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Orange Coast Winery

Douglas Wiens
October 4, 2017 | Douglas Wiens

Complexity, Intensity, and Balance in That Glass of Wine

The three hallmarks of a great wine

Judging the quality of wine is often subjective. Every individual has a preference and one person’s “favorite” could make another turn up his or her nose. However, there are three general areas that can be used to determine the quality of any bottle of wine: complexity, intensity, and balance.

1. Complexity

Complexity refers to the different notes and flavor compositions that can be detected. A great wine will be multidimensional. According to sommelier Jorn Kleinhans, “That's where you get descriptors of flavor profile like plum, cherry, vanilla, or tobacco. The more of those flavors you can taste, the more complex the wine, and the more complex, the higher quality.”

There are several nuances that can lead to greater complexity. Start with the vineyard and the notion of terroir. According to, “Older vines as well as vines grown on poor soils tend to produce less grapes, but more concentrated, flavorful ones. This adds complexity.” Winemaking techniques can also affect the complexity. An approach that is more non-industrial will generally produce more complex wine. Barrel fermentation and the blending of different grapes are also ways to add complexity.

2. Intensity

Intensity has more to do with the ability to identify and distinguish the flavors present. It also relates to a wine’s appearance and aroma. The key is to have a very complex taste that still allows all the flavors and notes to be clear. In terms of appearance, the more concentrated and opaque the color, the higher the intensity should be. You will often see wines described as “pale, medium or dark” and this is an indication of intensity. The darker the color, the more intense the wine should taste.

How can you judge the intensity of a wine? Here is a tip from Wine Spectrum. Tilt the glass slightly (this works best against a white background - a napkin or tablecloth work nicely). Now, look straight down at the wine from above, the richer/ darker the color, the more intense the wine.

3. Balance

Just like in life, we want a good balance in a wine. According to another article on, “Balance is extremely important in any wine and one of its most sought after characteristics. A wine is balanced when all the different components are working in harmony - a balanced wine is one where no one component protrudes or awkwardly sticks out.”

There are 5 key components that need to be in balance:

  1. Sweetness: A sweet wine needs a good balance of acidity or it will taste syrupy.
  2. Acidity: Too little and the wine will taste heavy or flat. Too much and it will be austere and tart.
  3. Tannin: Tannin is an element that makes a wine taste dry. It adds bitterness, astringency and complexity. However, there needs to be sufficient fruit concentration so that as the tannins resolve (as the wine ages), there is still enough fruit flavor present. Too much tannin and the wine will be sharp and harsh to the taste.
  4. Alcohol: Too high and there will be a burning sensation on the finish. Too little and the wine will taste hollow.
  5. Fruit: Wines with insufficient fruit will have a weak, thin flavor.

Now that you know the three main ingredients that go into a quality wine, start judging for yourself. To find the perfect wine for your next dinner party or event, visit Orange Coast Winery and review our selection of fine wines for every price range and palate.


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