Wine Importing and Marketing Services

What Does ‘Complexity’ Mean in Wine?

Illustration by Pablo Tesio

What makes wine complex? “Complex” is a word often used by wine professionals to describe wines with power, which is to say, wines with robust flavors and textures, and, oftentimes, a high-alcohol content. But what, exactly, does a complex wine taste like? Is wine that lacks complexity inherently worse? Of all the wine jargon most misconstrued and controversial, “complexity” is arguably near the top.

Perhaps that’s because there’s no standard definition for “complexity.” But leading wine experts have opinions.

What the Experts Say

“Complexity in wine means that the wine is multi-faceted,” offers Nova Cadamatre, a Napa-based Master of Wine and consulting winemaker. “It may have many types of aromas and flavors or it may have layers of depth on the palate—usually all of the above to be a truly complex wine,” she says. “It must introduce itself slowly over time and not lay all of the cards on the table at once.”

Translation: Complex wine is usually not one-note, and certainly not boring. Myriad flavors abound and textures are often tangible. The flavor of complex wine can evolve, both in the glass and an open bottle, in anywhere between minutes to hours.