Friday, May 11, 2012

Sapidity

You know how when you're drinking a good Sherry, how one of the things that's so good about it is that strong streak of acidity that runs right down the spine of the wine? I've always appreciated that about Sherry, particularly Finos and Manzanillas, the bright acidity that enlivens the oxidized wine.

Everything in the above paragraph is factually incorrect, and I refuse to believe that I am the only one who thought those things about Sherry. Doesn't it seem like an acidic wine? And obviously it's an oxidized wine, right?

No! And no!

I remember the time I was drinking some or other Sherry with Peter Liem (whose much-anticipated book on Sherry will be out soon), and I told him how great I thought the acidity was, and how fresh the wine felt even though it was oxidized. He smiled at me the way one might smile at a 3-year old who is learning to put her pants on by herself, and told me that actually, Sherry is a very low acid wine. And that biologically aged Sherries (Fino style wines) are actually reductive wines that are protected from oxygen by a layer of flor.

Palomino is the dominant grape grown in Jerez, Sanlúcar de Barrameda, and El Puerto de Santa Maria. It is a low acid grape, and the very hot climate probably doesn't do anything to help preserve whatever natural acidity is in the grape. I recently learned that Sherry wines, by law, must achieve a certain pH level and therefore have to have acidity added in most cases!

So what is it that gives good Fino style Sherry wines that acidic feeling? I asked this question while tasting with Peter and Eduardo Ojeda, cellar master at Valdespino and La Guita.

"Sapidity, it is sapidity," Eduardo said. Peter agreed.

Here is what the interweb says is the definition of the word sapid:

--Perceptible to the sense of taste; having flavor. b. Having a strong pleasant flavor; savory. 2. Pleasing to the mind; engaging.

Here is another, this time a "medical definition:"

--affecting the organs of taste : possessing flavor and especially a strong agreeable flavor.

Okay, I don't think that Eduardo and Peter meant exactly this. Eduardo put his fingers to the sides of his cheeks, where they meet the back of the jaw bone as he said this. I think he meant the sensation of mouthwatering-ness, the idea that something in Fino style Sherry produces a vibrant sensation in the mouth the way acidity does, something that causes that tingling mouthwatering feeling. What is this thing, that Eduardo and Peter are calling sapidity? I honestly have no idea. One of wine's mysteries, I would guess. 

I was reminded of this recently when drinking a glass of 2011 Domaine Les Fouques Côtes de Provence Blanc Cuvée de L'Aubigue, $14, Imported by Fruit of the Vines. I know I've been harping on these Fouques wines lately, but with good reason. $14 is what you pay if you buy one bottle. If you put together a case you're talking about $12.60, and tell me honestly - how many truly interesting wines are there at that price nowadays (in NYC, anyway)? Mssr. Asimov has been saying for a while now that $20-25 is the value sweet spot, and I agree completely in the sense that there aren't so many great values at lower price points. The Fouques wines are David Lillie direct imports at Chambers Street, and that's why the prices are low - no "middle man." Take advantage, my friends - the wines are full of character and are completely delicious. I've not had the red wine, but the rosés and the white are really lovely. This white is just so correct and tasty, with slightly smoky lemon and seashell aromas, and a balanced and energetic palate. It would be great with seafood of all sorts, and I imagine it is versatile enough to do well with all sorts of other warm weather fare.

Anyway...At first I was worried about the white wine when I saw 14% alcohol on the label. Would the wine be balanced? Turns out the answer is yes, although the wine doesn't feel particularly acidic to me. It is mainly Rolle, also known as Vermentino, with about 10% each of Ugni Blanc and Clairette. I don't know, but I doubt that these grapes are low acid grapes like Palomino. Could be. The climate in Provence, however, is hot hot hot, and many producers nowadays have trouble keeping potential alcohol at a reasonable level if they allow the grapes to hang long enough to reach phenolic ripeness. Perhaps even a modest hang time in that climate can result in lower acidity.


Yet this wine still has a mouth watering feeling, and I felt it immediately, and particularly on day 2. What is this about? Sapidity? I'm willing to go with that.

3 comments:

SteveG said...

I think this observation is correct. I have indeed noticed that much Sherry is so intensely flavored, it seems to attack the tongue, but on examination it is not particularly tartness, just intensity. I also note that I have posted 34 tasting notes of Sherry on CT...eleven of them contain the description "savory".

Anonymous said...

Its probably also the balance between acid concentration(as measured by pH) and sugar/alcohol concentration (which give more body and reduce the sensation of acidity). If the balance is good then the wine will be fresh/sappy and enjoyable to drink, not just for tasting and high scores... pH by itself doesn't tell much... (acid concentration as measured by tartaric acid/volume says even less, since it only looks at one acid).

Molly Madden said...

Dang, thank you thank you for that. I come off as such a jerk when I argue with my colleagues and friends about sherry not actually seeming so "high acid" so Ive finally just dropped the subject. I think especially with finos, because the alcohol is higher than one's palate expects from a white wine, its also easy to confuse the alcohol with the acidity. Maybe you'd expect seasoned tasters to not mix those up but I think its easy to do, even when you are pretty serious about quantifiable tasting...
I visited with A. Selosse a couple weeks ago and he went on and on about the term "sapidity" and its etymology and the other terms we use that are related to it. It made me want to look up more in the roots and cousins of the term.