Wine’s Superego

June 20, 2012

Gritty, grainy, drying, grippy, emery board, ripe, fleshy, sweet, astringent,chewy,  fine-grained, structuring…Tannin be thy name.

Fruit and acid are the hip, well-dressed kids; the too-cool-for-school, let’s-smoke-pot-behind-the-7-11-rebels. Tannin is the righteous one; the responsible one that gives seriousness and meaning to wine.

If you’ve drunk Cabernet or Grenache or a young La Rochelle Pinot Noir – even – and felt the sides of your tongue or your cheeks go dry…that’s tannin for you. Derived from the skins and seeds of grapes and the wood from new-ish oak barrels, tannin is what gives ageability and a drying, astringent structure to young wines and allows them to age. Supergo to fruit’s id.

I had the chance to taste through a trial of wines today that had commercial tannins added to them. These tannins were natural, derived – too – from oak and grape skins, but they were meant to add to red wines what nature did not give them. The winemaker has many tools at her disposal to make wines better…and  what separates the good winemaker from the not-so-good one is the judiciousness with which those tools are used.

I tasted through several flights of wine, each of which had a control then varying amounts of a couple different kinds of tannin added. Unlike a series of fining trials tasted earlier (that’s another post), the control wines were aided, made more complete, by the structural addition of tannin. For a commercial winery that targets a specific consumer with wines that are carefully made to hit certain structural cues, this tool, used in a limited and intelligent fashion, can be very valuable.

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