The Tactility of Texture in Pinot Noir
Over the past few weeks we’ve been featuring a series of blogs inspired by a masterclass conducted by Professor Gabriel Lepousez from the Sorbonne University in France. Gabriel holds a PhD in Neuroscience and is an expert on sensory perception and brain plasticity. He is also a wine aficionado. This week we talk about the perception of texture in Pinot Noir.
Texture is an intrinsic characteristic of wine and often provides a lightbulb moment in the appreciation of fine wine. It refers to how a wine feels in the mouth and the tactile sensation it produces. Pinot Noir has an exceptionally complex texture which affects the gustatory senses and enhances the drinking experience. Pinot Noir is known for its delicate and nuanced flavours, varying from floral to fruity and earthy. Texture significantly affects how these flavours present themselves in the mouth. Levels of tannin, acidity and alcohol content determine a wine’s texture. Tannins, and acidity to a certain extent, contribute significantly to surface textures and astringency as well as the consistency and geometry of the wine. Pinot Noir, with its low to medium tannin level and moderate acidity has a silky, smooth texture that is unique to the varietal. This silky or velvety texture found in a fine Pinot Noir is due to the harmonious balance between acid, tannin and alcohol.
Professor Lepousez points out that the tactile perception of a wine is not only about the grain in the wine, like touching the surface texture of the grain in a material, or the textile fibres of a piece of fabric. It is also about weight and structure. “Imagine the lightness and fluidity of silk scarves versus the firmness and roughness of linen or the weight, density and elasticity of velvet. When enjoying your wine next time, move your tongue around the top of your palate while sipping and analyse the surface texture on your palate together with the structure and consistency of the wine. And feel free to use the textile metaphor to describe the texture, the structure and the weight of the wine. Our mouth is equipped with one of the highest density of tactile receptors, so we have a unique ability to read and describe the texture of the wine, as long as we have a good set of tactile descriptors to name these sensations.”
The texture of Pinot Noir is influenced by the terroir. The climate, soil, sunlight exposure and altitude impact the tannin and acid levels. Pinot Noir grown in cooler-climate conditions like the Hemel-en-Aarde tend to have higher acidity and lower tannins, resulting in more delicate and silky wines. A well-balanced Pinot Noir will have just the right amount of tannins and acidity to bring out the fruit flavours without dominating them. Pinot Noir is terroir specific; there are not many places in the world where the cultivar can be grown successfully. This is why it remains a highly sought-after varietal and when produced well, it has a sense of elegance and sophistication that is rarely found in other cultivars.
Carolyn Martin – Co-owner and Creative Director, Creation Wines