Veraison - Grapes are ripening !!

Veraison -  Grapes are ripening !!

Friday, April 3, 2015

There are tannins, and then there are TANNINS !!!

I recently played an enjoyable round of golf with my good friend and fellow wine aficionado Len Stone.  We’re both members at Northern California’s sparkling gem of a golf course—The California Golf Club.  After posting our scores in the Pro Shop computer, we settled into our award winning, Men’s Bar for a glass of red wine—Len’s treat today.

I asked Romey, our bartender, “What’s the freshest red?  Which was most recently opened?” Retrieving one from underneath the counter, he showed me an unopened bottle of McManis Cabernet, and answered, “This one Mr. Barras.”  He uncorked it and poured us generous portions into our Reidel-like wine glasses.  
I thanked Len for the treat, and after the ritualistic swirl, sniff and sip, I issued my flashcard evaluation:  “A Classic California Red.  Rich.  Ripe.  Fruity.  Very aromatic.  Few, if any tannins.”  Len quickly added, “I don't mind tannins, but I  really don't care for the more aggressive ones!”  (More on that below.)

Much like those on their first date best behavior, with someone they’re frantic to impress, this perky wine shows up to please.  It has a perfumed, soft, fruity and agreeable underlying character that clearly intends not to offend.  It will work quite well as a conversational sipper (which it was for us) and reasonably good background music to a juicy burger and fries.

However, having said that, it’s worthwhile to note that it is as good as it’s gonna get, for it is not structured for the long haul.  That is, its lack of tannins will hold it back from developing more complex aromatic and flavor nuances.  For those in search of complexity and an improving underlying profile, you will have to look elsewhere.  

For the other 80% of the wine drinking public, this is your “daily drinker” wine.  (I should also mention that Romey informed us that one of the members recently trekked to the local supermarket to purchase several cases of the McManis Cabernet.)

To be sure, many wine drinkers do not care for tannins of any kind. (Quite revealingly, they also don’t like dryness, which many novices routinely confuse with tannins.) Nevertheless, in the world of tannins, there are tannins, and then there are TANNINS! They can be as sly and subliminal as a chocolate truffle, or as fierce and treacherous as a propane torch. 

Seasoned wine drinker know which is which, and when to expect them.  For others, it takes time and commitment to sort it all out. Young wines from the super-premium, red wine appellations are not the ones to drink in their youth.  They teasingly invite inquiry, but then they sear your palate with a “do not disturb” warning sign.  Later on, after five or ten years, the “welcome mat”  is out, and they are ready to seduce you with a savory cornucopia of aroma and flavor delights. 

On their 9/10/13 posting, Internet website Wine Folly lists no fewer than 25 ways to describe the various levels and types of tannins, all the way from Flabby (no tannins) at one end, to Bitter (very intense) at the other. At the user-friendly mid-point (those are the wines to search out!) we find these: structured (well integrated and fine), chocolate (fine grained and smooth), silky (fine grained, ultra-smooth) and smooth (well integrated).  

While I have never attended a “Tannins Tasting Class,” and I’m not sure if they are even offered, I believe that such instruction would be particularly instructive.  One would not only discover the various intensities and their relative importance, but he/she would also learn that they are, quite literally, the backbone of red wines. They provide vitality—giving it structure and the vigor to age and improve.  In absence of such classes, one should, when reading magazine or newspaper tastings, make a note how the tannins are characterized, and, if possible, sample the wine while reading the notes.  (This is also a good way to develop your wine tasting jargon!)

Finally, when it comes to assessing a wine, formally or otherwise, most of us tend do it with aroma and flavor as the targets.  What we should be doing, at least from time to time, is to evaluate and understand it from the standpoint of structure—how that wine impacts and feels on the palate, with aromas and flavors being secondary.  An appreciation of tannins and acidity, as well as dryness and alcohol, will make for a greater understanding and enjoyment of what wine is all about.


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