my name is Alfred and I'm a new member, but have been reading the forums for the past couple of weeks while waiting for my account to be verified. I am recently new to wine(I have been learning and tasting for about 6 months now), and I have built myself a cellar with the intentions to store wine for aging.
My question regarding tannin in wine and aging was brought about after a recent and brief trip to a few wineries in the Napa region. I went to a tasting and sampled a flight of reds, in which almost every wine was so tannic that it seemed to me like it was a major flaw. The wines were relatively young, and I was just wondering to what extent a wine's tannins will become softer with aging. I did not purchase any wines there, as I was unimpressed, but I would like a general reference point to refer to when I taste wines in the future, and how they should be tasting after some aging.
I am fairly novice when it comes to tasting older wines, as I have only had a few wines that were cellar aged ( a Barolo and a couple of Super tuscans). So I suppose what I'd really like to know is if when purchasing wine for aging (5+years), should I be looking for something with moderate tannins, or something almost over the top, and hoping it mellows out before reaching its peak.
Thanks in advance for any answers/advice!
Victory loves preparation.
After stylistic preference of course, the key thing to assess in young wine is balance. Try to get a read on the tannin, acid, fruit and alcohol levels to ensure that they are all in balance with eachother.
It is very common to be hit with a wall of tannin when tasting a young wine that is meant for extended aging. You need to determine whether or not the wine has overall balance, and in this specific question, whether the wine will have any fruit left by the time the tannins are sufficiently resolved for your palate.
Evaluating young wines is very tough, and is really just a guessing game. Some tasters have more experience than others, which increases their credibility in providing this assessment.
Tannins are like beer, I personally think it's an acquired taste.
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Good question. Personally, when I'm tasting like you were, I try to ring fence the tannins. I try to focus more on the fruit and acid profile. I think you can gauge some characteristics of the tannins, but you can expect they should subside or melt into the profile of the wine with time. Tannins can be light, to silky, to rustic, to rigid, but I'm looking for balance in all three elements. If a wine is over the top tannic, the fruit may not last long enough to keep it balanced.
By the way, in my opinion, this analysis doesn't apply to Burgundy - except that I still look for balance. However, there I tend to rely more upon producer and my past experience drinking a particular bottling. Vintage seems to be important there too.
Good for you for not buying any. Taste, and drink what you like.
Welcome to the boards. You can learn a lot here.
+1 on the welcome. Always nice to see a new local Forumite.
This is indeed a difficult thing to master. I freely admit to being challenged in being able to tell whether a tannic young wine has what it takes to age well. I often rely on the track record of prior vintages, reputation of the winery and advice of palates I trust as guides on whether to buy or pass.
As for tasting older vintages, you will probably never get a better opportunity to do so than at an offline with other Forumites. I am ceaselessly amazed at the generosity of Toronto Forum members at organized offlines, who pull wines with decades of age from their considerable cellars to share with others. Sign up for one - you won't be disappointed.
Hmmm...maybe we should have an offline where nothing less than (X) years old is allowed...?
for a beginner, I don't agree to this at all. I recall when i first started tasting wines, it was hard enough coming up with a vocabulary as it is trying to describe the flavors. Thinking that there are different "types" of tannins, to me, simply confuses what is a simple sensation.
If your mouth puckers/dries up, that's the tannins. If you don't like that sensation, then you go for wines that have less of such sensation, whether it's a different wine from a wine region or simply picking up a bottle of older wine. I find the answer to the question can be straight forward and it really just involves drinking more.
Don't get me wrong, some poeple have made an industry of guessing how a wine will age in bottle.
I find it easier to not even bother guessing and just buying it when someone says it's ready to drink now.
This is my sig -> www.brownteacup.com
Thank you all for the quick and insightful replies.
I usually thought of tannins as either being soft (less tannic) or firm (more tannic); I'm not quite sure what is meant by silky and rustic.
I guess I was confused at the time, because for their price point the wines seemed very unbalanced, and now I understand they may not be meant to be consumed this early and could benefit from some aging.
VinT--I will definitely give that some thought! Although I doubt I'd be able to contribute much at this point
Victory loves preparation.
Tannins do seem to come in many varieties. Sometimes, you can quantify them much like the concept of sandpaper grit--ranging from fine to coarse. There's also an issue of quality. Some tannins taste green, like you are chewing on a green stick, while others are more mature, more like chewing on a toothpick. There's also an issue of concentration. Some wines just have very little tannin, while others have a lot. The very best wines, IMO, possess a lot of tannin, but carry them with such elegance and smoothness that you have to stop and think about it before you realize they are there.
"Rustic" tannins tend to be the greener, coarser and/or chunkier tannins, while the opposite would be wines that have tannins that are just very soft and smooth, like velvet, or even silk. Other wines have a more glassy, sleek nature to the tannins, which gives the wines more of a polished feel.
In general, IMO, tannins do tend to soften and integrate into the wine with proper age, but often the character of the tannin doesn't change--if it starts out rustic, it will stay rustic. If the tannins are so fine-grained that they are silky, they will stay that way, too.
ABryce, a word of caution. I assumed I would like most wine because they would smooth out over time. Not always the case. Some wines I preffered more tannic and did not like them once they shedded the tannin. Acid, fruit and way more factors than I am aware of affect the flavor and feel of wine.
