I Love Fall Weather and Red Wines
I love the Fall weather. The changing of the leaves in MI is incredibly beautiful. I love the chill in the air which makes drinking hot chocolate even better. Braising meat makes more sense. It’s a wonderful time to start to examine red wines. During this time of year, I naturally switch to drinking more red wines. Why? They work better with braised items, and they have more warming depth to them. I will still drink my white wine. However, I gravitate to heavier selections and naturally think of reds.
That was not always the case when I started drinking wine. I actually thought they were horrible.
Time to Dive in.
Let’s start to examine red wines. In previous articles, I focused on what to look for in White wines. My goal was to teach you how I think and approach examining a wine. While it may be bit in depth, once you do it a few times, it becomes natural. We looked at each component (such as acidity, sweetness, mouthfeel, etc.) to show you what makes up a wine. Well red wines have the same components except in different ratios.
White wines have two major components to try to achieve balance:
- sugar or sweetness levels, and
While there are other components such as aromas and flavors, the structure and balance of whites is based on the two components. When we look at red wines, we now add the component of tannin. I’ve discussed tannin in previous articles. This now becomes an important part of the ratio along with sweetness and acidity.
When I first started to drink reds, I thought they were too bitter, and they were not sweet (aka dry). My first one was a Cabernet Sauvignon, just after I had consumed a wine cooler (Yes, I’m That Old). Well after drinking a Bartles and James, of course any red wine would be horrible! I did not try one for another 6 months until I had a great class with Master Sommelier Jaques Marie in Ontario. He exposed me to red wines and made me start to think about them in a different light. The first thing he said when I tried one in class (and made a pucker face too) was this:
- The reason people do not like reds is due to the tannin levels being much stronger in red wines as compared to whites.
Tannin has the tendency to be bitter if you are not used to it. I equate it to tea bags. If you steep your tea bag for 3 minutes, you will extract a certain amount of tannin. If you leave your tea bag in for a longer brew, you will extract more tannins so it will be stronger.
Side note – BTW, I’m getting on my soapbox here, but I can never understand how people can leave their tea bag in the water for 10-15 minutes while sipping on their tea. EWWWWW!!!
Why Try one Then?
Ok, I’m back. Here’s the question then. If someone does not like tannin, why should they try a red wine then to begin with? It’s a great question. First of all, not all red wines have considerable amounts of tannin. Remember that tannin comes from two sources:
- the grape skins, seeds, and stems that are exposed during fermentation for tannin extraction, or
- wood exposure to the wine in some way (as in through barrels, adding pieces of wood in during fermentation, for example).
Let’s dive into how tannins can get into a wine.
Let’s address the first point. Not all grapes have a high tannin levels. For example, I love Pinot Noir. This is a thin skin grape. Therefore, during fermentation, there is not a great deal of tannin to be able to be extracted from the skin. The thicker the skin, the greater chance of extracting tannin.
There are a number of red grape varietals that have lower tannin levels. If you state you’ve been a white wine drinker and now want to try reds; Awesome. I’m super excited to help. However, I’m not going to give you a California Cabernet Sauvignon that’s just been released after sitting in New American Oak barrels. You will hate me forever (and rightly so). For your introduction to reds, I’m going to serve you some of the grape varieties below:
- Pinot Noir,
- Sangiovese, and
These naturally have lower tannin levels than others and are a great start to understanding the role of tannin.
This was the second source where tannin can be extracted into a wine. Wood (oak is used) has tannins naturally embedded. When wine is exposed to oak, it will draw out some of these tannins.
Please note that the winemaker has the option of using wood. Some do not expose their wine to wood as they can use stainless steel or other neutral vessels. They can use old barrels where no tannin will be extracted (it’s been pulled out prior to). They can also balance new oak and used oak to control the amount of tannin.
Their biggest concern is creating a wine that is balanced for their customers. As in, it has the right flavors, aromas, sweetness, etc., that their customer base wants and will purchase.
Where the grape was grown will help dictate the thickness of the skin. Think of it this way. The skin will be thicker in warmer climates to help regulate evaporation. If we examine a Pinot Noir grown in Napa as compared to Burgundy, there is a higher chance that the grape skin in Napa will be thicker. This will have more tannin to be able to extract.
The winemaker has the option of controlling the amount of time that grape skins sit in the wine during fermentation. It’s a fine balance, however. As fermentation of the sugar proceeds, the alcohol extracts the color from the skins into the wine. In order to extract the maximum color, they will let the skins sit in the wine to pull out the anthocyanins. But the longer the skin sits pulling color, the more tannin is extracted as well.
To this day, I still have a challenging time drinking very heavy tannic red wines. It’s hard for me to digest but I’ve learned that pairing these with food helps.
During these colder months, I’m going to expose you to different red grapes and how to pair them. My focus each week will be to show you a different red grape, give a small amount of history and the profile of the grape. I’ll give you some examples of wines to try and what foods will pair well.
I know that this will be both educational and fun, especially sharing some of my wine choices with you for the holidays.