baking spice, and fruit when swirling the wine around in your mouth before swallowing it. If this is the case, you are definitely enjoying a glass of complex wine.
Typically, the aging time determines how complex a wine becomes. For example, some wines, mostly red wines, are fermented in oak barrels. Tannins naturally occur in oak, and as the wine sits, the tannins will be leeched into the wine giving it a complex flavor.
However, I know what you’re thinking. All wines are not aged.
Yes, all wines are not aged, but a wine can be complex even if it is not aged. It is more difficult to achieve a complex wine without aging, but winemakers are very intuitive, so when it comes to wine, nothing is impossible.
Complex wine is a bit of a surprise because you never know what you are going to get until you taste it. When you think you are getting a fruity forward, you end up with citrus or spice notes instead.
This is why complex wines are so amazing. The complex flavors make wine lovers instantly fall in love with the wine.
What Food Goes With Complex Wines?
Complex wines have big, bold flavors. Since no glass is complete without food, complex wines need dishes that have strong, delicious flavors. This pairing will complement the wine’s flavors and fill a hungry belly.
Nevertheless, the food pairing for the wine will depend on the type of complex wine you are drinking.
For example, Pinot Noir is a versatile wine that pairs with so many foods. Pinot Noir, with a fruity finish, pairs well with roasted chicken, fatty fish like salmon, herring, and tuna, roasted chicken, or pasta.
Pinot Noir’s with a more robust, tannic flavor are better paired with fatty duck or other game birds like California quail and Canadian goose. However, you can also serve a robust Pinot Noir with a casserole or stews like beef or chicken stew.
In contrast, if you are drinking a Cabernet Sauvignon, it works well with most red meats, including prime rib, lamb, filet mignon, Tomahawk steak, and New York strip steak. Cabernet Sauvignon also works well with seared ahi tuna.
However, you can also enjoy Cabernet Sauvignon with mushrooms or cheese or even add a bit of it to your sauce to create an added depth of flavor.
Prazo de Roriz is another red wine that has a complex flavor. It pairs well with beef, pasta, lamb, and game. However, the strong fruity and spicy scented wine can also pair well with pizza and comfort foods such as meatloaf and mashed potatoes or cheeseburgers.
Complex wines are beautiful. Each vine has its own flavor, and when an experienced winemaker harnesses this flavor and turns it into a unique wine. Once it gets to the consumer, you get a bottle filled with a characteristic story that reveals itself once you smell and taste the wine.
Some wines will be bold and robust, but others will be light. Nevertheless, you can sit back and enjoy the flavors of the wine.
So, the next time you hear a person describing a wine as complex, don’t be scared to grab a glass and share the story the wine is telling you.