Wine Descriptors 4

Continuing exploration of wine tasting descriptors.

  • Tannin. Tannins come from grape skins, seeds, oak barrels. Tannin creates puckery, black tea-like sensation in your mouth that some people hate and others love. It is why tannic wines do well with fat-rich red meat (because tannins cut through the fat on your tongue).

All tannins are not the same. Tannins are more characteristic of red wines than whites. When tannins are harsh or drying, they are bad. When they are chewy or rustic, they can be good depending on your palate. When they are silky, integrated, smooth, round, lush, velvety, or supple, they are good, even if the writer cannot really tell you difference between round and lush or smooth and silky.

Dusty tannins are a special, janus-faced category. Generally, dusty refers to tannic density. Dusty tannins may provide a pleasing background to fruit. Or they can be a drying note that steals flavors at the finish. Like many wine descriptors, “dusty” can just be a wine writer throwing adjectives against the wall.

  • Structure: The balance of acidity, alcohol and tannin (in red wines). Wines that lack structure are thin, flabby, or disjointed.
  • Spicy. Various grapes contribute spice—syrah, zinfandel, petite sirah, malbec, grenache are typically cited as being spicy. Oak barrels also impart spice. Common spice flavors are cinnamon, pepper, anise, clove, and mint.
  • Dry. Semi-dry. Sweet. Refers to amount of residual sugar. In dry wine, all the sugar was converted to alcohol; in sweet wine there is residual sugar. Semi-dry falls in between.

Tasting notes:

  • Simi Sonoma County Chardonnay 2012. Creamy mouth, lithe, subtle, simple sipper; green apple, pear, citrus; nice acidity, discrete oak. $12
  • Mayu Carménère-Syrah 2012: Fresh, juicy, fruit-driven; ripe blackberry, plum, spice, oak hint, pepper; soft tannin; elegant easy drinker. $17
  • Louis M. Martini Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2011. Focused blueberry, cherry; firm tannin, oak, acidity; exotic, excellent, enjoy. $35
  • Vinterra Spring Mountain Napa Cabernet Sauvignon 2010. Bold, brooding dark fruit, cassis, vanilla; smoke & oak, surprisingly tame tannin. $25

Last round: “Health is what my friends are always drinking to before they fall down.” —Phyllis Diller