What are “invisible Tannins”?
I recently received a review for our 2014 Turtle Vines Pinot Noir …yes, we are announcing the release of that wine in the next few days!!! In the review was the term “Invisible Tannins”. A few years ago I taught my nephew “Young but Approachable”. This one is not as funny, but I think is a great term, and in my mind another way to say “balanced with great structure”. Below is the explanation I got below from the Prince of Pinot.
First…a quick explanation of a wine tannin. Tannin is a naturally occurring polyphenol found in plants, seeds, bark, wood, leaves and fruit skins. (see above picture) As a characteristic of wine, tannin adds both bitterness and astringency as well as complexity. Wine tannins are most commonly found in red wine, although white wines have tannin from being aged in wooden barrels or with oak adjuncts.
Prince of Pinot – “You want some tannic backbone in wine not only for balance but for age ability. That said, you want to sense that a wine has structure, but you don’t want the structure (tannins) to stand out. Tannins should blend harmoniously with the fruit extraction, alcohol, acidity and oak – essentially invisible in the context of the wine as a whole or better said, balanced. Tannins will change over time in the bottle, so they may stand out a bit in a young wine and that is ok if they are not big tannins. I am sure you have experienced opening a wine and finding it a bit tannic, but when re-tasted 2-3 days later from the same bottle, the tannins have softened and seemingly integrated. That is a sign that the tannins will meld over time in the bottle in the cellar.”
Lastly, in order to make a balanced wine you need to take into account the acidity and alcohol content to determine how much tannin is needed. In general, the higher the alcohol and lower the acid the more tannins you will need. That is why Cabernet and Merlot will have more tannins than Pinot Noir.
2013 was our second harvest and our second year of making Russian River Pinot. What was really exciting is that we kept 1/2 ton to make our own wine and sold 2 tons to Horse and Plow. We get to see in a year or so how our winemaking stacks up to a commercial winery.
So…even though we really liked our 2012 Pinot and got good reviews from our wine friends and an entire wedding party, we decided to make improvements for this year. I hope this will be our close to our final process.
IMPROVEMENTS FROM 2012
1. Less watering from set to veraison to reduce pH of grapes – This was a success so far. Our grapes came in at 3.76 ph vs 3.9 last year even though brix went up from 23 to 24.
2. We will “oak” our wine during secondary fermentation instead of waiting until it is finished
3. We purchased a bladder press and a destemmer only. The destemmer did not crush the grapes so we hope to have some whole berries and I think we will get a better juice from this small press.
4. We did not add enzymes this year. From what I read and discussed with other winemakers this is not needed from Pinot Noir due to the thin skin.
5. We will press the grapes before they have gone dry to reduce the amount of harsh tannins you get from the seeds. Seed tannins are alcohol soluble.
6. We picked at a higher brix for a riper berry. We hope this will add more complex flavors, but not to high to be overpowering with alcohol.
7. When we sulfur after malolactic fermentation, we will add a larger dose of sulfur upfront instead of trying to keep it at the correct range every month. The intent is to stop any harmful bacteria from growing initially by binding them with sulfur and make adjustments a few months later.
WHAT STAYED THE SAME
1. The cold soak is still 5 days with dry ice.
2. We will continue to use oak adjuncts with our Flex Tanks. We think the Flex Tanks give us a better aromatic profile than oak barrels. In addition, with a small winemaking operation oak barrels are difficult to manage. We have had 2 friends whose wine went bad due to bad barrels this last year.
3. We used Assmanhausen yeast again this year. Many people ferment with wild yeast but with our higher pH that would be a big risk.
We made our selection of Xoakers for our Oak Adjunct (oak flavoring for our Flextank) last week. We visited their location in Windsor and purchased 2 pounds of the little oaks balls. They recommend 1-2 balls per gallon of wine for 4-9 months…so since we don’t want a lot of oak flavor, we are adding 1 per gallon. The tricky part…how to get them out when we have the correct flavor. Joanne is a wonderful seamstress so she sewed small bags in food grade cloth provided by the vendor. When we have the flavor we are looking for we can fish them out and let it flavors continue to age until we are ready to bottle late this year or early next year.
Next year, these little balls will be put in the wine right after primary fermentation as this should enhance the flavor even more.
We started soaking the samples from Innerstave and Xtraoak on January 29th in Vodka. After about a week we decided that we need more “flavor” so we doubled the amount of toasted oak in each sample bottle. Last night we had our friends, John and Chris Mason from EMTU vineyard over for dinner and we did a smell/taste test to determine which oak adjunct to use. The winner was the Xoaker balls from Xtraoak in Medium Plus toast. The flavor from both vendors in the “Plus” toast was much nicer than the medium…a spicy vanilla flavor. We will pick some of this up on Thursday and get it into the barrel when we do our next sulfur run.
How do you get “Oak” flavor in your wine when you don’t have and expensive and highly variable French Oak Barrel?
Our wine is stored in an environmentally friendly, polyethylene, oxygen permeable flex tank. This is a fairly new technology in Napa and Sonoma but is widely used in Australia and New Zealand, especially for white wines. Besides saving trees and saving storage space, this allows me to carefully control the oak flavoring with high quality, toasted French oak adjuncts and avoids the random flavors and possible pathogens from commonly purchased “used” barrels. It also allows us to make more consistent wine from year to year.
So, as we are engineers, we purchased oak balls and squares from 2 vendors in medium and medium + toast (how long they blacken the outside). Next we are soaking them in vodka and then in a few weeks we will taste them to determine which to purchase and put in our wine. Lastly, we will then only use 1/4 of what is recommended, let it soak for a month and evaluate how it reacts with the wine. You can always add more, but you can’t take the flavor away!!!