On Smooth Wine

Glass-of-WineTannin is a wine term that provides an explanation why some people don’t like red wine – yet – it also applies to why others or prefer red wines, or even the preference for a particular red wine. Tannin is also the unknowingly basis of why some buyers ask for “a smooth wine.”

Some associate tannin with leather, which a good thought to describe tannic red wines because tannin is what causes the dry feeling within the mouth – the pucker of dryness – the feeling like someone swabbed the mouth dry.

What are tannins?
Tannin is actually a protein group found through plant parts as stems and leaves – and in grape skins. It’s not something one smells, but its taste can also be found in tea, chocolate, herbs, and more. Yet, it is because of tannins that red wine goes so well with the fats of red meats and cheeses.

Why are some red wines more tannic?
There are numerous factors determining the tannin level in wine. Whether natural or from the winemaker, here are the key factors – and help with the understanding, let’s go through the winemaking process.

(1) Grape Variety: Some kinds of grapes are naturally more tannic. For instance, cabernet sauvignon is more tannic than merlot.

(2) Grape Maturity: Picking the grapes at the right time is important for optimal levels of juice, sugar, and tannin. In general, younger grapes have more tannin.

(3) Vineyard: Although the vineyard itself is not a tannin source, the soil and conditions may yield a certain minerality that could enhance tannins taste.

(4) Exposure Time: While white grapes only yield white wines, dark grapes can deliver red or white wines. After all, the grape’s juice is close to colorless; thus, red wine’s color comes from exposing the juice to the skins. Regarding tannins, the longer the juice is exposure to the skins, the higher the tannin levels.

(5) Fermentation: Fermentation is the process yielding the alcohol. Some winemakers prefer to ferment the juice in the presence of grape stems, skins, and seeds – which will yield more tannic wine.

(6) Barrels: After initial fermentation, winemakers place many red wines into barrels. Because the barrel’s wood is from the stems of a tree, the barrels naturally contain tannin. Now, sub factors as the type of tree, the newness of the barrel, and the time spent in the barrel become important factors.

(7) Additives: The winemaker may choose to add wood chips or tannin powder to the barreling process. Again, type, amount, and time are factors.

(8) Age: Finally, the wine moves from the barrel to the bottle. Although many wines are drinkable, some need more time in the bottle than others – time allowing additional reactions to occur to tone down the tannins.

(9) Blending: In order to achieve the desired outcome, the winemaker has the luxury of blending wines (before bottling). Remember grape varieties and the vineyards are two of the initial factors. A winemaker may blend Cabernet from different vineyards to achieve a desired taste. They may add less tannic wines to soften the tannin levels – or add tannic wine to a softer wine to give the wine more substance

A blending note: Labeling laws are different everywhere, California law gives the winemaker much latitude. That is, for a wine to be labeled Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, or whatever, it must contain at least 75% of that grape variety. In other words, the other undisclosed grapes may in the bottle, but not on the label.

Winemakers experience a lot of pain when determining the result in that bottle. They know consumers have different tastes. So, people asking their retailer for a smooth wine are actually asking for less tannin … so keep this in mind in your purchases.

On a Backwards Monday

As storms belted the central US, humid air with scattered rain enveloped Cincinnati this weekend. How was your weather?

We had a full weekend involving a ballroom night, a church wine group gathering, and hosting my in-laws to celebrate my mother-in-law’s 85th birthday.  How was your weekend?

Chocolate and Wine was the theme at the wine event. The host had this interesting activity. They purchased 12 high-quality chocolates (most were flavored), and then broken them into bite-size bits. The samples were numbered 1-12, plus each participant received a “checklist” that included 12 short descriptions as “Sea salt and almonds, 45% cacao, Belgium” – thus everyone’s task was to match the descriptions to the samples.

On to the current task at hand. As humid air remains, temps are expected to reach 88 F (31 C). Hot, muggy weather is not my favorite. Because I hope that temperatures go in the other direction, enjoy this creative clip from Dancing with the Stars. Watch carefully – and have a good week!

On a Church Wine Group

WineToastPeople are generally surprised when I mention that our church has a wine tasting group. Interestingly, the group is not only successful, but it also is one of the longest-running groups at the church.

I’m not sure when the group actually started, but being one of the founding organizers and prime movers, my best guess is 12-15 years ago. We are a fun and fellowship group that uses wine as the vehicle to drive the event.

The following are the basics for our group:

  • Meet 3-5 times per year
  • Volunteers offer to host the event
  • Organizers set the theme, which may be countries, regions, wine types (varietals), or something quirky as numbers, animals, or colors – and something to accommodate red and white wines
  • Attendees sign up in advance, bring a bottle of wine (per couple) within the theme and an appetizer to share

Like any organization, he had growing pains. On the other hand, because we pioneers wanted to be an official church group, we quickly adjusted. Here are some of the finer points that I have learned.

