David’s article as printed in the Duluth News Tribune on 8/20/2014:
When you take a sip of red wine and your mouth feels puckery and dry that isn’t because the wine is absent of sweetness. It’s because the wine is high in tannins, which are the mystery ingredient in wine. These make food taste better and help the food make the wine feel smooth.
Your mouth is full of proteins. These proteins are in your saliva, and they lubricate your mouth. When you take a sip of red wine, the tannins attach to the proteins in your mouth. This results in a feeling that is most often thought of as dryness, but it actually is your tongue — absent from lubrication — bashing about in your mouth.
No one wants an unlubricated tongue, it just isn’t pleasant. The solution, or rather a wine high in tannins, is to pair it with a food that is high in fat and protein. Something like cheese, or meat. When you eat these foods, your mouth will be coated in fats and proteins. You might even think your mouth is sticky with food.
Think of red wine and its tannins as a mouth-cleaner or a mouth refresher because when you take a drink of wine after eating the protein-rich, fatty food, the tannins attach to that rather than your saliva. This has the effect of refreshing the mouth, making it feel clean and ready for the next bite.
This alone would be enough reason for me to pair tannic red wine with my T-bone steak. Making the steak taste great every time? I’m sold. And there’s more. Since the proteins and fats are removing the tannins from the wine, you don’t notice them, or rather you don’t notice that drying feeling in your mouth. This has the effect of making the wine taste smooth and velvety. Everyone likes that.
See how simple that was? We took a wine that left our mouth dry and rough and frankly not good, and turned it into a mouth that was refreshed, smooth and velvety by simply introducing proteins and fats. The lesson here is that if you want to drink big bold red wines then you need to eat with them too. This will improve the wine and your meal.
Here are four tannic reds to try. Remember to pair them with protein-rich, fatty foods. Try these with dinner or lunch, and keep some simple notes about how they taste alone and with food. This will help you form a preference.
Cabernet Sauvignon: Cab is king and California, specifically the counties of Napa and Sonoma, make very fruit-forward, easy drinking Cabernet Sauvignon blends. If it says Cabernet Sauvignon on the bottle, it’ll be at least 75 percent Cab with the remaining 25 percent a blend of other grapes.
Merlot: If Cab is king, Merlot is queen. These wines are often deeper in color and have smoother tannins. That 25 percent in the Cab bottle is often Merlot. Hunt out your favorite from either California, Washington, Chile or France.
Syrah: Want some spice in your life? The easiest drinking Syrahs are blended with Grenache and Mourvèdre. This is a southern French idea that they probably stole from the Spanish. Syrah has mild tannins and can taste and bite a bit like black pepper. French Northern Rhone wines are 100 percent Syrah while Southern Rhone wines are blends. California makes good single variety examples, and Australia is famous for their Syrahs, which they call Shiraz. Shiraz is a Syrah from Australia. Why is it called Shiraz? Ask Australia. They have funny nicknames for a lot of things.
Rioja: This is a region in Spain that makes a wonderful tannic red from a grape called Tempranillo. They make it in three different styles which are labeled: Crianza (aged 2 years), Reserva (aged 3 years) and Grand Reserva (aged 5 years).
David Devere is a licensed wine educator in Minnesota. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.