Smoothness in wine. Warning: Another meandering, long, possibly pointless, post

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Noah C
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Smoothness in wine. Warning: Another meandering, long, possibly pointless, post

#1 Post by Noah C »

Hi everyone,

Here is an offering of general wonderings. No specific point and few specific questions. I'm just mostly curious on your thoughts.

My first foray into the world of fine alcoholic beverages was Scotch whisky. An inevitable descriptor in many whisky tasting notes is “smooth”. True whisky connoisseurs poo-poo the descriptor, stating that there are many more important, relevant, and interesting aspects to focus on when describing and judging the qualities of a spirit. I see where they’re coming from, though I also understand why commenting on smoothness is relevant when describing a beverage that can cause fits of coughing with a single sip.

I rarely think of smoothness when it comes to wine, but recently a wine-interested-but-inexperienced friend commented that a Raen Chardonnay from the extreme Sonoma Coast was “smooth”. It struck me as an unusual comment at first, which I hastily attributed to her inexperience, but then I realized she was exactly right. The flavor profile of the wine was decidedly Burgundian, but it still retained what I could only describe as “New World sensibility”. But what the hell does that mean, really? The fruit was restrained, the alcohol modest, the oak minimal…so what was so New World about it? It was SMOOTH in a way that felt Californian!

So I got to wondering, what is “smooth” in wine anyway, and what causes it? I’m assuming it falls under the umbrella of texture if you’re describing it in a tasting note, though I’m not sure. And what causes smoothness (as opposed to roughness)? I’m guessing high viscosity, low tannin, and maybe presence of glycerol. But what about acid; does high or low acid make a wine more or less smooth? What about concentration? Oak? Sweetness? Perhaps it’s not any of these individual components that make a wine smooth or not, but it’s balance that is perceived as smooth. After all, a balanced wine is much easier to drink than one that is unbalanced.

And is smoothness generally positive or negative? Or is it just a neutral attribute that isn't intrinsically desirable or undesirable? I would think that it’s generally a good thing, but lots of the cheapest mass-produced plonk is verrrry smooth. They are engineered to be that way in order to appeal as widely as possible. Doesn’t mean it’s good wine. At the same time, there is an experience I’ve had only a few times with high end aged Pinot Noir (both Old and New World), in which the wine is so irresistibly silky and sexy in the mouth that the wine's smoothness becomes one of its main defining characteristics. And it’s one of the chief reasons those wines are so appealing to me. I’m not sure whether the smoothness in these two very different examples are the same, but I think they’re at least related.

I’m curious if this is a concept that others on this board think about when evaluating a wine. Is it useful? As I said, I rarely think about it, but maybe I will from now on. I’m particularly curious what winemakers, as well as wine drinkers, think as well. And please keep in mind: I’m learning as I go here. I might be headed down a misguided dead end. If so, feel free to let me know or ignore this post!

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Noah
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Re: Smoothness in wine. Warning: Another meandering, long, possibly pointless, post

#2 Post by Marcus Goodfellow »

Not a complete answer by any means, but I would suggest these as influences on texture that could bring about a “smooth” wine.

1) lower dissolved CO2


2) extended lees contact, as the yeast breakdown the components help bring about a textural silkiness.

3) a gram or so of RS. Not enough to be perceived but enough to round the sharper edges in acidity. I would view this as more likely in Riesling than in Chardonnay. But 1-2 grams would not be perceptible to the vast majority of consumers in Chardonnay either.
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Re: Smoothness in wine. Warning: Another meandering, long, possibly pointless, post

#3 Post by John Morris »

Noah C wrote: June 22nd, 2022, 7:10 pm ... I rarely think of smoothness when it comes to wine, but recently a wine-interested-but-inexperienced friend commented that a Raen Chardonnay from the extreme Sonoma Coast was “smooth”. It struck me as an unusual comment at first, which I hastily attributed to her inexperience, but then I realized she was exactly right. The flavor profile of the wine was decidedly Burgundian, but it still retained what I could only describe as “New World sensibility”. But what the hell does that mean, really? The fruit was restrained, the alcohol modest, the oak minimal…so what was so New World about it? It was SMOOTH in a way that felt Californian! ...
I think as commonly used, it often means one or several of the following:
1. Relatively low in acid.
2. Soft, not very astringent tannins, if a red.
3. As Marcus said, perhaps some residual sugar (RS).

