Acid and tannin and body, oh my!
Question from Nathan: When someone starts telling me that the wine is full bodied with high tannins and low acid what on earth are they talking about?
In a nut shell – They’re probably talking about a Cabernet Sauvignon or a Shiraz. Both wines are generally full bodied with high tannins and low acid. How do you tell? Read on, it’s actually pretty simple.
In a clam shell – ‘Winos’ have a language of their own and assume that normal people who like wine can understand their crazy talk. Little do they know, to the average punter it’s boring and intimidating and gives their beloved drink a bad name. I’ll translate into plain English and once you’ve got the basics you too will be able to talk a little wine wank. But before I get going, let me start by saying that everyone has different sniffers and taste buds so what tastes like strawberries to one person might taste like plums to another (I’ve been in a lecture where one guy could smell mountain bike tyres. I, my friend, could not). It’s subjective so don’t be put off if you disagree with a ‘winos’ review. At the end of the day you’re the one drinking it so if they hate it but you love it then drink it up I say.
So let’s get started. ‘Wino’ use the words Acidity, Sweetness, Tannin, Body and Length. WTF!?!
Acidity – It’ll make your mouth drool and if it doesn’t it has low acid. Try sucking on a lemon. They have very very high acid! The word acidic will be used often to describe white wine because the level of acid in white wine is generally pretty higher. Acid is what makes the wine taste refreshing and vibrant. Also if the wine is from a cool climate it generally will have higher levels of acid than those from hot climates.
What wines have high acid? Typically, in white wines Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc have high acid (I’m sticking to the most common Australian wines here). Pinot Noir and Sangiovese are red wines with high acid.
Tannin – Tannin is that drying feeling you get in your mouth after a swig of red. It’s the opposite feeling to acid – if your mouth is cotton-dry it’s tannic. Tannins are found in grape skins and the longer the grape skins are kept in contact with the wine when it’s being made the more tannic the wine. White wine receives very little, if any, contact with the skins and that’s why white wines don’t have that drying feeling.
What wines have high tannins? Typically Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz have high tannins. Take a swig of a Shiraz, followed by a swig of Pinot Noir and you’ll be able to taste the difference. With each mouthful of the Shiraz you should feel like you’re sucking on a teabag.
Sweetness – Well this one is a no brainer. I think we all know when we taste a sweet wine. Sweetness is an indication of how much sugar is in the wine. Typically all reds and most white wines are dry. If you’ve ever heard the term off-dry it means the wine is slightly sweet.
What wines are sweet? Typically dessert wines and some Rieslings are sweet (but most Rieslings are bone dry).
Body – It is the sense of richness and thickness of the wine. You know how a Shiraz feels thicker than a Sauvignon Blanc? That’s because Shiraz is full bodied while Sauvignon Blanc is light bodied. Body comes from the alcohol, tannin, sugar and flavours in the wine. Generally if your wine is high in alcohol it’s going to be full bodied (or thick). A wine less than 11% alcohol will be light bodied while a wine with more than 13.5% alcohol will be full bodied. Oh and if the grape is grown in a hot climate it will, most likely, be full bodied. But there are always exceptions! A Pinot Noir can be high in alcohol but light in body and that’s because it has low tannins. It’s a bloomin’ complicated equation and you don’t need to know how to figure it out. Just know that if the wine feels thick it’s full bodied.
What wines are full bodied? Typically Shiraz, Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are full bodied.
Length (or finish) – It’s how long the flavours linger in your mouth for. Short finish wines are under five seconds and if you can still taste the flavour after one minute it’s long.
What wines have a long finish? The longer the finish the better the quality. So super duper wines will have a long finish while cheap wines will have a short finish.
Oh my goodness I’m stuffed! That’s turned out to be one very long blog post. Hope you are still reading this and got to the end. Yahoooo! You deserve a glass of wine. I’ve just polished off a delicious glass of Chablis.