JOHN ROZENTALS returns from Mudgee thinking about full-bodied dry reds and urges readers to go with the flow of the tannins.
Tannin structure is critical to the way that a red wine tastes and responds to food, yet I doubt that most wine lovers understand tannins.
Tannins come mostly from the skins of red grapes and aren't bitter, they're astringent. There is a big difference.
They have a high affinity for proteins and combine them to form long-chain insoluble molecules. That's why they dry the mouth. Saliva contains a lot of protein. Red wine combines with these proteins and hence your mouth feels dry — and you can sometimes scrape red-coloured residue off your tongue with your teeth.
It's why protein-based fining agents, such as egg-white and skimmed milk, are sometimes used to remove tannins from red wines.
Foods such as red meat contain a lot of protein, so when you consume them with red wine, the wine's drying effect on the tongue is lessened. That's one reason they go well together, and it's certainly why you should taste wine with appropriate food before buying it.
The tannin structure of grapes — and hence of the wines they make — depends much on environment, grape variety, growing conditions, timing of harvest, etc. The extraction of that tannin, and its persistence in the wine depends much on winemaking techniques.
It's the regionality that comes to the fore when Huntington Estate owner and winemaker Tim Stevens claims the area can produce some of the best red wines in Australia, and hence in the world.
"There is no doubt that our style of red wine is unique; we have high levels of high-quality tannin and acid that can make the wines somewhat astringent when young. I make no apologies for this, as the structure makes the wines great for aging and great with food … In time the fruit and tannins integrate to become sublime," he said.
"Our wines are old-style and don't suit tastes where body and complexity are not important. The style of Mudgee reds is not something we can change, even if, God forbid, we wanted to. This is because of our unique climate and soils, which are what they are.
"Time and again, I have seen Mudgee winemakers (myself included) try to tame these tannins by manipulating the vineyard conditions or playing too much with the wine in the cellar. Invariably, the wine becomes stripped or dull. Handled properly, Mudgee wines are full-bodied, have loads of super-fine tannins, good acid levels, with concentrated and complex flavours that last of the palate.
"The trick is to be guided by the vineyard and intervene as little as possible. Go with the tannins, not against them."
Caption: Tim Stevens working on a Huntington Estate red … "The trick is to be guided by the vineyard and intervene as little as possible."