Those qualities are probably more consistently found in California wines than in Old World wines, in part because the climate is warm and, in part, because in warmer parts of Europe, you often find the local grapes are relatively high in tannin and or acid (e.g., tempranillo, sangiovese).

The best way to sort out what it means for you is to cite more examples. Do you drink grenache wines? They tend to be low in tannin and acid, but high in alcohol. Do you find them smooth? Do you find wines from warmer climates smooth more often, versus, say, wines from the Loire or Burgundy, which are relatively cool, and produce wines, both red and white, with more conspicuous acid.
Last edited by John Morris on June 23rd, 2022, 7:42 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Smoothness in wine. Warning: Another meandering, long, possibly pointless, post

#4 Post by Mich@el Ch@ng »

Idk, I think it’s a descriptor that can be both positive or negative.

Grey goose is smooth, as in it’s very neutral. You could say the same about other “premium spirits” such as xiii and blue label, and they’d be sort of a pejorative.

Some very good spirits are “smooth” as well though, like Normandin mercier tres Vielle.

For wine, I think fine mostly resolved tannins can be smooth, like, say 91 roussseau ruchottes. Then again, so can bastide miraflores.

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Re: Smoothness in wine. Warning: Another meandering, long, possibly pointless, post

#5 Post by brodie thomson »

I have observed with wine novices that when I serve them a mature red wine, they immediately comment on the smoothness. I have always attributed this to the tannins being fully (or mostly) resolved and it contrasts with very young more tannic red wines they normally drink

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Re: Smoothness in wine. Warning: Another meandering, long, possibly pointless, post

#6 Post by Steve Costigan »

For me, out of thousands of wines, I don’t think I’ve ever described one as smooth. There are, however, wines that disappear much more quickly than others and maybe they could be called smooth. I am thinking of the very best wines I open, like for example I’m cooking dinner and the first taste first is gone in a jiffy as joyful expletives can’t be contained, an immediate second half glass tasting must follow, a pour for your mate and soon half the bottle is gone before dinner is finished cooking, you sit down to eat with your SO, drink a glass and before you’ve finished your plate you realize there is only a short glass left in the bottle. Those happen to be simply the superstars of your cellar. That’s my definition of smooth.
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Re: Smoothness in wine. Warning: Another meandering, long, possibly pointless, post

#7 Post by Josh Grossman »

Agree with Marcus on some RS but would add high alcohol and glycerol will make a wine seem smooth. Excessive new oak will make a wine seem smooth. That said, a nice mid-palate and a long finish will also make a wine seem smooth.

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#8 Post by Chris Crutchfield »

“Smooth” is like “big” or “bold”. These are easily accessible terms that many wine newbies reach for because they aren’t familiar with the more precise descriptors (of course, most of us started out like this as well).

There’s nothing wrong with that, but there may not be much point in parsing the meaning of “smooth” because it probably varies in meaning from person to person.

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Re: Smoothness in wine. Warning: Another meandering, long, possibly pointless, post

#9 Post by larry schaffer »

There are a few other ways to achieve smooth wines:

1) High pH
2) The use of gum Arabic just before bottling

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Re: Smoothness in wine. Warning: Another meandering, long, possibly pointless, post

#10 Post by Chris Seiber »

I think it's a useful, if fairly general and basic, descriptor for wines.

And it doesn't have to be inherently positive or negative. There are wines I think of as smooth in a good way, and other wines that I like for being angular and having sharp edges, of for being coarse and rugged.
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#11 Post by J. Rock »

Some people don't like the term "smooth" for wine, but I don't get that since texture is such a huge part of wine. To me, smooth has to do with the texture. Plush, round, ripe or superfine tannins make a wine feel smoother compared to rough, underripe tannins. I use "smooth" differently when describing a wine than most people would use the term for hard liquor, where I think they usually mean there's no heat or it goes down very easily.
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#12 Post by Otto Forsberg »

Josh Grossman wrote: June 22nd, 2022, 9:10 pmExcessive new oak will make a wine seem smooth.
I'd disagree. New oak definitely adds sense of smoothness by increasing both the dry extract in the wine and sweetness in the taste with the oak lactones and whatnot. However, excessive oak starts to make the wine turn bitter and aggressive. The wine might taste super oaky with lots of sweet mocha / chocolate / vanilla / caramel notes, but there's also quite a bit of aggressive, woody bitterness when it gets overdone.

