Wine Word of the Week: “Tannins”

Winter is prime “red wine” season and the topic of tannins is a hot one this time of year. For that reason, it’s our official Wine Word of the Week. But if you think you don’t know what “tannins” are, chances are good that if you’re reading this, you’ve encountered them before:

  • Have you ever taken a sip of red wine and felt a drying sensation in your mouth?
  • Have you ever woken up with a throbbing headache after a night of drinking red wine?
  • Have you ever enjoyed an aged red wine that was deliciously smooth and elegant?

If you’ve experienced any of the above, then you’ve experienced tannins, my wine loving friends! But just what the heck ARE they?


Tannins are naturally occurring compounds which play an important role in a wine’s structure and directly affect its color, texture and aging ability. They are found in a host of plant species as well, and their astringent, bitter taste is intended to discourage predators and insects from consuming them. Similarly, tannins in wine are generally perceived as a drying, leathery sensation which is considered desirable by many wine lovers. This astringency acts as a preservative for wine, allowing it to age slowly with grace and not turn to vinegar.

Depending on the type and age of a wine, its tannins can be described as velvety, firm, ripe, chewy, tight, dusty or round. In older wines, the tannins often precipitate out of solution to some degree and collect at the bottom of the wine bottle in the form of harmless sediment.


Wines acquire tannins through contact with grape skins, seeds and stems as well as charred oak barrels the wine is aged in. For that reason, they are much more prevalent in red wine which remains in contact with its skins in order to obtain its color and is usually aged in oak barrels. Also, the deeper the color of the red wine, the more tannins it contains, so a Cabernet Sauvignon will most likely have more tannins than a Pinot Noir.

As far as food and wine pairing goes, protein actually mitigates tannins. Therefore, foods that are high in protein, like a juicy New York Strip Steak, pair remarkably well with high tannin wines like Cabernet Sauvignon. In addition to Cabernet Sauvignon, the three most tannic grape varieties are Nebbiolo, Syrah and Tannat.


While some studies have shown tannins have beneficial effects on cardiovascular health, some believe it is the chemical compound that wreaks havoc on migraine sufferers. So, if you experience migraine headaches after drinking red wine, it’s NOT the sulfites, my friend! White wine has approximately twice the sulfites as red wine and true sulfite allergies generally manifest as breathing issues, not headaches. So if you’ve got a tendency to get migraines, you may want to steer clear of high tannin red wines and opt for those with lower levels and see if it reduces their frequency and/or duration (for more information on this, please click here).

I hope you enjoyed our latest Wine Word of the Week and if you have any “wine words” you’d like to learn more about, please feel free to share them in the Comments section below. To see previous installments of this segment, please click here and, as always, thanks for reading!


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Wine Word of the Week: Decanting

We’ve all been at a nice restaurant and seen a waiter or Sommelier trot past us with an elaborate, glass contraption to decant an expensive bottle of wine for a patron. But is the process of decanting all show or does it actually DO something to enhance our enjoyment of wine?

The process of decanting dates back to ancient Rome when wine was fermented in large containers called amphorae. Decanters were used to siphon wine out of amphorae to bring to the table for serving. Since an amphora generally contained a fair amount of sediment at the bottom, the decanting vessel also served to separate the wine from the sediment which, although it poses no health risk, is not very desirable to drink.


An ancient terra cotta wine decanter

Over the years, decanters have been made of various materials including silver, bronze, gold and terra cotta earthenware. During the Renaissance, the Venetians introduced the style of decanter we are most familiar with today. It is typically made of glass and features a thin neck which expands into a broader base which maximizes the wine’s oxygen exposure.


Decanters come in a variety of shapes & sizes

Today, a decanter serves two primary purposes: (1) to separate older wines, usually red wines or Port, from any sediment at the bottom of a bottle which occurs naturally as wines age, and (2) to aerate younger wines, both white and red, which tames their tannin and helps them “open up,” and become more expressive and approachable.

While most tannic, young red wines such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Nebbiolo, Sangiovese, Malbec, and Merlot will benefit from decanting, older wines can be more fragile. In fact, it’s a good idea to taste an older wine (10-15+ years old) before making the decision to decant. If you like the way it tastes right out of the bottle, you may want to avoid the decanting process altogether. If the wine is very “closed” or unexpressive and/or contains a significant amount of sediment, then you will probably want to proceed with decanting it.


