What makes a wine complex? Is it an attribute that only high-quality wines have? Are they only for expert drinkers? Here we answer these and other questions.
In simple words, we say that a wine is complex when it has multiple layers of aromas and flavours. In other words, if every time we take our nose to the glass, new and more aromas appear.
Technically, complexity happens in a wine when we can perceive primary, secondary and tertiary aromas, very diverse and well defined, capable of providing information about its winemaking and aging processes.
Primary aromas are those that come from the grape and the vineyard; secondary ones are related to its elaboration, that is, fermentation, work with the lees or batonnage; and tertiaries, to oak and bottle aging. This is how, in a complex wine, we can find various aromas of fruit, flowers, spices, wood and toast.
How spot a complex wine
As we explained, complex wines can change between bottle and cup, in a matter of seconds. It is common for the primary aromas of fruit to evolve quickly into tertiary notes of vanilla provided by oak, and then deliver secondary notes of violets. For this reason, trained noses are more likely to identify and enjoy an experience like this, which does not mean that a beginner drinker does not. But it can be confusing, because complex wines are constantly surprising and provoking different sensations in those who drink them. These are wines that never get boring! And identifying them takes practice.
Generally speaking, complexity is also associated with robust, powerful and textured wines. But, above all, to balanced wines, where acidity, sugar and tannins do not compete with each other. Complex wines are rounded, wide in the mouth, as they activate all our taste buds to identify this whole spectrum of flavours. A complex wine is felt throughout the mouth.
What gives wine its complexity
Aromatic complexity is something that generally develops over time. Usually the most complex wines are those with significant oak-aging. This is the case with one of the best Carmenère in Chile, Carmín de Peumo, whose 15-month aging in oak barrels influences its complexity and the distinctive nuances of terroir that Peumo delivers. While, in the case of white wines such as Amelia Chardonnay, whose aging is 12 months in oak barrels, multiple layers of aromas of white flowers and pears are distinguished, as well as mineral and predominant granitic notes. In this case, its complexity is also given by its exceptional terroir and barrel fermentation.
Another factor for complex wines can be the blend of vintages in the same bottle. Considering that every year the climatic characteristics are different, a winemaker can use this factor in his favour, blending different flavours to build a more complex wine. This is what happens, for example, with some sparkling wines.