When it comes to Grenache, I find them often soft, but they may or may not be smooth in texture - and these terms are not interchangeable. Softness is mainly related to wine's structure, which I view mainly a function of acidity and tannins (the wine's body might influence this). Smoothness includes structure (normally it, by necessity, needs to be "soft") but also includes stuff like high pH, often elevated levels of alcohol, big body, flavors ranging in the sweet spectrum, lots of dry extract (but not necessarily lots of extraction), richness from extended lees contact / lees stirring, etc.
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#13 Post by An and B »

In addition to the technical suggestions above, I often wonder if this is different than describing the texture in a note as “silky.” Or even maybe saying it’s “seamless.” Different, maybe more specific words. But ultimately describing the same sensations in the palate. Integrated, no rough edges, etc.

Ultimately a vocabulary is learned and so we may all be talking about the same things but articulating it differently.
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#14 Post by Ian Sutton »

Smooth for me will always remain a simplistic opposite of rough. I still hear it a lot from people who drink wine, but aren't in any way enthusiasts. It comes across as "not as rough as other wines I've tasted" (with the implication they've tasted some rough shit before, so this is a pleasant contrast), and depending on the exuberance of voicing 'smooth', that's the measure of how 'easy to drink' it is.

It works for them and if they're happy, I'm happy that they're happy.

The closest instances I could see 'smooth' being useful to us lot in a wine tasting note would be
- Smooth tannins. Use we might instead say velvet tannins or soft / furry tannins, but smooth would still be a useful descriptor
- Moscato d'Asti. There is surprising textural creaminess to Moscato d'Asti as the residual sugar seems to soften the (light) fizz. If someone said it had a smooth texture, I'd get what they were saying.
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#15 Post by Phil T r o t t e r »

Ian Sutton wrote: June 23rd, 2022, 3:47 am <...>depending on the exuberance of voicing 'smooth', that's the measure of how 'easy to drink' it is.
<...>
Yes and the length of the "smoooooooth".

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#16 Post by Jim F »

Well, I must be some kind of dope because after 40+ years of wine, I still use “smooth” as a descriptor. For example, last week a 2014 Outpost Howell Mountain Cabernet. Yes, new world. Smooth? I would say balance, glycerin, resolved tannins. It just flowed across the palate despite some good size and depth of fruit. Not angular but seamless.
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#17 Post by Markus S »

I never know what the term 'smooth' means: drinkable? less tannins? no structure? high alcohol? It simply doesn't relate to any descriptors I know or use, but if I hear it, it sounds like a negative to me as it is used on many wines I do not like.
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#18 Post by B. Davies »

I agree with everything previously mentioned. I use this descriptor a lot because people come into my shop and ask for a "sweet" wine right off the bat. So, I'll show them moscato's etc. then they'll look disgusted and "not that sweet".

Everyone has their own barometer of what sweet, tannic, acidic, etc. is so what I'll do is ask "Are you looking for something smooth with no bite? Not necessarily sweet?"

I'll often times recommend them a light Italian red that has very little "structure". I also think strong fruit flavors confuse customers and they think that is sweetness. I'll taste a very very dry French white to someone and they'll say "oh this is sweet..." Me: oh okay... interesting..

Also tbh COVID has been one of the most problematic things for wine palates. I'm still COVID free, but some customer's palates I can tell have had altered preferences for the last year because of it.

This question also going to be shifted one way because all of us are wine lovers. I love all wines and my preference is for more tannin and more acid, but it's not what I always want. I would consider some rose to fall under the category of smoother wine where it's more neutral in flavor profile and floral. My favorite rose's tend to be from Tavel and drink more like a red wine with all the body, acid, and tannin.

Smooth wine is also equivalent to wines I call "porch pounders". It's wine that's supposed to be in the background. Conversely, there are a couple of ripasso's I've had that are super full flavored and full bodied, but very little tannin so this is is something I'll also suggest for someone looking for a wine without too much "harshness".

