Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

Day 2, Tannins and Tea

By Jessica Yadegaran
Thursday, February 22nd, 2007 at 2:27 pm in Uncategorized.

I’ll be the first to admit that tannins make me uncomfortable, despite the fact that I’m Persian and grew up on black darjeeling tea, three times a day. We drink it in a distinctly un-British way: With a nub of rustic rock candy clamped between our front top and bottom teeth. The rock candy serves as a sweet gateway, and any tannins or cardamom, for that matter, passing through this door have to succumb to a screen of saccharin. Do this in front of an American and watch their face fall in fear.

I’m reminded of my addiction to black tea because today, day two of the Symposium for Professional Wine Writers here in Napa, we’re learning about tannin development. Specifically, the two styles in which the seeds of grapes mingle with their juices in fermenting tanks, and the kinds of tannins they produce. Today’s seminar is led by international writing coach Don Fry and Karen MacNeil, head of the wine department at the Culinary Institute of America and author of the “Wine Bible.” With supertasters like MacNeil leading the way, I’m confident I’ll walk away understanding tannins in a whole new way.

Andy Sweiger, a teddy bear of a man and winemaker with Sweiger Vineyards here in the Valley, stopped by CIA to demonstrate the two fermenting practices, pumpovers and punch downs. Most wineries I’m familiar with do punch-downs, meaning they let the seeds and skins mingle and form their own soft and often luxurious tannins. Pumpovers create larger, fat tannins that are a bit sloppy and all over the place in your mouth.

Why would any winemaker choose pumpover over a punch down? Well, for simplicity and speed. Whereas punch downs require judgment calls and monitoring, pumpovers can be done by virtually anyone, right before their coffee break. So huge production houses with highly tannin monsters are most likely doing pumpovers.

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