Get In Touch With Texture; Tannin Versus Dryness.
Chapter Two, Part Three.
Texture is paramount to appreciating wine so I put a great deal of emphasis on deciphering its tactile sensations. When describing wine make note not just of the aroma and taste, but of how the wine feels. Now I know a lot of you guys get a little queasy talking about your feelings, so I promise to get through this quickly, even if it takes all night.
Wines come in a variety of textures, some of which will appeal to you, and some of which will not. When you first taste wine ask yourself “How do I describe the texture of this wine?” Does it feel harsh or silky? Is it lean and austere or rich and flamboyant? Do you find it thin or fat, wimpy or muscular? The weight of wine is also perceived by your sense of touch. Does the wine feel light or heavy in your mouth?
Many wines are described as crisp in texture. You may like that quality in a Pinot Grigio or a $100 bill but dislike it in Grenache. Other wines are said to be creamy. Once again, this may be a desirable trait for Merlot or some Chardonnays but creamy is not a trait you look for in Navy seals or Grüner Veltliner.
In white wine much of the textural sensation comes from acidity. Wines high in acid have a lip-smacking, zesty texture that seems to sizzle or tingle in your mouth. However, some white wines (and all red wines) are subjected to MLF, which has nothing to do with moms.
MLF, or malolactic fermentation, is a secondary fermentation that converts harsh acids like those found in green apples (or grapes) into creamy acids like those present in milk. Ergo a Chardonnay that has undergone MLF will be creamier than one that hasn’t and yes, I did in fact say ergo.
Red wines get much of their texture from tannin. This is a naturally occurring chemical compound that comes from the seeds, skins and stems of grapes or from the oak barrels used in wine production. Some tannins are rough characters (especially those brought up on the wrong side of the trellis) and can impart a harsh, astringent sensation to wine. They can also make your lips feel like they’re stuck to your gums which can make for some interesting conversation. I yum haaving some tannic wine wight now und I caan feeeel thum on ma tongue und gums.
When I hear my customers try to describe wines illusive qualities I realize that tannin is one of the more difficult characteristics to explain. Tannin gets a bad rap with many wine consumers because its mouth-puckering sensation often gets mistaken for dryness. Tannin presents itself predominately as a texture, whereas dryness is the absence of sweetness, which is a taste.
If you have difficulty distinguishing between tannin and dryness, here’s a homework assignment that will illustrate the difference. This test will clear up any confusion unless of course, you repeat the test multiple times. I know I’m always a little confused when I wake up under the table.
Visit your favorite wine merchant and buy a bottle of young Vintage Port. Young simply means the wine hasn’t matured in the bottle to the point of optimum drinkability. More importantly for this assignment, young red wines display more tannin than mature wines.
Vintage Port is a sweet desert wine that ages for decades in the bottle before shedding its youthful characteristics, so the most recently released vintage will do nicely. Vintage Port can be expensive so you can substitute a Reserve Port such as Taylor-Fladgate First Estate Reserve or Dow’s Trademark Finest Reserve which sell for about $20. The firmer, more tannic house styles of these two producers are better suited to this demonstration than the fruitier house style of Graham’s Six Grapes or the smoother style of either Fonseca Bin 27 or Warre’s Warrior.
If this is your first taste of port, brace yourself because this wine is fortified during the fermentation process. That means it’s built like my Polish mother-in-law, strong and sweet. When you fill your mouth with port, squish it around a bit and let it coat all the surfaces inside your mouth. After swallowing, take notice of the puckering sensation between your gums and your cheeks, especially inside your upper lip. Do your gums feel like they’re sticking to your teeth or like you’ve been drinking strong tea? Some people describe this as a biting sensation, while others say it has a bitter or metallic taste. Still others call this feeling ‘chewy’ because of your mouths tendency to want to chew on the sensation.
If this gum-sucking feeling is similar to the sensation you perceive as dryness, I want you to ask yourself, “How dry is this wine?” Obviously port is very sweet and since sweetness is the opposite of dryness, the puckering sensation cannot come from dryness. So where does that mouth-puckering sensation come from if not from dryness? Say hello to Mr. Tannin. Sweet and dry are mutually exclusive, but young Port illustrates how wine can be simultaneously sweet and tannic.
Regardless of the aromas and flavors of a wine, if it doesn’t feel good you probably won’t enjoy drinking it. When analyzing and describing wine always give texture and weight their due diligence because they can influence your opinion as much as flavor. Gentlemen, I hope this discussion about feelings didn’t make you too squeamish. Now stand up and give someone a man-hug.