By Justin Taylor

The depth of descriptions in wines can be slightly overwhelming, not to mention every person describes their perceptions differently. However, the simple building blocks of a great glass of wine remain the same from a chemical perspective. One of these compounds is the family of plant materials called tannins. Found in almost all plants, tannins exist in the stems, skin, and mainly seeds in grapes. The source ratio for what ends up in the final wine is 80/20 seeds to skin as far as each individual berry is concerned. How we get that into the wine, is quite another story.

The vinification or fermentation process of red wine is designed to aid in the extraction of color and flavor compounds held in the solids of each berry. As part of this process, tannins are extracted from the seeds and skins through a basic water soluble dilution. Once in suspension, the role of tannins can be critical to the color retention and aging potential of wine.

As I write this article, Burntshirt is currently fermenting several different varietals of red grapes for our 2016 wines. Our approach to this part of production is to extract enough tannin for the wine to have body and astringency, but not to develop bitterness in the wine. These three components are very well known attributes of tannins and it is the task of the winemaker to know how to balance work in the cellar for proper extraction.

Now to understand the perception once the wine is in your glass, you can quickly diagnose tannin content after just a few sips. Tannins naturally want to bind to proteins when they are present. When this occurs through protein in your saliva, you perceive a firm, textured, almost mouth drying presence between your tongue and the roof of your mouth. This astringency, as it is generally described, helps create the wonderful structure on which red wine is so well known for.

The answer to last month’s question is 500mL, or 2/3 of a traditional wine bottle. These are the top end, and what you will mainly find would be375mL cans, which comes out to the usual volume in a glass of wine.

Wine and vine trivia for next issue: What grape varietal has a name closely synonymous with tannins, and is shown to originate in the Madiran region of Southwest France?

Justin Taylor is Assistant Winemaker at Burntshirt Vineyards, Hendersonville, NC.