How to Deal with Highly Tannic Wines

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Last time we learned that some red wines can make your mouth feel dry due to the natural tannin in the wine that comes from the grape’s skin, seeds and stems. But, if you don’t care for highly tannic wines, there are some things you can do.

The tannins in a red wine will ‘soften’ with age. A young wine may be highly tannic but after several years of aging, the tannins will naturally become less harsh. So, aging is one option.

But, a lot of people don’t buy wines to stick away. They want to drink them now. So, there are other options if you pull the cork and realize the wine is a bit too tannic.

One option is to expose the wine to air. And, just pulling the cork and letting the opened bottle sit for a while isn’t sufficient. You’ll need to decant the wine. And you don’t need to have a fancy crystal decanter to do this. Really, any vessel will work. But, the key is to allow the wine to get as much exposure to air as possible. That’s why decanters, such as the one shown in the image, are large and have wide bottoms. Once an entire bottle of wine is poured into this type of decanter, it only fills the base. This gives the wine a large surface area that is exposed to air. For really tannic wines, they may need one to two hours in the decanter before they begin to soften. But remember, a decanter won’t turn a bad wine into a good one. It will just take a good wine and soften it up a bit.

Another method of helping soften harsh tannins is by aerating the wine. And this starts by just pouring the wine from the bottle to a decanter. Or, there are plenty of aerators that can be purchased that immediately mix air with the wine as it is poured whether directly into the wine glass or into a decanter.

Finally, if you are dealing with a highly tannic wine, pairing it with fatty or creamy foods will really help. That’s why wine and cheese work so well together. Just as pairing a nice steak is a natural with red wine.

So, don’t let that dry-mouth, astringent sensation scare you away from red wines. They can be some of the best there are. Cheers!

When to Not Decant a Wine

As discussed last time, decanting a wine can make a real difference. Decanting allows for some quick evaporation and exposes the wine to oxygen. Both improve the flavor of the wine, usually in just a few minutes or up to a couple of hours.

But I recently opened a bottle of red wine, poured a small taste in a big wine glass, gave it a few swirls and tasted it. I then went ahead and began serving it right out of the bottle.  The questing came up "Why aren't you decanting that wine?"  

Well, upon my first taste of the wine, I immediately knew the wine didn't need to go into a decanter.  It was velvety smooth, had soft fruit flavors and a wonderful finish. There were no strong odors, no sharp flavors and no bitterness right out of the bottle. It was as good or better than many wines are after spending time in a decanter.  

Going back a couple of weeks, the topic here was swirling wine in a glass. Some wines can immediately be 'decanted' by just pouring them into a glass and giving it a few swirls.  In the case of my recently opened bottle, all it needed was that minute in the glass.

I experienced another example of not decanting during a recent visit to a tasting room. While enjoying tasting some great red wines, the server suggested that I might like to try another of their wines that was not on the standard tasting list. She searched around, found the bottle, opened it and pour a small amount in a couple of glasses, tasting one herself. She then set the two glasses aside and had me continue trying a couple more of their 'standard' wines. In the meantime, she gave the other glasses of 'special' wine a few more big swirls and retried her glass. With a nod of her head, she pronounced that it was ready.  Upon serving it to me, she explained that right out of the bottle, it had a bit of sharpness that she claimed went away with just a couple of minutes in the glass.

Another reason for not decanting is when you are dealing with older bottles of wines.  Wines that are 15 or more years old probably don't need decanting.  These wines, if they were properly stored, will have already mellowed during the time spent in the bottle. Exposure to too much air can actually make an older, delicate wine go 'flat' or 'flabby,' loosing its delicate flavors.

So, would my recent bottle of wine gotten better had I decanted it for thirty minutes to an hour?  Hmm?  I guess I'll never know.  But, I do know that it was amazing right from the bottle.  The bottom line is that you shouldn't just automatically send all wines to the decanter.  Pour yourself a quick taste from the bottle and then decide if it's already great, or if it could use a bit of time mellowing in a decanter.  Cheers!

Why Decant Wine?

Seeing a wine steward decanting a bottle of wine in a restaurant can look 'showy' or a bit pretentious.  And a wine decanter can be a beautiful thing to display, with or without wine in it. So why decant a wine?

