Ned's Article: Drinkability - Wine's Heartbeat

July 12th, 2011

Drinkability can be a rather nebulous term, but for me, drinkability refers to the ease with which one can drink a glass of wine or, for that matter, three glasses. In my view, drinkability is the key to wine’s enjoyment.

Drinkability is vintage-dependent. A good vintage provides suitably ripe fruit with sufficient acidity and tannins, or structure. These structural components ply a wine, if you will, toning down the weight and sweetness inherent in riper grapes from warmer regions such as Barossa, Napa and the southern Rhone, while also lifting the more savory herbal tang evoked by grapes from cooler areas, including the Loire, Burgundy and Oregon. Structure imbues a wine with freshness, balance and most importantly, drinkability.

Structure also serves to protect a wine’s core, or its primary fruit notes that later, with age, turn into a meld of complex flavors and softer textures that transcend mere fruit associations to bring tertiary, more earthy characteristics. Drinkability is attained when tannins soften and the complexity inherent in top-drawer Bordeaux, Burgundy, Barbaresco and Barolo, among other wines that boast ageability, comes to the fore.

Ageability is based on a combination of fruit ripeness, structural components in a wine and many unquantifiable factors. It is dependent on the vineyard (soil type and structure, vine age, topography, etc.), agreeability of climate in any given year, grape variety (Riesling generally ages with more grace than Pinot Gris, for example) and the proclivity of the producer to further shape a wine’s natural carapace with oak and extraction techniques, in the winery.

However, while good vintages clearly provide more ageable wines than poor vintages, wet and cold perhaps, that occlude both fruit quality and the structural components so necessary for balance and ageability, the firmer structure of an ageable wine detracts from its drinkability when young. We should consider, therefore, average vintages in the hands of good producers. Many provide fantastic value. I am not speaking of washouts such as 2002 in the Piedmont, or the egregious 2004 for Burgundy’s reds, but about vintages like 2008 in the southern Rhone, for example. 2008 was not a great year but it was not altogether poor, either.

Wines such as Domaine de la Boussière’s 2008 Vacqueyras, for example, slake the thirst while giving pleasure. Wines like this are currently more drinkable than the extremely ripe and highly rated 2005, 2007 and 2009’s from the southern Rhone, while being attuned to an era when the vast majority of wine, be it inexpensive or premium, is drunk within 24 hours of purchase.

Given these dynamics, the value found in such wines should be championed rather than rejected because a vintage was not a 100-pointer. After all, pleasure and drinkability are more than just synonymous: they are emotively bound terms.

Ned Goodwin MW is a Master of Wine, sommelier and wine buyer who lives in Tokyo. He is bilingual in Japanese and English. Follow Ned on Twitter at @rednedwine.


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