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.  

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