The Periodic Table of Wine is a fun, concise and appealingly geeky new approach to wine appreciation. Instead of elements like hydrogen and helium, you’ll find Riesling, Shiraz and 125 other wines arranged following the logical ordering of The Periodic Table of Elements.
The foundation of the book is a periodic table designed to give a visual overview of how different styles of the world’s wines relate to one another. Organized by their essential color, aroma and flavor properties, from white to rosé to red, and including sparkling, fortified and sweet wines, too, the “elements” are arranged to offer an overview of how different styles of the world’s wines relate to one another. If you like one wine type in the table, you can discover other examples situated around it you might also enjoy.
Graphic and excerpt reprinted with permission from The Periodic Table of Wine by Sarah Rowlands, published by Abrams © 2017.
How The Table Works
Wine elements, at their most basic, can be divided either into “grape varieties” or “appellations”; you’ll find that these are the most common way wines are sold around the world. These label names are key pieces of information that point toward what is in the bottle. Thus a label may show the grape variety that was used to make the wine — or varieties, if the bottle contains a “blend” or mix of more than one grape variety. Look for names like Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc and Merlot. Additionally, the wine might be labeled using a protected name known as an “appellation,” under which wines from a defined region may be sold.
Not all wines are included, but the wines you are most likely to come across are. While they can influence style, brand names, winemakers and vintages have not been included in the table, as they cannot always be found locally; plus, they represent an additional layer of detail within or behind a single element or building block of the table — but they can be explored further by delving within an element to reveal this deeper layer of diversity. Perhaps you would like to conduct your own research by tasting for yourself different wines that fall into one element. The elements of the table have been designed as a starting point for the enjoyment and understanding of wine, by giving a broad overview of how the main wines made around the world relate. The graphic representation is a simplified bringing together of a diverse subject to provide a good foundation upon which your wine knowledge can build.
The columns broadly illustrate how wines vary by the weight or the feel in the mouth when you taste them. This is called “body.” “Full body” is heavier, giving a weightier feeling on the palate in the form of big, bold flavors, textures and tannins (especially in red wines). Full-bodied wines can range from rustic to full of finesse or opulent, if you like. A powerful and elegant wine is a sign of quality, especially if it is also described as having “complexity,” meaning lots of layers of lingering flavors. Wines that tend to be full-bodied are placed in the outside columns of the table. They are a good match for flavorful dishes. The wines toward the center of the table are lighter-bodied and more delicate on the palate — useful when looking for a neutral-tasting, refreshing drink. This subtler style is popular as an aperitif in hotter weather or sipped on its own, and it pairs well with lighter cuisine because neither overpowers the other.
The rows in the table give an indication of the general types of flavors you might encounter in a wine. With practice (smelling and tasting), especially comparing different wines at the same time, distinguishing these attributes becomes easier. To begin with, focus on identifying whether a wine is young or fruity; only later should you try to identify the types of fruit you can taste. The more you practice, the better you’ll get at identifying the various characteristics. When you start out, just remember that very few wines actually taste like grapes. Instead, you might spot flowers in your first wine, which places it more in the table’s middle rows. Other aromas and flavors, such as herbs or minerals, would put a wine near the bottom of the table. Some wines have many of these traits, so could justifiably find themselves in a different row; however, they have been placed closer to their more usual features.
Always bear in mind that taste and smell are personal. We all taste and smell differently, so there is no “right” answer. You may find that you prefer one brand or winemaker over another, or that you prefer a particular wine due to the type of food you enjoy or the occasions when wine is drunk. It is OK to have these differences of opinion and create your own table. Some people are more inclined to taste bitter hints and might prefer softer, sweeter wines, whereas others might be better at tasting floral notes instead, so they would find these same wines too sweet. Likewise, wines taste different with and without food, so there is plenty of scope for experimentation here. Usually wines are drunk with food, so why not test out which wine you think is best with what you are eating? With a really good match, both the food and the wine should taste better.
Rosés have found a home in the center of the table, being neither red nor white but a combination of the two colors. However, rosé wines are not normally made from a mixture of red and wine wines; instead, their pink color comes from the skin of the red grapes. Typically the fleshy pulp inside the grape contains clear juice, and this juice is turned into wine, fermented by yeasts that eat the fruit’s natural sugars, then convert them to alcohol. White wines are, in general, made by fermenting grape juice only. Red winemaking includes a period of time where the skins and clear juice mingle to add color, resulting in purple, ruby-red or merely pale-garnet wines. Like red wines, rosés are made using red grapes, with the pink color usually the result of letting the grape juice and skins stay in contact for only a short time — a little like the way colors from a tea bag infuse into the water. The hue, style, weight and texture of still rosés differ depending on the grape variety, as well as details of the infusion method used. Within the Periodic Table, rosés could have been distributed in and among the white and red table wines based on weight (light to full-bodied) and flavor characteristics. However, they would have been lost as an important category of still wines — and so, too, would the appreciation of just how varied pink wines are.