The Vinturi Wine Aerator is a perfect for nights you only want a glass or two!

The process of decanting is quite easy to perform and you don’t need a fancy decanter to do it – a big glass vase or water pitcher will work just fine! Also, if you only plan on enjoying a glass or two, the Vinturi Wine Aerator is also great choice at a great price. If you would like to go ahead and decant a bottle yourself, just follow the steps below but be sure to take note, decanting a young bottle is different from decanting an older bottle:

1.) If the wine(s) you want to decant are stored on their side in a cellar or wine fridge, be sure to stand the bottle(s) upright for 24-48 hours prior to decanting. This allows the sediment suspended in the liquid to settle to the bottle of the bottle.

2.) Select the decanter (or glass vase or pitcher!) you’d like to use and make sure it is properly cleaned and dried. If you’re thinking of investing in a decanter, we really like the Riedel Duck Decanter. We’ve had ours for over 12 years and it does a fabulous job and is easy to clean too.


Riedel’s Duck Decanter – one of our favorites!

3.) Remove the capsule and cork from the bottle of wine and wipe any dust or schmutz from the neck and top of the bottle.

4.) If you’re decanting a young bottle of wine (under 5 yrs), invert the opened bottle of wine over the decanting vessel and let it flow freely into the decanter. The more “sloshy” this process is, the better (without spilling the wine of course). Young wines really benefit from that infusion of oxygen! As for timing, you can decant young tannic wines up to 2-3 hours before serving, however, if you’d like to experience more of the wine’s natural evolution in the glass (as I like to do) you can decant it just before serving.

5.) If you’re decanting an older bottle of wine (10+ yrs), place a candle or the light from your iPhone under the neck of the bottle as you slowly and steadily pour the wine in one continuous stream from the bottle into the decanter. Once you begin to see sediment approach or enter the neck of the bottle – slow your flow or stop pouring altogether depending on how much there is. You don’t want any sediment getting into your freshly decanted wine!

6.) Once you’ve poured the wine into the decanter, discard the bottle and any dredges at the bottom and enjoy your decanted wine!


You can even use a Vinturi aerator WITH a decanter!

Other twists on decanting:

– For especially youthful, tannic red wines you can “double-decant” them by pouring the wine into a decanter and then right back into the bottle – double the decanting, double the fun!

– If you’re feeling adventurous, you can also “hyperdecant” your wine (young red wines ONLY!) utilizing a technique introduced in the revolutionary Modernist Cuisine cookbooks. Simply empty the bottle of the wine into a blender and blitz for 30-60 seconds. Wait a minute or two for the foam to subside and enjoy!

– In order to expedite decanting, you can combine a Vinturi Wine Aerator with a decanter and pour the wine through the device into the glass decanter in order to speed things up.

I hope you enjoyed our latest Wine Word of the Week and if you have any “wine words” you’d like to learn more about, please feel free to share them in the Comments section below. To see previous installments of this segment, please click here and, as always, thanks for reading!



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Wine Word(s) of the Week: “Old World” & “New World”

Whether you’re eager to learn more about wine or are just a casual imbiber, sooner or later you’re going to encounter our latest Wine Word(s) of the Week: “Old World” & “New World.” Knowing both the geographic meaning of these terms as well as the stylistic differences they imply will help you develop your own personal vinous tastes and discover wines that are most likely to please your palate.

Geographically speaking, the term Old World refers to the countries of Europe where winemaking essentially originated. Countries such as France, Italy, Spain, Germany and Portugal, among others, that’ve been making wine for hundreds of years fall squarely under the Old World umbrella. New World wine regions, on the other hand, are anything outside Europe. Fine winemaking in these regions only developed after the introduction of traditional Old World techniques and Vitis vinifera grape varieties (to learn more, click here). Countries including the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Argentina, South Africa and, more recently, China are all considered New World wine regions.