  • We went to the pastors first with our idea to get their permission
  • As attendees arrive, the host provides inexpensive starter wines
  • Using nametags is important
  • Incorporate a “program” within the event – we include a welcome, thanks to the hosts, introducing first-time attendees, a prayer, something informative about the wines/theme, and reminders about the group’s purpose
  • After the program, the remaining time is for fun and fellowship

Additional tips

  • Have a set of wine glasses for the group (they don’t have to be fancy)
  • If the wine runs out, so be it – thus the host does not supplement
  • Know the communication guidelines within the church as newsletter and weekly bulletin submission requirements and deadlines
  • Remind attendees not to fill the glass so everyone gets a chance to taste

Given our longevity, our group has been successful. During our years, I have no doubt that 400 different people attended our functions … thus I wonder how many people would I not know if it wasn’t for our church wine group.

By the way, in this past post, here’s a prayer I put together about wine, The Spirit of Wine. Plus, enjoy some of our home decor done with corks.

On Amarone and Friends

Amarone – The mere thought of this unique, wonderful wine causes me to smile.

Amarone – The northeastern Italian wine (Veneto), whose wine makers use unique production methods to create this world-class delight.

Amarone – Whose full-bodied, dry, raisin flavor delivers its own intensity that I adore. No wonder I could not pass up attending an Amarone and Friends tasting in early March.

Produced in the northern Italian region of Valpolicella, Amarone is from three grapes: Corvina (70-80%), Rondinella, and Moninara or Oseleta. After harvesting the grapes, in early October, winemakers dry a portion of the grapes over straw mats for four months to concentrate the flavors before pressing.

Dried grapes typically produce sweet wines, but Amarone is the only full-bodied dry wine produced this way. The problem is that Amarones are not cheap as the low-end are priced at $25-30 – hence a reason to consider the “friends.” And if you want an Amarone, buy above the bottom.

On this night, we tried six different wines, but only one Amarone. Variations around these questions:

  • How long were the grapes dried?
  • How much of the wine is composed of “dried” juice?
  • Did the wine undergo a second fermentation in the presence of the remaining “dried” skins?
  • Instead of Oseleta or Moninara, did the winemaker use Barbera or Sangiovese?

We tasted six wonderful wines, yet ranged in price ($14-48). The bang-for-the-buck wines:

  • Zenato Valpolicella Classico Superiore 2006 ($14)
  • Allegrini Palazzo Della Torre IFT Veneto 2006 ($19) – This has been one favorites!
  • Musella Valpolicella Superiore Ripasso ($20),

The higher-priced wines:

  • Zenato Valpolicella Superiore Ripasso 2006 ($28)
  • Musella Amarone della Valpolicella 2006 ($35)
  • Nino Negri Valtellina Sfursat 2004 ($48)

A side note: The last wine is from the neighboring province of Lombardi. Nino Negri uses grapes varieties from its west (Piedmonte) and production techniques from its east (Veneto).

So to Jay and one of the best tastings I’ve ever attended – Salute! … and enjoy this segment from Wine Spectator.

On My Wine Journey

dscn2896Growing up in an Italian family, my wine journey started during my youth with wine added to 7Up. Although I would continue to drink wine when available, it wasn’t until I was in my 40s that my real journey began.

We vacationed in San Francisco for a week in 1997. We took one day to rent a car for going to Napa Valley. On that single day I quickly identified that the world of wine had much to offer; hence the beginning of the journey.

After hearing about our trip, several friends told me about wine-of-the-month clubs at several wine stores, but I knew I wasn’t ready for that. I started at my local grocery store buying wines in the $6-7 category. By trying different reds I started detected the differences and identifying my pallet preferences.

Then I jumped up to $8-10 bottles, and wow … as a whole, these were better; but all along trying different varietals and makers. After a year, I knew I was ready to try a wine club.

One bottle a month of a red wine and a white wine selected by the owner. After 4 months, I knew red wine was to be my focus, thus cancelled my white wine order. I was still taken by the differences in the varietals, the regions, and the winemaker’s style. And yes … the moving into the $12-18 range provided another step up in quality.

We discovered a local wine store that offered wine tastings every Friday and Saturday night. These were more classroom-like, not a walk-up, taste, pay, and leave style. I listened and participated and my knowledge grew; as did my appreciation for these fruits of the vine.

I recall watching a TV show about wine hosted by then-ABC weatherman Spencer Christian. Awesome! I’ve gone through periods of subscribing to magazines as Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast for more knowledge, tips, and wine selections.

Today, the wine store with the weekly tastings has closed, and most stores don’t use the more education-oriented style tasting. But we found one that fits my needs.

Because I have always been willing to try different wines, I’ve had a chance to experience many. Although not every wine I’ve purchased has been a must-have-again type, I’ve never bought a bottle that I haven’t been about to finish. I’m unquestionably not afraid to buy something new. My sense of exploration is abnormal because the majority of wine buyers don’t venture out of their comfort zone.

I’ve returned to Napa and Sonoma several times, each time with a willing-to-try mantra. Sometimes saying, “If we’ve heard of them, don’t stop.” Last fall we took a wine cruise on Celebrity.  This summer we are considering Paso Robles and vicinity.

All because of that one-day trip and my willingness to try different wines, I’ve had a wonderful wine journey; and a lot of fun.