When would you say that a wine is angular?
Descriptors used in similar contexts are:
For well-reviewed wines, angular often refers to a finely-balanced nervous tension.
A JR review of 1996 Louis Roederer Cristal Brut (61% Pinot Noir, 39% Chardonnay) says “tangy and very vibrant and nervy… very tight… tightly laced like a corset – very nerveux... firm… fine and tight and angular.”
Context is everything. Quality wine has angles and edges: a complicated backbone of acidity to keep it standing as the years go by. Great wine fills in and around its polygon structure. Vertices soften and sharp edges fold into each other. Character develops slowly in a delicate balance of hardness and softness, supple flesh on sinewed angles.
In a post on Australia’s Fear of Natural Acids, Philip White writes about natural versus added tartaric acids. The natural acids lock “flavours together, and train them to sing in harmony” while corrective tartaric acid “always looks awkward and angular, never really harmonising.”
If you think a wine will improve with age, angular is good. If you think it’s all edges and there’s no heart in it then angular is charmless, hollow, austere.
In general top critics are more likely to use angular pejoratively. Have a look yourself. For example, on jancisrobinson.com, 67% of all reviews have a rating of 16/20 or lower. That figure jumps to 80% among the reviews that include angular as a descriptor.*
If you had a choice between a “lean, compressed, angular” wine and a “round, cheerful, generous” wine, which would you go for?
Isn’t comfortable generous warmth a bit tiring in the long run? Have you suffered one generous vinous warm embrace too many? Don’t we all ache for an uncomfortably angular sidelong glance sometimes?
Here is Philip White again describing a 2012 Nero d’Avola from Adelaide Hills
Here’s a confronting bastard of a drink. First sniff’s as raw and brutal as Russell Crowe’s Hando in Romper Stomper, mainly because you probably haven’t smelled anything quite like it before. Give yourself a coupla acclimatisers, and Hando transforms into Earl Driscoll, Rusty’s horsetraining character in Hammers Over The Anvil, eyeing off the ravishing Charlotte Rampling in the stable and riding horses naked in the dam. You want vegetal reflections? Think fresh lightning in the pines: all those split trunks and singed needles. Think soft licorice, prunes, dried apple and kalamata. But that’s nowhere near portraying its intense angular palate, its brash, raw edginess. While you’re hoping it puts the gun down before its nerves squeeze the trigger you’ll have a flash of regret that you didn’t already drink lots of it with someone you shouldna been seen with. This is a stunning explosion of a wine from the canny Tash Mooney, using fruit from Caj Amadio’s front-running vineyard on the cool banks of the South Para Reservoir … alarming in its savage beauty: drink it before it shaves. Philip White, SAVAGE NERO D’AVOLA V ALBA NEBBIOLO, April 2014
Philip White’s tasting notes are angular stabs attenuated by flashes of synaesthetic light, they are blades that pierce the round and generous corpus of conventional wine criticism.
But don’t get me wrong: the highest compliment for a benchmark is an attack by a brilliant rebel.
The generously fleshy, lusciously familiar conventional wisdom beckons you to join the queue… the queue coils tightly around the centre, which is soft and warm and comfortable. But if you listen closely you can feel a raw and rasping, scraping and ungenerous tremor — very nerveux. Will you blink and sink into the soft familiar embrace? Or will you be awkward and state your impossible terms before taking a stab?
Either way, you should know where you stand. Here’s a map** of the angular vs. round battle line. Fall in line or mix things up, the choice is yours. Either way, make sure you take it personally.
* More details on jancisrobinson.com ratings in reviews with and without angular…
Total number of reviews with angular on 15.04.2016: 497
111 (22%) have a rating below 16/20,
286 (58%) have a score of 16/20 and
37 (7%) are rated at least 18/20.
Total number of reviews on 15.04.2016: 126584
94415 (25%) have a rating below 16/20,
52855 (42%) have score of 16/20 and
8932 (7%) have a score of 18/20 or higher.
Please let us know if you find a mistake or if you find other figures at different sites!
** PCA brings out the division nicely, other lenses do so as well. If you’d like to see more pictures, contact us. Here’s some more detail on the PCA (First three components are displayed on horizontal axis, vertical axis and then by sequential colour map “Blues”.)