Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Rock Steady or as Balanced as a Sea Saw?

It is virtually impossible to listen to a wine discussion without hearing the words - "well balanced".  Every time you order a glass or a bottle at a restaurant the server always ends their description with "it's really well balanced", or even better- wine stores have an incredible habit of underlining the words multiple times on their description cards.  Honestly, more than any other wine term, I find that that phrase is the used the most, and somewhat haphazardly.  Based on how frequently we hear it, you might assume that it is the paramount facet of what makes wine great.  

Here's the thing- balance really just refers to how all of the other facets of the wine are working together.  If you've ever been in a wine discussion with me- I often comment that it really just means that all the kids are in the pool playing nicely with each other.  

We've spoken about sweetness, body, acidity, tannins and flavor.  When you're examining body- ask yourself - is anything WAY out in left field?  Is the body off the charts but body the sweetness, body and flavors don't match up?  Are the tannins crazy expressive but everything else playing back up?  

Now here's the thing- a balanced wine doesn't necessarily mean its a GOOD wine.  I'll say that again- balance DOES NOT indicate good quality. Let's take a look at the Nebbiolo grape for our example.  Nebbiolo is the grape found in Barbaresco, Barolo and Langhe wines.  Now these are some of the absolute best wines in the world.  A good vintage can often age for 20 - 30 (and beyond!) years.  Here's the thing though- a young Nebbiolo can be abrasive and tough to drink.  The tannins are off the charts- and though usually there's wonderful flavor and fine acidity and body- those tannins make it unbalanced.  However- let them age and everything comes into play and all is right with the world.  

Sometimes an unbalanced wine just needs time.  Sometimes however it is a poorly made wine.    Sometimes a balanced wine means that the winemaker manipulated their wine with sugar or other additives to make it that way. 

As you get more comfortable with different varietals and how they perform in your glass it will become much easier to tell the good from the bad based on balance.  Rule of thumb for now- if you trust your server or your wine store- you can trust their recommendations.  

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

The Case of the Aggressive Tannins

Every time I run a wine education seminar I find that tannins are the piece of wine that cause the most confusion.  People seem to love the word, but what they are and what they mean to wine remains a mystery.  

Tannins are a compound that live in the skins and stems of grapes.  That's really the simplest explanation.  They infiltrate your wine during the wine making process.  

Even more simply explained- when we make wine we crush grapes to get the juice out.  The fun fact is that whether we crush red grapes, black grapes or white grapes the juice is always clear.  If we're making white wine- we just push that juice through to fermentation, but if we're making a red wine we'll crush the grapes and then let the juice sit on the skins and stems to pull the red color from them.  I love that fact- that's how we make white wines from red grapes, and that's why rose wines are so lightly colored- we minimize the skin contact.  Pretty cool right?  

OK so back to tannins- when the juice is pulling color from the skins- they are also exposed to the tannins.  Now when tannin presents itself in wine it feels like a drying of the inside of the cheek- sort of like a cotton ball has been wiped down the inside.  The level of this expression can vary greatly- from hardly recognizable to abrasive.  This is determined by several factors but for our purpose here- the root of it comes from how thick the skin of the grape is.  The thicker the skin, the more tannin it can give to the wine.  This will also be a strong reason for the varied colors of red wine.  

Think of a Pinot Noir- the color is pretty light, you can usually see through the wine to a surface below. The tannins are very light.  Now think of a Cabernet Sauvignon- the color is much deeper and the tannins are far heavier.  

Tannins are pretty crucial when pairing wines with food.  If you're dealing with a wine with big aggressive tannins, than you'll want to pair that with a food high in fat.  Cheese, hamburgers, steak- anything with a fair amount of fat to it- the fat will coat your mouth and round out the tannins so they aren't as aggressive.  A lightly tannic wine however can be served with less fatty foods.  

I remember a few years ago the big news was the ability to drink red wine with seafood.  As most sea foods are so light, and limited in their fat content, this was noteworthy.  Of course the idea was to pair Pinot Noir with your fish- the light red wine does a wonderful job of complementing a big flavored fish- like the swordfish.

Tannins are nothing to be scared of, nor should they have an air of mystery.  Paired correctly (when they are present) they will simply enhance your experience and deepen the wine.  

Coming Home...to Terroir

As the temperatures grow colder around these parts and we start to look towards the holidays, many of us find our thoughts headed towards ...