Large wine barrels or “botti” are primarily used in the Old World wine region of Tuscany

In addition to the geographic distinction, the terms Old World and New World also refer to the style of wine. Old World wines are considered more restrained and understated in terms of aroma, flavor, body and alcohol content relative to New World wines. This is partly because Old World wine regions have cooler climates which prevent the grapes from getting as ripe as they do in the New World. Riper grapes have more sugar which results in higher alcohol levels and fuller-bodied finished wines. Aromas and flavors of fruit are also more intense in wine made from riper fruit. So while Old World wines are generally more earthy with reserved aromas and flavors, New World wines are more fruit forward with more intense aromas and flavors.

It is important to note that both styles of wine can be balanced and delicious and neither Old World nor New World wines are “better” than the other despite what you might hear from some wine snobs out there. It’s important to do your own vinous research and taste as many wines as you can (how’s THAT for homework?) and let your own palate be your guide.

Using the Wine Word(s) in a sentence:
“I prefer the earthiness of Old Word wines over the fruitiness of New World wines.”
“Although this wine is from Tuscany, it’s made in a more New World style.”
“Even though the Malbec grape is from Bordeaux, it now thrives mostly in New World wine regions such as Argentina.”

I hope you enjoyed our latest Wine Word(s) of the Week and if you have any “wine words” you’d like to learn more about, please feel free to tell me in the Comments section below. To see previous Wine Words of the Week, please click here and, as always, thanks for reading!



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Wine Word of the Week: “Phylloxera”

Our latest Wine Word of the Week is phylloxera, a big word that refers to a tiny, sap-sucking root louse that loves to feast on the roots of vitis vinifera grapevines. By feeding on the grapevine however, the flow of nutrients to the plant is cut off, causing it to eventually die. Since the 1800’s, phylloxera’s predilection for these “vinifera” vines, which produce such well known wines as Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, has had a devastating impact on the history of the world’s fine wine industry.

Phylloxera was introduced to the vineyards of Europe in the mid 1800’s when two English botanists unknowingly brought back infected vine cuttings from America. Since the pesky louse originated in America, indigenous grapevines were naturally resistant. However, Europe’s vinifera vines had no natural protection and an epidemic quickly took hold. The first signs of infestation manifested in France’s Southern Rhone in 1863. The louse subsequently spread like wildfire and, by the late 1800’s, almost 90% of Europe’s vineyards and it’s grape growing industry had effectively been destroyed.


Ironically, the source of the problem also turned out to be its salvation. After experimenting with a few different methods, it turned out that grafting vinifera vines onto naturally resistant, American rootstocks was the best way to combat the scourge of phylloxera. Thankfully, the resistant rootstocks offered protection without affecting the taste or development of the vinifera grapes as other experimental methods had. Phylloxera also had a significant impact on the vineyards of California where it also became important to graft vines onto the most resistant rootstocks available. While the debate continues as to which rootstocks are most ideal, the practice of grafting continues to this day.

While phylloxera has found its way into most wine regions of the world, a few have managed to remain untouched. These include Chile, due to its geographic isolation; the island of Santorini in Greece because of its sandy, ashy soils which the phylloxera louse hates; and most of the continent of Australia. Needless to say, these regions continue to be vigilant about preventing this pest from infesting their grapevines.

I hope you enjoyed our latest Wine Word of the Week! To see previous installments, please click here. If there’s a wine word you’d like to learn more about, please leave it in the comment section below!


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Wine Word of the Week: “Saignée”

With rosé season upon us, I thought it appropriate to feature the word saignée as our latest Wine Word of the Week. This French term, which literally means “to bleed,” refers to bleeding off juice during the early stages of red wine fermentation. This is done primarily for two reasons: (1) to concentrate the aromas and flavors of the finished... Read More

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Wine Word of the Week: “Fortified Wine”

With the chill of Winter finally settling in, there’s no time like the present to embrace our latest Wine Word of the Week: Fortified Wine. These delightful wines are generally hearty, rich in flavor and sure to warm you up from the inside out! Introduced in the 17th century, fortified wines are wines to which distilled spirits have been added, usually a neutral grape... Read More

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Wine Word of the Week: “Dosage”

As we kick off December, or Champagne month as I like to call it, I thought it only appropriate to go with a fabulous, sparkling wine-related Wine Word of the Week like dosage! Who knows, during this time of year it just might come up in casual, wine-related conversation and THEN who will look like the wine expert? Sparkling wines like Champagne which are made using the... Read More

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