The simple answer is that decanting a wine allows it to 'breath' much like the previous discussion on swirling a wine glass.  By pouring a bottle of wine into a decanter (or any glass vessel), the wine gets an opportunity to quickly release any volatile compounds that have built up in the bottle and  get exposed to air. And this really can make a difference in wine.

If you haven't tried decanting its well worth it.  Immediately after opening a bottle of wine (particularly a red wine), pour yourself a small taste in a glass so that you experience the wine right out of the bottle.  And most good wines will be fine right out of the bottle. But then give the wine in the decanter thirty minutes to an hour before going back and trying it again.  Most often, you will find that the wine has smoothed out and is a bit softer, not quite so sharp as that initial taste from the bottle. And, you are more likely to detect some of the subtile flavors in the wine.

Decanting is particularly effective with young red wines. Exposure to air in a decanter for one to two hours can make a significant improvement. But, with an older bottle, decanting my not be necessary at all, and it can even degrade some of the delicate nuances of a fine wine. 

Decanting was especially effective after recently opening a rather young bottle of red wine.  After the first taste right out of the bottle, I immediately said 'no' this isn't a very good bottle of wine.  So, I poured it in a decanter and left it for a couple of hours.  Upon returning to the almost forgotten decanter, I poured another small glass and noticed a significant improvement. Gone was the sharp bitter and highly tannic (dry) taste.  The wine had calmed down, smoothed out and was then quite enjoyable with a meal.

Another item to consider along with a wine decanter is a small wire-mesh filter designed specifically to be used for wine. These can be very effective in removing any sediment that might have remained with the wine in the bottle. Just pour the bottle of wine through the filter as you decant it.

One of my favorite lines about wine also applies to decanting.  It's said that a wine cellar is not a wine hospital; it won't make a bad wine better.  So too, decanting will not magically turn a bad bottle of wine into a good one.  But, you may be surprized how decanting can make a nice wine even better.

So, if you don't have a fancy wine decanter, don't worry. Any wide glass vessel that will give the wine exposure to air will work. Just don't choose a plastic or metal vessel that can impart other flavors into the wine.  And, don't decant too long.  A wine can go flat and loose much of its flavors if left exposed to air for too long.  Just try a sip right out of the bottle to establish a starting point, then decant and periodically re-visit it.  You should notice an improvement. Cheers! 

Why Do People Swirl Their Wine Glass?

Ever wonder why people swirl their glass of wine?  Is this just something that wine snobs do? Or is it a kind of nervous habit?  Are they doing it so they can examine the 'legs' of the wine?  Or, are they doing it just to look cool? What's the point?

Well, there are two basic reasons to swirl a glass of wine; aeration and aromas.

First, aeration.  This is simply adding air to the wine.  This seem odd at first. Why does wine need air? After all, it's been intentionally stored in an air-tight bottle for some time. Well, with most red wines (typically the younger wines), adding air helps improve the flavor of the wine. Some of the improvement is due to the fact that evaporation occurs when you swirl which releases some of the stronger, less appealing compounds in the wine. But, overall, swirling allows the wine to get exposure to air which helps improve the flavor.  The act of swirling the wine in the glass allows the wine to coat the inside of the glass, giving the wine more surface area and hence, more exposure to air.

Second, while you are swirling the wine and coating the inside of the glass, you are filling your glass with the wine's aromas - all those wonderful scents associated with the particular wine.  This allows you to sniff the wine and to fully enjoy the wine experience on your tongue and in your nose.  Both of which are very important to enjoying any flavorful food or drink.

But you don't want to swirl all wines.  Sparkling wines (or 'Champagne') should not be swirled. This will quickly release all those wonderful bubbles and lead to a less-sparkling experience.  

As to swirling a glass of wine to examine its legs (those tear drops that slide down the inside of a wine glass), it may be fun to watch, but it really doesn't tell you anything about the quality of the wine, just that it has alcohol in it.

So, go ahead and carefully swirl your wine.  Yes, it may look cool, but it is actually helping the wine and improving your experience of the wine.  Cheers!