Wine Words – Savory vs. Sweet

As I was prepping to write about wines and their taste profiles for an article, I paused to give some thought as to how best I wanted to approach the article. Why? Well, tasting notes can be somewhat arduous to understand and write. Not because I can’t describe what I may be tasting, but because what I taste and what the person reading it tastes may not align. My cranberry may be someone else’s plum. My lovely earth may be his or her funk. 

Wine Like Milk? Whenever I teach a class or describe wine, I make the analogy to milk. Body style of wine is analogous to body style of milk. For example, lighter style wines (whether white or red) are akin to the body of skim or 1% milk. As you move into more medium-bodied wines, you approach the body of 2% milk. Full bodied wines are more like the body and mouthfeel of whole milk or even cream. When I share this I always seem to get the head nod “aha” look. 

Sweet or Savory? Additionally, it’s also beneficial to say whether wine has sweet or savory attributes. Sweet refers to the perception of sweetness, characterized by intense fruitiness, actual sugar levels and ripeness. Wines with more savory characters display meatiness, earthiness, minerality, and smoky flavors. Sweet, even though the sugar content may technically not qualify a wine as sweet, often includes U.S. Zinfandels, Australian Shiraz and many Napa Cabs. What is the commonality among them? They are all New World wines. This is not unusual for New World styles to be on the sweet continuum of the spectrum. Yet we would also put the Old World wine Amarone on that same sweet continuum. 

Savory wines with meaty, herbal and minerally qualities, include whites like Muscadet and Chinon Blanc. Rhone-area Syrahs, Barolo and older Spanish Riojas are reds with savory qualities. These are all Old World wines. While describing wine solely as sweet or savory or by body style may seem like a more simplistic manner, we can’t disregard the flavor profiles and other tastings notes. All of these together can help guide you to an area of wine that you may want to go and explore.