Honestly, I don't mind a simple slightly chilled cru Beaujolais when it's super hot out. Is it the wine I'm going to open for a special occasion? No, but a lot of times wine is about time and place.
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#19 Post by HoosJustinG »

Jim F wrote: June 23rd, 2022, 6:48 am Well, I must be some kind of dope because after 40+ years of wine, I still use “smooth” as a descriptor. For example, last week a 2014 Outpost Howell Mountain Cabernet. Yes, new world. Smooth? I would say balance, glycerin, resolved tannins. It just flowed across the palate despite some good size and depth of fruit. Not angular but seamless.
Everyone’s tastebuds work. Even inexperienced tasters can taste bitterness from oak chips or powder tannins or feel their throat burn from 16.6% alcohol. So from an experienced taster, I would expect “smooth” to mean balanced structurally and silky mouthfeel. From an inexperienced taster, I think it usually just means no hard edges from tannins, acidity or alcohol.
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#20 Post by B. Davies »

HoosJustinG wrote: June 23rd, 2022, 8:51 am
Jim F wrote: June 23rd, 2022, 6:48 am Well, I must be some kind of dope because after 40+ years of wine, I still use “smooth” as a descriptor. For example, last week a 2014 Outpost Howell Mountain Cabernet. Yes, new world. Smooth? I would say balance, glycerin, resolved tannins. It just flowed across the palate despite some good size and depth of fruit. Not angular but seamless.
Everyone’s tastebuds work. Even inexperienced tasters can taste bitterness from oak chips or powder tannins or feel their throat burn from 16.6% alcohol. So from an experienced taster, I would expect “smooth” to mean balanced structurally and silky mouthfeel. From an inexperienced taster, I think it usually just means no hard edges from tannins, acidity or alcohol.
I agree, but people may not have the full context or experience to assess the wine. Also, there are a lot of flavors people don't like or are acquired, but it doesn't mean that their taste buds don't work. I would also point out that some people have more sensitive palates than others.

A simple example is coffee. A novice coffee drinker may find it unpleasant and bitter, but to someone who has drank a lot of coffee and accustomed to the range may find it smoother.

I don't disagree with you just adding some more conversation points.
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#21 Post by Doug Schulman »

I think the term is so common with spirits because it's about how well integrated the alcohol is, which is worth talking about as it's a key quality indicator, IMO. I never use the term, but I will think/talk about how well integrated the alcohol is. This seems to be something that whiskey nerds shy away from because it's sort of a badge of honor that they can handle any level of booziness, to an extent that it doesn't matter to them. One of my whiskey-loving friends described in a very honest way how fiery Pappy 15 is, which I agree with and really respected since it seems much of that community wouldn't say such a thing.

I also think "smooth" is only common as a wine descriptor because it's so common with spirits, and that most people who use it have no idea what they're trying to describe, so it has no usefulness whatsoever with wine. I don't doubt that some people here are talking about a specific trait, but I do doubt that the vast majority of novices who use it have anything close to a consensus for what meaning they are employing, other than to say "I like this".

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#22 Post by Mike Grammer »

An and B wrote: June 23rd, 2022, 3:06 am In addition to the technical suggestions above, I often wonder if this is different than describing the texture in a note as “silky.” Or even maybe saying it’s “seamless.” Different, maybe more specific words. But ultimately describing the same sensations in the palate. Integrated, no rough edges, etc.

Ultimately a vocabulary is learned and so we may all be talking about the same things but articulating it differently.
yes, that's a good point---I probably have a difficult time parsing "silky" and "smooth".

An interesting discussion for sure, Noah, so well done in raising it. I almost think of smooth as what it's not--no hard or rough edges or spikes as it travels down your tongue and throat. I also think I unconsciously add a level of harmonious length when I summon up that descriptor.

