Part 1 – Tannin - This time I explore reasons why some wines are heavy while some are lighter.
The are many different wines on the market today from all over the world and when people come into my shop and ask for a good wine the question I always ask is what style of wine do you like? I can whittle this down to maybe four main styles which include heavy or light, dry or fruity. There is off course a fifth style which is sweet but that is a whole different kettle of fish.
So, what makes a wine either heavy or light, dry or fruity? To be honest there is a whole combination of factors that affect the style and quality of a wine. From the weather to the soil to the different grape varieties and the wine-making practices, all these provide the overall make-up of the wine. With regards to the weight of the wine: i.e. full bodied or lighter, then there is one main characteristic of the wines which provides this answer and that is Tannin.
Tannin is found naturally in some products, from beef to tea and oak, it also forms on the grapes, more evidently on red grapes. Wines which have been aged in oak will have more tannin. However, oak also gives wine a sweeter, fruitier character as vanillin is a natural extract from oak, so the wine might appear fruitier. There are two main characteristics that make up tannin, bitterness and astringency. Bitterness is easy to understand as its one of our four main taste buds, so we can taste bitterness quite easily. Astringency is different though. When a wine has a lot of tannin, it reacts with the molecules on your tongue and the inside of your mouth and these molecules become raised. You will feel a roughness on your tongue and you feel a dryness all over your mouth. Therefore, tannin can be attributed to the sense of touch as opposed to the sense of taste. In other words, you can feel tannin not taste it. The majority of reds with have some tannin to varying degrees but it’s whether the tannins are balanced with the fruity element of the wine therefore you can’t feel them as much or is the tannin in the wine so aggressive that it shouts obscenities at you as you take a sip! You will either prefer one or the other.
If you don’t like the heavy, full bodied reds but still want to try them then all is not loss. Having these styles of wines with food will reduce the tannin feel and soften the wine out. You will need something heavy like a good rich steak dish to stand up to the aggressive tannins, but they will calm down with food and make the wine much more approachable. Opening the wine up a good couple of hours before will also calm the tannins down as a small amount of oxygen enhances the characters of the wines while reducing the tannins. That’s why sometimes when you go back to an opened bottle of red the next day it sometimes tastes better. Decanting the wine will also have the same effect.
In the next issue I will discuss the fruitier element of wines but in the meantime, here are a couple of big tannic beasts for you to try from me:
De Lucca Tannat – Uruguay £12.99
The Tannat grape takes its name from Tannin so you can guess what this is going to be like. Its dry, full bodied with an underlying hint of fruit but it’s also smooth on the finish. The Uruguayan wine makers live this style.
Campo Dorado Rioja Crianza – Spain £8.99
Crianza wines have around a year or so in oak barrels so not a huge amount. This is silky with slightly more fruit but still enough weight to sink a small boat!!
Free tastings at the weekend or enjoy a glass in our upstairs wine bar area and courtyard.