All my working life the wine world has described certain wine styles as crisp, so widespread is it that I have even heard these wines incorrectly referred to as ‘crispy’ by those who are unaware of the linguistic differences.
Most of us know what crisp means; fresh, firm and steely with a hard-edged green apple or lemon acidity. Basically it means a wine where the fruit is less dominant than the fresh dryness and the sharp (crisp) acidity, so these wines leave the palate clean, refreshed and a little sour rather than leaving the faintly sweet deposit of fruity wines. At least that is how I explain it to myself.
Another definition is: CRISP – Wine has pronounced but pleasing tartness, acidity. Fresh, young and eager, begs to be drunk. Generally used to describe white wines only, especially those of Muscadet de Sevres et Maine from the Loire region of France. (Zebrafish Information Server) – Personally I do not totally agree with this one, why does it have to be pleasing? I have had some ghastly crisp wines in my time!
Of course by their very nature the term refers mainly to white wines, but it can be used for some reds too, especially when comparing different red wines. Some rosés can be crisp, the better ones in my opinion, but many are a bit too rich to really be called crisp.
Traditionally the list of wines that could be described as crisp would include: Chablis, Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé, Muscadet and dry Vinho Verde – of course there are many more, but those four are the absolute classics.
A list of grape varieties that traditionally produced crisp wines would include Sauvignon Blanc, Aligoté and Riesling – especially in Alsace and Austria – as well as many other less famous ones.
Well, I think that truly crisp wines are becoming a thing of the past, I have had good examples of all these classic wines recently and I would not describe any of them as actually crisp. They were all much softer than I was expecting and hoping for, with much more emphasis on fruit. Modern winemaking – and possibly global warming? – seem to be coaxing much more richness out of even the most unlikely wines nowadays. Either that or a drop of residual sugar helps give lean wines more modern mass appeal and drinkability?
Or am I imagining things?
I often read that Albariño from Galicia is crisp, but I can only really think of one that is, so perhaps our definition has changed along with the perception of the wine? I am sure that some of this, like the crispness, or not, of chips – French Fries to some – it is a matter of taste, but there must be some sort of absolute somewhere or the term means nothing at all.
I would be interested to hear what other people think about this.
Do you agree? Have you noticed?
I really do think these classic wines are changing. I am not saying that it is a bad thing as such, but actually I like proper, old fashioned crisp white wines – nothing else, except Champagne, partners shellfish properly.
If you find these things interesting, you will enjoy my piece on minerality in wine – here.
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