A few wine terms I have questions about.

Hello All!

I have recently started work as a wine consultant at a local wine store and I am wanting to grow my basic wine knowledge a little more. Can anyone help with a few questions I have regarding some wine speak?

What is the best way to explain "Tannins"? I know its to do with the seeds and skin left in the wine and its what gives it a dry mouth taste, but if a wine is low or high in tannins, what does that really mean to the drinker?

Secondly, if someone wants a "dry" wine what does that also mean? I've read that most table wine is dry so should I tell the customers that all the wines are dry since most of what we sell is under $50 and, as so, is probably a table wine (Yellow Tail, Sutter Home etc)?

Any advice would be great! Thanks, John.
Original Post
I'm sure some others will chime in here but I'll give a start.

Tannins do indeed come from the grape juice being in contact with the skins, seeds, stems, and aging in barrel. They dry the mouth and coat the inside of your cheeks, your tongue, and stick to your teeth. They are naturally attracted to protein so the effect of tannins will be reduced when enjoying the wine with meat or cheese. They also help in giving red wine structure, balance, and a certain degree of tannins are required to allow the wine to bottle age. The degree of tannin can be felt in the mouth as woody or chalky texture. Some find it desirable and some detest it. In my mind it's all about balance.

Dryness is purely a comment about the perceived sugar content in a wine. A dry wine has been fermented to the point that there is no sugar left. In some cases (ie. german riesling) fermentation will be stopped before the wine is dry and it is then "off-dry" and retains residual sugar. The vast majority of red table wine is dry (though is could be argued that some retain a small amount of residual sugar and the are a touch off dry). Last time I had Yellow Tail and Sutter Home both based a bit sweet to me and I believe they both retain small amounts of sugar (or add some after fermentation) in their wines to create a sweet sensation to appeal to the masses, but are essentially dry when compared to something like German Riesling, Port, or desert wines.

Hope that helps!
I have to answer both of these questions alot. I've found most people are more interested in the sensation than the explanation.

I use tea to describe tannins. Explain it as the feeling you get on your gums from tea. Explain that's why acid is so important to wine to provide a way to moderate or balance that feeling.

Most people actually use 'dry' not in its proper definition of having no residual sugar, but in reference to mouth feel. You can explain how the term should be used, but most people are actually talking about the effects of tannins when they say 'dry'. They are talking about the drying effects of tannin.

So if someone says they like a dry wine, they like big tannins. If they say a wine is 'too dry' which I hear a lot, they mean they like less tannin or better tannin/acid balance. People who know what dry actually means in wine terms rarely use the word to describe a wine, so you're probably pretty safe assuming that when some says they like a dry wine, they are not talking about sugar.
Actually something we are really careful about around harvest when we're out tasting grapes is to spit and not swallow. The seeds will make you feel sick if you chew and swallow too many.

I'm not sure why it is, and when your stomach feels like there's a beach volleyball game going on inside you really don't need to know why, you just need to know not to do it.
quote:
Originally posted by Stefania Wine:
I'm not sure why it is, and when your stomach feels like there's a beach volleyball game going on inside you really don't need to know why, you just need to know not to do it.


those are probably the gopher droppings you're mistaking for grape seeds
So I'm going out on a limb and assuming that the question was legit. That guy Beppi isn't exactly correct BTW, esp regarding white wine.

Anyway, next time someone asks, tell them that there are different types of tannins. For example, gallotannins are hydrolyzable tannins and they're derivatives of 3,4,5-trihydroxyl benzoic acid, also known as gallic acid. That of course, can be esterified to a core polyol, and the galoyl groups can be further esterified or cross-linked to form more complex tannins.

There are other types of tannins of course. Ellagitannins for example, have higher oxidative activities at high pHs and that activity is thought to have an effect on caterpillars that you just don't get with the higher-molecular weight gallotannins.

That usually satisfies most people.
BTW - they're produced by plants, probably as some kind of defense against things like caterpillars and bacteria.

People discovered that they can take bark from a tree like an oak or elm or chestnut, cook it in water, and use that to soak animal skins. That's called "tanning" the hide. The tannins help remove and destroy the protein from scraps of meat and fat and they transform the skin. Mix the tannin water with some human urine and a few other things and you turn skin to rawhide to leather. Today you can go through those same steps in certain clubs.

The tannins are partly what accounts for the bitter and astringent nature of the skins you find in acorns and walnuts and filberts, they're found in skins of grapes and apples, and of course in the bark and stems and seeds of the plants. They're what makes your tongue stick to the roof of your mouth when you drink some red wines. Usually they're not as present in whites.

As you age your wine, they polymerize and fall to the bottom as part of the sediment, although there's some evidence that that's not really what happens either. Because they bind with oxygen, they keep your wine from being ruined by the oxygen, and thus they're preservatives. That's why people want them in red wine that they intend to age. They aren't necessarily the things that make your wine taste bitter - there are lots of other compounds that can do that and tannins are maybe more involved in the sensation than in the taste, but they do have a bitterness too.

People talk about "fine" tannins and "silky" tannins and such and frankly, I have no idea what they're talking about most of the time. Sometimes they do but I think they really are referring to the ripeness of the fruit and perhaps the winemaking.

As suggested, make black tea with a tea bag and then squish the juice out of the bag onto a spoon and taste it. If you're using a tea bag in the first place, the tea is going to taste horrible, but that last bit that you squish out is going to have more undesireable tannins than the part that simply leeched out during steeping. There are also tannins in chocolate, which is why some people don't care for some chocolates, and there are tannins in many plants and fruits that we eat regularly.
It depends on your definition of "better." As for a taste difference, I cannot find a perceivable difference between a recent-vintage screwcap and a recent-vintage cork.

