Most people I speak to give a common reason why they don’t enjoy red wine: “It’s too astringent.” This perception of ‘astringency’ can probably be ascribed to a combination of two components found in red wine — acidity and tannins.
Acidity naturally exists in all white and red wines (some types from the grapes themselves and some formed during the process of fermentation). It keeps a wine in balance, making it fresh, vibrant and lively. A wine lacking in acidity will seem flat, dull and flabby.
Typically, red wines go through a process called malolactic fermentation (MLF), where tart malic acid is converted into the softer lactic acid. This adds some complexity to the wine, decreases its acidity and gives it a creamier, fuller texture. A compound called diacetyl is also produced during MLF, which is usually perceived as aromas of buttery popcorns, butterscotch and nuts, as in the case of many Chardonnays. Wines valued for their fresh fruit aromas and flavours are never put through MLF, as the process will detract from the wines’ characters.
Tannins exist in much higher amounts in red wines than in white. These are phenolic compounds found in the skins, seeds and stems of the grapes and from oak barrels. In red winemaking, more of these tannins are carried into the grape juice together with the pigments (which give red wines their colour). Naturally astringent and bitter, tannins react with the protein in saliva, causing a dry, rough sensation in the mouth. Combine this with succinic acid found in wine, and you an ‘astringent’ sensation in the mouth.
Tannin levels differ in each grape variety and wine. On one side of the spectrum, you will find Cabernet Sauvignon, Nebbiolo, Syrah and Tannat; among all commercially popular grape varieties, these rank top with the highest tannin content. On the other side of the spectrum, you will find ‘soft’ varieties, among which Pinot Noir reigns supreme.
Native to France – where it is mostly widely planted in Burgundy and Champagne, Pinot Noir is a cool-climate variety that is enjoying success in New Zealand, Tasmania, Oregon and California. It is also the most widely planted red grape in Germany, where it is also known as Spaetburgunder. (Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris/Grigio and Pinot Meunier are some of the popular mutations of this highly unstable and finicky variety.)
Because Pinot Noir comprises a large part of our Soft Reds tasting, it might be appropriate to elaborate a little on this very special grape.
Pinot Noir is all about aroma and mouthfeel. It has but half the tannin content of Cabernet Sauvignon, and a texture that is often described as velvety, silky and satiny. Its flavour profile usually falls into two main styles: sweet with characters of raspberry, strawberry, violets and spice, or savoury with nuances of forest, earth, mushroom, incense and sandalwood. So ‘soft’ is this wine that it can be matched with mild-flavoured meats and even fish.
Our tasting also sees some unusual varieties from Austria and Germany, particularly Dornfelder, Samtrot and St Laurent. Generally speaking, cool-climate reds (including those from Chile and Argentina) are lighter and more delicate than reds from warmer climates, so we have also included them in the tasting. These wines are worth your investment if you are after something a little less usual. Unfortunately, there were a few submissions not included in this tasting as the wines were considered out of class.
Lauffen Lauffener Katzenbeisser Trollinger Lemberger 2009
Candied nose with some aromas of cherry and pear flavours; slightly toasty, smooth and velvety with good balance. Refreshing and enjoyable.
Villa Maria Private Bin Merlot 2010
The Cellar Door, $33.50
Aromas of cherry, currant, blueberry, rosehip, plum spice and ginger. Fleshy, rich and a bit savoury, with silky tannin.
Rockpool Pinot Noir 2009
Rubicon Reserve Wines, $35
Savoury, raw meat notes, some vanilla and toasty notes with delicate berry. Good acid, nice tannins, balanced, firm and delicate with finesse and savoury finish.
Matua Valley Pinot Noir 2008
Treasury Wine Estates, $35.95
Cherry, cedar and a bit of stinky cheese with a bit of sweaty feet on the nose. Positively tart with fresh, delicate flavours of cherry and bright red fruit character.
Durvillea Pinot Noir 2009
Rubicon Reserve Wines, $39.50
Very powerful fruit character with strawberry compote, cedar and vanilla. Vibrant, zesty, fresh and savoury.
12,000 Miles Pinot Noir 2008
Rubicon Reserve Wines, $42
Dark cherry, mocha, sour cherry, raspberry and gentle fruit on the nose. Fresh, mouth-watering and juicy with good structure and a clean, savoury finish.
Nautilus Estate Pinot Noir 2008
Cedar, coffee and cherry on the nose. Pleasant and gentle entry, balanced with orange peel and tangerine notes. Fresh, crisp and versatile.
Michelot Santenay 1er Cru La Comme 2005
Mood Indigo, $65
Fragrant bouquet; a tinge of spice and floral scent. Delicate, intense, lengthy flavours. Good balance of acid with tight, gripping tannins.
Domaine Serene Evanstad Reserve Pinot Noir 2006
Hermitage Wines, $119
Savoury aromas of dried tomato vine, rosemary oil, really nice cherry and a bit of spice. Really balanced and consistent throughout.
Roux Pere & Fils Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru Les Charmes 2007
Top Wines, $136
Pleasant toastiness and ripe fruit with creamy texture; gentle and smooth with well-integrated acid and good density. Delicate, balanced and long.