|Grapes of Slovenian Red Wine Variety (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
Tannins give red wine flavor structure. A wine is described as tannic when it makes the mouth pucker and has a bitter aftertaste. Wines which are younger are much more tannic, but as the wine ages, the tannins dissipate and the wine tastes less bitter.
Red wines are often characterized as being either full-bodied or light-bodied. Light-bodied wines contain less tannin and have less presence in the mouth. That is, the wine feels lighter on the tongue, more similar to the weight of water. Full-bodied wines contain more tannin and feel heavier on the tongue, similar to the weight of milk on the opposite end of the spectrum.
Sweet vs. Dry
Red wine can also be considered sweet or dry, dry being the opposite of sweet. A wine may be made sweet or dry during the fermentation process. Sugars are converted into alcohol during the process, so dry wines are left to ferment longer so that most of the sugar is converted to alcohol, making it taste less sweet. The presence of tannins and higher acidity are also perceived by the palette as dry. So now when you are out wine tasting, you will be able to perceive the sweetness/dryness and body of your wine!
Common Flavor Descriptors
Other flavor descriptions typical of red wines are spicy, earthy, herbal and fruity. Hints of cherry, strawberry and blackberry can often be detected in the fruitiness of the wine. There are many flavors that can be picked out in wine as your palette becomes more flexible and sensitive. The specific types of wine each have distinctive flavor characteristics that you can practice detecting as we explore the various types.
A Note on Titles
As I started to research the various types of red wine, the titles began to confuse me. It seems that European wines are often named after the region in which they are produced, while U.S. wines are named by grape varietal. When I walk into the grocery store I typically see Chardonnay and Merlot, which are grape varietals. In the U.S., we name our wine specifically by varietal. Bordeaux, on the other hand is a European wine, and the name lets the buyer know that it was made in France. Specific wine varietals are used to make the Bordeaux, but the wine is not named by these varietals, as it would be in the U.S. I’m still a bit lost on this concept, and hopefully as we progress, things will become a bit clearer. If any of you have anything to add, please feel free!
Below is a list of the types of red wine that I will be discussing as the series progresses. Join me next time for a discussion about Barbera wines, made from an Italian grape variety.
Shiraz and Syrah