It is better for freshness, as wines with Stelvin closures rarely are corked. It is convenient for those who have trouble using corkscrews or do not have one. It is better for the winemaking process as it is one less natural material to be grown, harvested, and processed.

It is worse for those who fancy the feeling of uncorking a wine, and I have not seen enough research to show how effective these types of closures are for aging wine. It serves to reason that you should be able to age a screwcap wine standing straight up, but whether or not the seal remains airtight over time I do not know, and would not trust. Plus, the wines that are age-worthy usually do not have this closure, so no harm, no foul.
Thanks NewOrleans!

One of our customers fancies himself as a wine buff and told me he "never touches screwtops".

Just wondered if he was right to turn his nose up. Plus i heard that corks can dry up and shrink over time allowing air into the wine bottle, spoiling it.
quote:
Originally posted by Johnhoad:
Thanks NewOrleans!

One of our customers fancies himself as a wine buff and told me he "never touches screwtops".

Just wondered if he was right to turn his nose up. Plus i heard that corks can dry up and shrink over time allowing air into the wine bottle, spoiling it.


Well, the converse can be true as well. Absolutely no oxygen permeability in a closure can cause "reduction" of a wine, which basically means the normal carbohydrate compounds and naturally dissolved oxygen in a wine eventually turns into Hydrogen Sulfide, creating an almost noxious smell of rotten eggs, garlic, struck matches or burnt rubber.

But you're right, cork quality is a major concern, especially for wines stored improperly.
if you're really interested, as well your job seems to depend on it, buy some books on wine. Since you seem to be starting from near 0, try Wine for Dummies, its a great book for starting out, particularly definitions (things like tannins, etc.) discussions of cork/screwcap, myth debunking etc. It also has many great reading references for more indepth and esoteric aspects of wine, wine making, wine history, etc. when you're ready to go beyond the basics.
quote:
which basically means the normal carbohydrate compounds and naturally dissolved oxygen in a wine eventually turns into Hydrogen Sulfide


Which is H2S. No carbohydrates or oxygen included.

Moreover, I'm not sure why people insist that corks allow oxygen transmission. The best corks don't allow air exchange.

Sulfur is reactive. Oxygen more so. If there isn't sufficient sulfur, your wine oxidizes. If there isn't sufficient oxygen, which is a "reductive" environment, the natural and added sulfur reacts with other elements to form sulfur compounds. Some stink.
quote:
Originally posted by Johnhoad:
...

What is the best way to explain "Tannins"? I know its to do with the seeds and skin left in the wine and its what gives it a dry mouth taste, but if a wine is low or high in tannins, what does that really mean to the drinker?

Any advice would be great! Thanks, John.


John,
Rachael, owner and wine maker at AniChe Cellars, writes a regular column on our site called Geek Out with Rachael. She explores topics from closures to food pairing to oxygen damage. This one I think will help answer your first question.
Tannins and astringency

I think you will find the other posts helpful too.
In my opinion wine is wine because of the cork. The sexiness of it, hearing that cork pop.Now, I have had some great screw tops and let me tell you here in Lake County at 112 degrees on top of a hill or on the lake, screw tops are great, quick and easy. But me personally cork is they way to go. There is so much controversy on wine s with corks/screw tops. Our winery at one point tried the screw tops, it lasted 2 vintages and went back to natural cork. In the end it's your personal preference.
quote:
Originally posted by Johnhoad:
Thanks to all who helped me out with those two questions!

Can anyone help me with his one?

Is a screw top better that a cork?

John
quote:
In my opinion wine is wine because of the cork. The sexiness of it, hearing that cork pop

Confused

But if you take it out carefully, which I do when in a restaurant or at my table, you don't hear a pop because you don't jerk the cork out and spray a few drops of wine around. Even when I open bottles in the kitchen, away from everyone, I try not to let it pop.

But what's sexy about a closure that was developed over a hundred years ago? If the wine is a bit older, you have a bit of mustiness, maybe some mold, I don't know - it reminds me a little of the crud in the wheel wells of my car.

Maybe in another hundred years people will be collecting and rhapsodizing over the molded plastic bubble packaging in which Whole Food sells its "organic" lettuce? Unlike cork, that stuff outlives the product it packages! Just my 2 cts.
quote:
Originally posted by GregT:
quote:
In my opinion wine is wine because of the cork. The sexiness of it, hearing that cork pop

Confused

But if you take it out carefully, which I do when in a restaurant or at my table, you don't hear a pop because you don't jerk the cork out and spray a few drops of wine around. Even when I open bottles in the kitchen, away from everyone, I try not to let it pop.



excuse me, but I'm pretty sure the sound of my lafite popping is better then whatever rioja you're trying to quietly slowly remove.

people should only be so honored to be sprayed by 50$ per drop ;-)

My coworker says it best,

"there's nothing as attractive as watching your date think yer a cheap fck because you got a btl with a screw cap"
quote:
Originally posted by g-man:

My coworker says it best,

"there's nothing as attractive as watching your date think yer a cheap fck because you got a btl with a screw cap"


Non-starter for me. I would never date anyone who :

A. Didn't already know about TCA and could identify it and lecture her waiter about it when a dispute arose, or
B. Gave a rats ass as long as it was good and could be finished in the hot tub.
For sure the best thread I've read on these boards in a long time. Wit, intelligence, and some useful information all in the same place. Quite refreshing. I especially enjoyed the part about gallotannins by GregT and the part about spitting & never swallowing by Paul. I give this thread 93 points.
quote:
Originally posted by Stefania Wine:


Non-starter for me. I would never date anyone who :


B. Gave a rats ass as long as it was good and could be finished in the hot tub.


Well said Paul, when it comes down to it, the taste is what matters. Charging a lot of money and wrapping it up pretty does not turn a nag into a derby winner.

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