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Sensual Relations: The funny business of wine intensity

By Debra Meiburg MW

By Debra Meiburg MW

As any Sex & The City fan will tell you, intensity is a relationship-killer. Luckily, when it comes to wine, intensity is a relationship-winner. Intensity is a term loosely used to describe the strength and power of wine’s aroma. A wine can be described as low-, medium- or high-intensity based on the potency of its aromas, whether they’re weak or pronounced. Ideally, you want to be able to smell the wine aromas while talking to your honey – but without getting your nose wet!

Certain varieties naturally will have more intensity than others, such as the highly aromatic white wine varieties, Sauvignon Blanc and Gewurztraminer. Because most new world producers tend to maximize fruit ripeness and ferment their grapes in cool temperature-controlled tanks and cellars, their wines usually have intoxicating aromatic intensity. Traditional European producers leave much to nature – at times sacrificing fruit intensity for the development of an earthier complexity. A wine’s aromatic potency diminishes with time, so younger wines will aromatically leap from the glass by comparison to delicate vintage wines.

An easy way to evaluate a wine’s intensity is to position the bowl of the glass at your naval. Slowly bring the glass toward your nose. When you can smell the wine, pause to consider where the glass is in relation to your nose. If the glass is positioned below your chin, then the wine has high intensity. If the glass is between your chin and nose, then the wine has medium intensity. If you have a wet-puppy nose, then the wine has low intensity, definitely.

Aside from aesthetic pleasure, aromatic intensity has a practical value: relationship two-timing. While wooing a potential sweetheart across the dining table, one should be able to hold the glass under one’s nose, utter a few admiring comments across the table all the while secretly enjoying the wine’s heady aroma. Unlike some quality characteristics in wine, such as acidity or sweetness, which are measureable, intensity is a subjective judgment. As with too much perfume, more is not necessarily better, yet a wine should have sufficient aromatic heft to allow you to enjoy the wine aromas wafting from the glass without having to awkwardly shove your nose into the glass to get a whiff. Flirting while your nose is in the glass is a definite relationship-killer.

If the use of the words high-, medium- or low-intensity are too mundane for your colourful wine friends, then describe high-intensity wines as powerful, robust or intensely perfumed. Medium-intensity wines can be described as delicately perfumed or gently aromatic and low-intensity wines as flat, weak, neutral, tenuous or anemic. Whether you prefer high-intensity or medium-intensity wines is a matter of style preferences – just as in relationships – but never settle for a low intensity relationship, whether in the glass or otherwise.

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