By Becca Yaemans of The Academic Wino.

You see it often in wine tasting notes: “the wine is complex”, or something along those lines. But what does “complexity” in wine mean? Is it complex because of the number of compounds contributing to the flavors/aromas and structure of the wine? Or is it complex because of what we perceive to be tasting/feeling when we drink the wine? Or is it a combination of these or something completely different? The answer isn’t straightforward, with the definition of complexity in wine being different for different people.

For many in the wine business, complexity in wine refers to the combination of flavors and aromas in a wine evolving over the course of a tasting session. The Wine & Spirits Education Trust (WSET), “complexity is a desired feature in a wine and one which can result from fruit character alone or from a combination of primary, secondary and tertiary aromas and flavors.” However, it’s not as simple as plainly stating that a wine in and of itself is complex.  WSET doctrine continues, “only use the word ‘complex’ with context. It is not enough to say whether a wine is complex or not; you have to explain what provides the complexity.”

In academic literature, complexity in wine is an ongoing topic of study and one that has been met with mixed results. In general, studies seem to support the idea that complexity in wine is related to the number of aromas/flavors, balance, finish, etc., though understanding of the concept seems to differ between trained professionals and the average consumer (which shouldn’t be too surprising).

A new exploratory study, available online now and in print in the September 2018 issue of Food Quality and Preference, aimed to investigate how complexity in wine is perceived by “social drinkers”, with an attempt to identify specifically what characteristics were associated with the concept of complexity in wine.

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