In this four part series we have looked at some key elements of wine: acid, alcohol, and sugar. Lastly we come to bitterness and astringency. If you drink wine long enough you are bound to experience a wine so bitter that it feels like every surface of your mouth has been wiped dry with the world’s most moisture-absorbing towel known to man. This sensation is a result of the tannins in the wine. The wine I just described would be a highly tannic wine, but all wines have some level of tannins in them. Tannins are a sensation not a taste. What the wine world calls tannins are in fact naturally occurring organic compounds called polyphenols. They are found in the skins, seeds and stems of grapes. This is why red wines have more tannins than whites. During the red wine making process the grape skins are soaked in the juice to give the wine its color and structure. Since white grapes don’t impart color there is typically no need to soak the skins.
These polyphenols are also antioxidants and is what gives red wine its health benefits. Polyphenols are also the primary ingredient a wine needs to be age-worthy. Certain grape varieties make for a longer aging wine. These grapes tend to have thick skins with a high skin-to-juice ratio that gives the wine a higher tannic character. Examples of these grapes are Cabernet Sauvignon, Nebbiolo and Malbec. All of these grapes when made right have the potential to age. Next time you are drinking reds that give you that drying sensation, if you don’t like it, just remember that it is those tannins that will make that wine be wonderful in a few years. Buy more, store it, then open it up in five to ten and hope you hit it at its peak!
Hopefully our discussion of acid, alcohol, sugar, and tannin will enhance your wine drinking experience. I value feedback as you broaden your wine experiences.
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