#15: Dispelling wine myths | A GLASS OF RED, BUT NOTHING TOO TANNIC DEAR 😷
Unsure about how to order the best red wine? You're not alone. Acidity, tannin and the flavour profile tend to really confuse what you like, and what you really don't.
This week’s posts have been one of my favourite to put together, but one of the more complicated to distill. After working on the myths behind what dry means in a white wine, let’s move onto red wine which is a whole other one to cover.
Red wines, like white are poorly understood. Anecdotally, I always find that people aren’t quite as traumatised from a red they didn’t like rather than a red. My theory is that it’s harder to plough on with a red that’s really giving you the ick. You can dilute it with Coke to make it bearable, but such a wasted opportunity for enjoying something that you’d actually love to gulp down.
So, what are tannins?
Tannins are generally the culprit that people will automatically blame as a characteristic that they don’t like in a red wine. And there’s some truth to it.
Tannins are the antioxidant compounds that you find in a grape skin, that transfer over to a red or orange wine. As these wines are made with some level of the skins involved in converting the grape juice to sugar, the tannins come along for the ride. You know when a wine is tannic as it will lead to a dryness in your gums. This can be lovely for some, horrendous for others - but generally goes well when you’re having a big flavour of food, such as a steak.
Tannins can be minimal in a red wine, or can be full whack depending on the grape used, and how the wine has been made. If it’s a younger wine, they’re generally going to be more prominent or on show, while they start to dull if the wine has been matured in oak or with time in the bottle.
Tannins are bitter, and don’t always fly within wines depending on your preferences. BUT they come in different styles and change over time, where I challenge you to open up your mind if you’ve been shunning them for a while. They can be smooth and while strong, not the first thing that you notice when you take a sip - or grippy if they’re super sharp. The theory goes over my head a little here, but what I have realised is that my pickiness for red wines ISN’T to do with tannins.
What else is counting?
Oh so much, BUT I’m going to make it simple - as I’ve deduced a rough formula to work out what else to factor in if you’re trying out some new red wines.
Up first, my very non specific “branchy” term. This is where the wine has a lot more herbal notes, compared to something a little fruitier. I always thought that this was more that the wine was oaky which would put me off, but it’s actually that herbal or leafy flavour that comes up in some red wines that make me feel a little nauseous. A herbal or branchy (if you’ll delight me) wine generally has some flavours of eucalyptus, tobacco, blackcurrant leaf, tomato leaf or mint in some cases. This might seem a bit unusual to hear about, but honestly - give your whine a whiff next time it’s in the glass. If it’s been well made, you should be able to get some different fruits, spices and herbs in the glass. If it’s a more cheap n’ nasty - you might get a feint scent of some generic fruit in there… somewhere.
Then there’s acidity. I hope you’ve retained a little from the dry white wine lesson, as we’re back here again! All wines have a certain level of acidity, and the same goes for reds. Again, you’re looking for how much your mouth is drooling after taking a glug rather than waiting to see how much antacid you need to neck later on. Wines that are generally high in acidity are Pinot Noirs which are lighter on the tannins, but there’s also the more punchy, gum-hoovery blends such as Nebbiolo or Cabernet Sauvignon which are just pretty high on, well, everything.
I’m still no wiser on what I’m after.
Hence I have put together some handy infographics! Reds are a little trickier to tack down, so I’ve tried to give you a bit of theory before we jump into practice. Or at least, I hope they are. I’ve made three very subjective scales that will help you to actually work out what you like, with the same grape varieties on each side to the scales. I’m, hoping you’ll get an idea of what you want to try next, and what you really want to dodge.
For me, Cabernet Franc is something that can jump in a very deep sea as I’ve tried a lot, tried to get on the trend… and it’s just really not for me. I know that is branchy AF, and linking that to Cabernet Sauvignon and Carmenere - these really aren’t my wines, so I know to steer clear. These are all pretty tannic, but I know that a good Malbec and Nebbiolo go down a treat. So with acidity and tannins, I’m a little more open minded.
Others will be different, and like anything with palates - there is a huge amount down to subjectivity. Not sure what you like still? Pop some thoughts in the comments and I’ll try guide you from there, or else jot down a few names and run to your nearest wine bar or offy to grab a few samples with pals. I’d love to see how this works for peeps.
And any recommendations if I’m totally lost and existential on what I like now?
I’ve popped together a few wines that might help you to work out what might be more of a bit of you, for under 15 quid. And a little bit funky.
If you like the branchy sound of things, go for a Carmenere. Chilean wine is a bit of a steal when it’s done well as the market is still growing, and one that’s a few years old should have some tobacco and blackcurrant leaf coming through on the palette as well. Here’s one to try from the Wine Society.
In between, or not that fussed about herbs? North Italian reds are generally where you should go here, as some of the punchiest have a little bit of a floral note, or some dried herbs. A Chianti Classico will give you a good overview here. Naked Wines to the rescue here!
Want to test how much you like fruity and tannins together? I’d go for a Priorat from Spain, or a Minervois from the South of France. These are fairly close together in terms of geography (a hundred kilometres mind, but you get the gist) and typically these have a bit of Carignan in them. Carignan is a full on, tannic wine but with a splash of Syrah and Grenache in the mix, this makes for a punchy but warm wine. Majestic have a good selection, a Corbieres is also likely up your alley.
Want to run from the hills on tannins? A Pinot Noir is generally going to be the best option here. Romanian or New Zealand Pinot Noirs in particular have been punching out some fabulous fruity, easy-drinking reds compared to French or American ones which can be a little bit more on oak and ageing, so should be a good call to run to here. Slurp have a killer deal one that I may just grab myself.
Want to know my new find? Aglianico. It’s a full bodied, fruity and tannic red wine that’s coined as the Barolo of the South of Italy. Boy, does it pack a punch - but is smooth and so much cheaper than a Barolo or Barbaresco which are generally for a special occasion! Taurasi or Aglianico del Vulture are the best regions to look out for these ones. Svinando have a few bargains here.
Pop in any questions or thoughts you have on finding the right red wine below ⬇️
Also - now that I’ve discovered there is a polling option on Substack, I’d love a little bit of quick feedback that will help me make sure the next few weeks have been planned out to what you’d like to see best!