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About Complexity

by Paul Bressler

It's easy to listen to the first violin in a string quartet. You can pick it out from the other instruments and listen just to it. It's a lot harder to pick out the first violin in a symphony. It is usually just a part of the larger whole, and there are times when it's supposed to be in the background or at rest.

To relate that to wine, think of the flavors as individual instruments. In a simple wine, the few identifiable flavors are easy to pick out, even if you can't identify them. In a more complex wine, the individual flavors are harder to delineate, but the overall power of the wine is hard to miss.

What do we mean by complexity? It can be defined as the number of different flavors present in the wine, in concentrations high enough for you to taste. The problem with judging wines chemically (more flavors = more points) is that like an orchestra, everything still has to be harmonious. An amazingly complex wine is still undrinkable if it has tannins that will pucker your entire jaw. I'd rather drink a simple wine with good balance and a few correct flavors than a complex wine that is out of balance.

When it's right, though, a well-balanced, complex wine with the right flavors will knock you out. Even if you can't identify the black cherry flavor (for example), the way someone who is both a connoisseur and an expert would, you can tell it is a special wine. Every now and then I get to taste a wine that just does it. I wish I was expert enough to describe the flavors, but I'm just left with a feeling: "This is the way this wine is supposed to taste. If you gathered a hundred or a thousand expert tasters, they would design a wine just like this."


Here are three wines that can serve to illustrate the point. Each is a very well-made representative of what you would hope for in a wine of its class. The least expensive is very direct, with a core of blue and black fruit flavors and the classic Merlot undertones of chocolate. In the middle is a wine that has very similar (but more intense) flavors, and adds notes of spice and smoke. Finally, the most expensive of the three adds still another layer of complexity. It shows the brown flavors of briars and earth.


I hope you'll try at least two of these so you can compare and contrast. If these won't do it for you, call us and we'll help you pick out others that will allow you to make a similar comparison.


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