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#23 Post by Jim F »

Hopefully my final comment here, but maybe not, I really see nothing wrong with the term, even though some may see it as amateurish or otherwise in a pejorative sense. So what. Are those of us, like me, that cannot pick up and express endless flavor nuances that we have never heard of lesser winos than those that can? We all express what we can taste, smell and appreciate.
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#24 Post by Ian Sutton »

Jim F wrote: June 23rd, 2022, 1:35 pm Hopefully my final comment here, but maybe not, I really see nothing wrong with the term, even though some may see it as amateurish or otherwise in a pejorative sense. So what. Are those of us, like me, that cannot pick up and express endless flavor nuances that we have never heard of lesser winos than those that can? We all express what we can taste, smell and appreciate.
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#25 Post by M. Porter »

Marcus Goodfellow wrote: June 22nd, 2022, 8:09 pm Not a complete answer by any means, but I would suggest these as influences on texture that could bring about a “smooth” wine.

1) lower dissolved CO2


2) extended lees contact, as the yeast breakdown the components help bring about a textural silkiness.

3) a gram or so of RS. Not enough to be perceived but enough to round the sharper edges in acidity. I would view this as more likely in Riesling than in Chardonnay. But 1-2 grams would not be perceptible to the vast majority of consumers in Chardonnay either.
Dissolved CO2 is a fascinating component in still wine. Some research suggest that it actually does not affect smoothness https://www.wineaustralia.com/news/arti ... plications.
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#26 Post by David_K »

It's a useful term insofar as it's an immediate tell the person using it has no idea what they're talking about. Kind of like "legs."
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#27 Post by Phil T r o t t e r »

David_K wrote: June 23rd, 2022, 5:30 pm It's a useful term insofar as it's an immediate tell the person using it has no idea what they're talking about. Kind of like "legs."
Legs or tears was used for a long time in French to describe viscosity of the wine on the side of the glass. It just fell out of fashion. But for a long time it was used by people who knew what they were talking about. Is it different in English?

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#28 Post by Otto Forsberg »

Phil T r o t t e r wrote: June 24th, 2022, 12:08 am Legs or tears was used for a long time in French to describe viscosity of the wine on the side of the glass. It just fell out of fashion. But for a long time it was used by people who knew what they were talking about. Is it different in English?
The problem with legs (or tears) is that the viscosity of the wine can be the result of many different things, so the legs/tears don't really tell you anything that you couldn't tell by just taking a small sip and tasting for yourself.

For example slow legs can result from high alcohol, high residual sugar, high glycerol content, etc. and without tasting the wine, you really can't tell which is it. Furthermore, mouth tends to be a much more accurate assessor of alcohol content than legs; the difference between how legs form tends to be minuscule in two wines that are, say, 13,5% and 15% ABV, yet the alcohol difference in these wines can be quite easily assessed just by taking small sips of each.
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#29 Post by Phil T r o t t e r »

Otto Forsberg wrote: June 24th, 2022, 2:37 am
Phil T r o t t e r wrote: June 24th, 2022, 12:08 am Legs or tears was used for a long time in French to describe viscosity of the wine on the side of the glass. It just fell out of fashion. But for a long time it was used by people who knew what they were talking about. Is it different in English?
The problem with legs (or tears) is that the viscosity of the wine can be the result of many different things, so the legs/tears don't really tell you anything that you couldn't tell by just taking a small sip and tasting for yourself.

For example slow legs can result from high alcohol, high residual sugar, high glycerol content, etc. and without tasting the wine, you really can't tell which is it. Furthermore, mouth tends to be a much more accurate assessor of alcohol content than legs; the difference between how legs form tends to be minuscule in two wines that are, say, 13,5% and 15% ABV, yet the alcohol difference in these wines can be quite easily assessed just by taking small sips of each.
Of course, it is not a sufficient descriptor used on its own but rather an observation that can convey some information. The same is true for the wine's color for example. But I don't mind people who use legs or tears.

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Re: Smoothness in wine. Warning: Another meandering, long, possibly pointless, post

#30 Post by Michael Martin »

I like smooth legs.

Carry on.
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Re: Smoothness in wine. Warning: Another meandering, long, possibly pointless, post

#31 Post by Arv R »

It's time to add more rigor to the dimensionality of smoothness. I propose a bW scale, which is sort like pH in that it too goes from 0-14, but is developed from gradations of Barry White's work.



The 1990 La Conseillante gets the full 14, and is analogous to "You See the Trouble with Me"
R_@_0
https://dilbert.com/strip/1991-12-08

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