Barbaresco is ideal for understanding tannins in wine, according to Jeremy Parzen of Houston Press, who recently talked to several experts about how to detect and judge the types of tannins in wine.
There is a common misconception among many wine drinkers that tannin is something that you taste. As Mr Parzen explains, tannin is actually "expressed through the mouthfeel of wine", or a "tactile sensation" if you will.
At their very essence, "tannins, the constellation of phenolic compounds found in grape skins, stems, and seeds and in the wood of barrels", explains celebrity sommelier Rajat Parr. It is the second most important factor that affects the mouthfeel of wine, with acidity being the first.
Light tannins can be detected by the gentle and smooth feel on the palate, whereas heavier tannins are the ones that are quite grainy or coarse in texture. Although they are not a taste in themselves, they could be perceived to have a flavour profile because some can appear sweet and others bitter.
The Oxford Companion to Wine offers a more technical interpretation, describing tannin as a "compound that is capable of interacting with proteins and precipitating them; this is the basis of the process of tanning animal hides (hence the name tannin) and is also a process that is believed to be responsible for the sensation of astringency".
Astringency is something that is best observed by brewing tea. If you were to brew four different cups of varying teas, and leave one cup to steep for thirty seconds, another for one minute, one for three minutes, and the last for five minutes, you can easily taste and view the differences in astringency.
This is important when it comes to wine because it helps understand why we age wine, and how certain methods of fine wine production can benefit tannin levels over others. Most of the best red wines in the world get their tannic structure through skin contact - rather than contact with wood tannin - which is the maceration of the juice and grape skins.
The more tannic the grape and the longer the winemaker macerates the juice with skin contact, the more tannic the wine. Grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Tannat, Nebbiolo, or Xinomavro, which have high tannic levels, can often mask the flavours of fruit in the wine unless they are left long enough to evolve.
This is why wines such as Bordeaux, Burgundy, Barolo, or Barbaresco (among many others) are meant for long-term aging (ten to 12 years of age is a good rule of thumb for opening wines like these). The wines will then be smoother, and getting the balance in astringency and fruit can deliver the greatest reward.
One of the best wines you can use to understand how tannin affects the mouthfeel and flavour of wine is Barbaresco. Mr Parzen uses a bottle of 2007 Barbaresco by Produttori del Barbaresco, which he divides into two glasses before storing the bottle in a cool, dark area with the cork back in the bottle.
By pouring a glass a night for a few nights in a row, you will start to see with every 24-hour cycle, the tannin in the wine will become mellower, allowing the fruit in the wine to emerge. On the last night, the tannin will have mellowed to the point that all the deep, hidden secrets of the wine will have been uncovered to their full potential.
The lesson to be learnt, is that the best things come to those who wait. When it comes to Super Tuscan wines, or vino from Bordeaux and Burgundy, allowing enough time before you consume is essential, as our friends at Chateau Latour will be happy to endorse!
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