In wine terms, “fresh” and “ripe” describe two different elements of wine: “fresh” refers to the age of a wine and “ripe” refers to the stage that the grapes were picked.
Let’s talk about “fresh” first. The opposite of fresh is mature. A young wine is fresh, lively and vibrant. The fresh fruit can be citrus, apple or peach in the case of white wine and cherry and blackcurrant in the case of red wine. The feeling of drinking a fresh wine is just like eating a piece of fresh fruit.
At the opposite spectrum is “mature”. Wine develops in the bottle, and the fresh fruit aromas evolve to form other bouquets such as dried fruit, autumn leaves, caramel and even savoury notes. The wine loses its freshness but becomes more complex. Think about fresh mushrooms compared to dried mushrooms and fresh seafood compared to dried seafood (海味). Dried mushrooms and seafood have intense savoury characteristics that their fresh counterparts don’t, but both taste delicious. Whether a fresh or mature wine is better depends on the style, grape quality, winemaking techniques and personal preference. Some wines, such as Beaujolais and most Sauvignon Blanc, are intended to be consumed young for their freshness and fruitiness.
As for ripeness, all wine should be made from ripe grapes; otherwise the wine will taste sour and green like eating an unripe apple or plum. Take Chardonnay, for example. It can be grown in areas ranging from cool-climate Chablis (northern part of Burgundy), to mild-climate Côte-d’Or (southern part of Burgundy), to warm-climate Australia and California. With Chablis, the ripe Chardonnay tastes of green apple and citrus, but it has ripe fruit characteristics even though its acidity is high. In Côte-d’Or, ripe Chardonnay tastes of apple and peach (warmer fruit) with lower acidity. In California and Australia, it leans towards peach, apricot and tropical fruit.
Acidity is actually linked to freshness. In Chinese, we use the word 酸 to mean both sour and having high acidity. The world “sour” in English has a negative meaning referring to unripe fruit, while high acidity is the nature of particular grape varieties and is affected by growing condition. The more acidic a wine, the more vibrant it tastes. For instance, we often think Riesling, which has a higher acidity, is fresher than Chardonnay even though the wine may be made in the same year. As the wine matures, an aged Riesling still tastes fresher than an aged Chardonnay.
All good-quality wine should have ripe, fresh characteristics when young. These characteristics evolve into a more mature bouquet given time. If the fruit is not ripe, a wine tastes green, sour and thin. This unripe freshness is not pleasant and the wine cannot be aged because there is no fruit concentration.
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