What is "high-toned"?

Meadows sometimes uses this. Example from 2008 Grivot Suchots: “This is relatively high-toned for the appellation with ripe cranberry, cherry and red raspberry aromas…”

What is its opposite? (don’t say “low-toned”, please - I’ve never seen that!)



I take this to mean brighter red fruit. More raspberry than cherry or even strawberry type fruits.

Think of it as high in acid with a brighter and lighter fruit profile than is normal for the area. Such as red raspberries in Vosne without any darker fruits in his description. I may be totally off, but that is what I think of when I read this in others notes.

Opposite for me would be lush and leaning toward too fruit forward.

High-toned: raspberry, floral, citrus
Deeper tones: plums, baked fruit, macerating cherry, eventually more secondary & tertiary soil, leather etc…

All open wines have a different shape to their aromas, high toned violet or a depth of dark fruit that sometimes you feel you are falling into, or they give an impression of layered width - the greatest for me seem to have them all…

Deep, wide or high all have resonance for me.

Thanks, thanks, and thanks!

It sounds like high-toned is fine in a village wine or Fixin or something, but one would hope for additional depth in a Vosne premier cru?

(Just trying to figure out if this wording is a teensy-bit pejorative or strictly observational)

I’ve always thought (and used ) high-toned to mean noticeable (but not disagreeable) VA, but from these responses maybe not!

Dale – You’ve got it right technically.

It seems to be used by a lot of people these days to mean lighter, redder fruits, but the technical definition was quite different: a wine with some note of volatile acidity (e.g., acetic acid/vinegar or acetone) that in small quantities can give a little “lift” to the aromas of a wine, just as vinegar picks up the flavor of foods.

Steve Tanzer’s glossary: “Lively and aromatically expressive, due to a level of volatile acidity that is just short of excessive.”

Drink Rhone: “the smell of varnish or nail-paint, acetic.”

Taste Local Wines: “Slightly vinegary due to a high level of acetic acid, referred to as volatile acidity (VA). But a minimum level of VA often helps to project a wine’s aromas without resulting in an unstable bottle. “High-toned” is jargon for faintly volatile, and is not necessarily pejorative.”

In other words, this is yet another wine descriptor, like “minerality,” that is increasingly used in a way that has little connection to its original meaning.

Assuming he meant brighter, redder fruit flavors and not VA, I wouldn’t in any way construe that to mean lower quality in the case of a Burgundy.

I’m not sure I’d equate lower quality with ‘noticeable, but not excessive, VA.’ VA carries fruit and may be preferable to very low VA which tends to make wine less aromatic and show closed.
Obviously, it becomes excessive when it comes across as vinegar or acetate - and then it deserves a ‘lower quality’ descriptor.
I know people who actually intentionally raise VA in wines they feel it is too low in.
Best, Jim

Jim-- I think you missed the bolded part of my post. No one seems to think that Meadows meant VA here. He seems to have been using this in the other sense, referring to the profile of the fruit flavors. My point was that brighter, redder fruits aren’t a negative in Burgundy.

Not pejorative to me, tends to be the opposite. I tend to use the term for wines that are bright, lifted, and generally red-fruited. When I see the Tanzer quote “… due to a level of volatile acidity that is just short of excessive” it makes me think maybe I am too loose with this descriptor. I tend not to use the term for plummy dark-fruited wines, although these clearly can have a touch of VA.

I’ve always used it to refer to wines that seem to be just short of showing VA, if that’s not too unclear. A Bachelet Corbeaux 99 a few days back was just this.

Indeed – think Southern Rhone or Brunello!

I do not equate “high-toned” with VA, but with the type of acidity that makes a wine “highly strung” like a thoroughbred racehorse.

To me, a high-toned wine is one that has that “lift” mentioned above, due to virbrant, rather than volatile acidity.

However, there seems to be no consensus here…

Best regards,
Alex R.

For me, never in itself perjorative.

If something is tending to VA then you say so. If it smells of redcurrants, raspberries or violets they are higher toned aromas, you never think VA when you smell a raspberry!

One of those terms where everyone seems to have a different definition, but Tanzer’s definition matches what I consider as “high-toned” nearly exactly.

exactly my definition.

So, depending on context “high-toned” either means red-fruited with good acidity, or borderline defective with VA. That helps, thanks.

(No seriously, I am thankful, just somewhat amused how many tasting terms have unclear meanings.)

I am contemplating starting another thread to see how many different definitions of “lift” there are. [snort.gif]

I don’t see a consensus and I’ve never understood what it meant either. Most useful probably would be to first define what “tone” means in wine.

I had always understood it to mean just a hint of VA (which for me is almost always a positive). Of course these meanings can change.

I think the definition involving VA is pretty well-established among winemakers, judging by the postings here and in other threads over the years. The other usage looks like it’s a corruption – an adaptation based on an ignorance of the original meaning.