Some really good posts up there. I got into wine at the height of the big tannin marketing myth. Wines do not *need* massive tannins when they're young to age well. Some of those wineries spouting that crap had wines with the harshest woody tannins. With some of those the tannins never faded, just the fruit.
So, if you're looking at how wines age you have to look at the trajectory of the different components. Without experience it'll be a very wild guess what things will do. The best way to get an idea is to taste many vintages of the same wine. Of course every vintage is different, but that should give you an idea of how the tannins and fruit change over time and at what point you like it best - something that can vary greatly person to person.
For longer term experience you can also buy multiple bottles of a wine you like and taste it at intervals to see how it changes.
Tannins form chains. When you feel them in your mouth it's because they are bonding to proteins. The longer chains feel rougher. Soft tannins are not the same as no tannins. They are short chains, so they have a different texture. Just because tannins are "big", "harsh" or "rough" doesn't necessarily mean there are more tannins than a softer feeling wine.
The theory behind the big tannin spiel is that when the chains get long enough they'll drop out of solution. Actually, part of it was the assumption that the longer chains were the softer ones, which is the opposite of the truth. So the thinking was they got softer and softer until they dropped out. But its a lot more complicated than that.
It's a bit hard to describe, but while some oak tannins "integrate" very well, there's some particularly woody ones I find don't. There's a harsh type than doesn't seem to fade and there's what's probably the spent base of that that doesn't. If you steep a tea bag a third time where all that's left is sort of a wet musty wood, that's what I mean. I think the difference is the harsh type is newer wood that still has other components to contribute. But, not sure what's going on here. Extraction? Just like different components of tea and coffee extract at different temperatures (too low = weak, too hot = harsh) alcohol does the same thing. I'm skeptical this particular thing relates to alcohol, though. But...
High alcohol level near the end of fermentation can extract a lot of harshness from seeds, skins and stems, including green-ness that would otherwise never enter solution. I know a winemaker who presses at around 5 brix because of this with some of his fruit, and lets the ferm complete in stainless steel. High alcohol can also extract harsh wood tannins in barrel, so some winemakers will lower the alcohol percentage before putting the wine in barrel to avoid this.
Oh, and that brings another rambling point... These are wines picked with high sugar levels to make big, rich wines. The way perception works is relative. A wine won't taste too sweet if it has enough acid to balance that, for example. In the same way a big, rich wine can hide harsh, bitter, even green tannins. As these wines age and the fruit fades, the bitterness stays the same, becoming relatively more prominent, emerging from the shadows, dominating. Some winemakers know what they're doing, so this doesn't happen with their wines. Others don't understand this or don't care, and make wines that appeal young but don't age well.
ITB - Insulting winemaker
Alfred - welcome. I don't have a lot to add but I do have a suggestion, particularly as you seem to be approaching things sensibly.
Pick a bottle you thought was way too tannic and go out and buy an old version of it. Aging does not mean 5 years. That's still a young wine and unless it's a cheap one, unlikely to show much, if any, development.
Buy something at least 15 but more like 20+ years old. And buy the younger version.
Open both and taste them side by side. In some cases, the tannins will have softened in the older wine, in other cases, they won't. Sometimes the fruit merely fades and you still have tannic juice.
The tannins can come from wood or grapes and if from grapes they can be from the skins or the seeds and stems and they can be riper or less ripe - that's kind of what people are referring to when they talk about silky tannins, etc., but don't even worry about that. G-man is right - when you're learning it's way too confusing to focus on those things.
You were in Napa, trying Cabs and Merlots, so if you don't like the tannins in the Cabs you tried, maybe you just don't like Cabs and Merlots so much.
Many people thought that wine needed a lot of tannins to age well. More recently people are thinking that the only reason that theory came into existence is that in the old days, winemakers didn't know how to manage and minimize the tannins so they just made wines that were tough. Today they don't have to.
But tannins do act as anti-oxidants, so they do help with aging. Many people believe that acidity is far more important for aging. I don't know - sometimes you just end up with old acidic wine.
As far as over-the-top and big fruity wines - why age them? The whole purpose of aging wine is to IMPROVE it, not to simply keep it around. Big ripe wines are good young and I'm not sure that you gain a lot by aging them, and in fact, they often just crap out and die.
In any event, the best bet is to buy older wines and then decide if you like them. If you don't then don't buy anything for aging.
"The best part is how he said the ENGLISH language. Fine irony. Use American next time."
Some very good, and well explained advice above ABryce..... from some pretty knowledgeable folk. I have learned a ton from this board and continue to.
I cannot reinforce VinT's recommendation to attend an offline enough. I was a little intimidated the first time I actually pulled the trigger and "invited" myself to one. I was blown away by the generosity, warmness and lack of pretentiousness I experienced. If you don't think you have something in your cellar that matches the theme, just work a trade or something with one of the attendees ahead of time.
I kid you not. Do this.
Wow. Great feedback.
spo- Duly noted.
yhn- I particularly like the idea of buying multiples bottles of the same wine to watch it evolve over the years. An informative post!
GregT- I don't think the LCBO sells the wine I tasted in Napa here in Ontario (I used winesearcher to check), but as I keep tasting wines, when I find one that I think too tannic, I will definitely go out and buy an older vintage (again, if I can find it here; it seems the LCBO doesn't have a great selection of older vintages). Thanks for the advice.
PurpleHaze- I will make an effort in the future to attend one then, thanks!
Thanks again all for the advice. Much appreciated!
Victory loves preparation.
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