QUESTION: What does it mean for a wine to be unbalanced?

When a wine is young, it can take years for all the various elements, such as acidity, tanning and fruit to integrate. Until such time the wine can be considered out of balance. However, some young wines can be balanced in the beginning and age gracefully to develop more elegance or character. A lot of the time, a wine professional will refer to a wine as being unbalanced if the wine tastes too strongly of one particular element, very commonly oak, alcohol or acidity.

I have another theory. Though I agree that some high alcohol wines can be balanced in themselves, my theory is that wine should be balanced with human evolution. There is a reason that our driving is impaired, generalizing, after two glasses of 15% wine and not after two glasses of 12% wine. Historically, wine was always between 8% and 12.5% in alcohol content. Human brains are adapted to drinking these as part of the meal. Our brains are not in balance with a wine which is high in alcohol or consumed without food. Therefore, a wine is not balanced, even if it is with itself, when it is not balanced with our brain. Bartholomew Broadbent, CEO of Broadbent Selections

The easy answer is that balance means for all of the elements of a wine to be proportioned in a way that makes the wine pleasurable.  Unbalanced is the opposite.  It is more easily identifiable when one element stands out as being too strong or weak.  For example, does the wine have the right amount of acidity?  Often this is a preference, but within limits.  Does the wine seem too tart or just mouth watering?  Are the tannins so strong and over powering?  This is often a sign that the wine is being drunk too young, but it could be that there is just not enough fruit in the wine to stand up.  Is the oak too dominating?  This is again a preference issue, but if the wine tastes of vanilla and lumber and nothing else, it sounds as if the oak is out of balance. 

A balanced wine will be one in which no single element stands out negatively.  A wine may be balanced at 16% alcohol.  That means, you cannot taste it or feel the heat.  You may still find that such a wine does not work for your lifestyle or is hard to match at your dinner table.  An unbalanced wine may certainly still be worth drinking, but it will never be a great wine.  Moreover, it is likely not a wine that will age well as the unbalance often becomes more pronounced with extended cellaring. Loren Sonkin is an Featured Contributor and the Founder/Winemaker at Sonkin Cellars

To provide diverse, unbiased, and independent advice, Bartholomew and Loren answer all user submitted questions without consulting one another. Sometimes they agree, sometimes they don't. Always interesting though. Have a wine question for them? Submit it via our Contact Us form