How to recognize astringency in wine...
by Isabelle @ Wine Tasting Demystified
Word Associations with Wine Astringency
Astringency is rarely used by wine writers or winemakers to describe a wine. I did a little experiment and a Wine Spectator issue I had at home. I then selected randomly 150 wine reviews and counted the adjectives associated with astringency. Only once did I read “pleasant astringency.” I looked at my counts and had found 23 words used at different frequencies. The picture above summarizes my findings.
As you can see in this word cloud, the words seem to describe different sensations.
Why do I believe they describe wine astringency since they don’t use this specific descriptor?
What is Wine Astringency?
These words describe sensations attributed to different intensity level of astringency.
And, yes, astringency is a complex set of sensations. The sensory scientists working with the American Society of Testing Materials defines as “due to shrinking, drawing or puckering of the epithelium as a result of exposure to substances such as alums or tannins” (ASTM, 2004).
What does it mean?
The adjectives I found in the wine reviews were all associated with “tannins,” and therefore, I understood that the writers were describing some astringent sensations in their mouth.
Why are some wine tannins “silky” and others “chewy”?
Tannins are compounds extracted from the grape skins during winemaking. Some grape varieties are more abundant in tannins, such as the red grapes. Tannins are polyphenols; some polyphenols like resveratrol are said to have some health benefits. Other polyphenols contribute to the red color of the grape skin.
Wines made with Malbec and Tannat grape varieties were the most tannic wines I ever tasted. Traditionally, winemakers use these varieties as blending juice to add structure that other varieties like Merlot may lack.
When a wine is very astringent, it can create some discomfort in your mouth. Your inner cheeks are shrinking, and it seems you can’t salivate anymore. You may experience these sensations in other products such as strong tea or green/unripe banana. On the other end of the astringent spectrum will be light, velvety, and wines pleasant to drink.
Is an astringent wine a lousy wine?
Not necessarily. Looking back at the wine reviews, when the tannins are solid, muscular, or firm, the writers suggested to keep the wines in the cellar for several years. Indeed, during the aging process, the tannins are oxidized and lose their astringent properties.
So how can you recognize astringency in wine?
It’s tricky because these sensations develop over time, often after you swallowed your first sip of wine, or after several sips. It will start slowly by drying your tongue, your gums, then your cheeks, and eventually, your whole mouth will feel dry.
Besides, the more you drink an astringent wine, the more it will feel astringent in your mouth. The sensation builds up, as my friend Ann Noble was able to demonstrate.
Check out the figure next to the word cloud. Just click on it to make it bigger! As you can see, after each sip, the level of astringency people perceived in their mouth increased.
When drinking a very astringent wine, your saliva glands won’t be able to produce enough saliva to get rid of the sensation. Except if you are a “high saliva flow person.” I don’t mean to chock you; we produce saliva in our mouth for several reasons, one of them being to lubricate the mouth. As I have mentioned several times on this site, we can experience wine differently because our body works differently. Some people produce a high flow of saliva, and others can’t. The former will perceive the astringency later than the latter.
Although it is still a hypothesis, wine tannins would trigger astringency by precipitating the proteins in your saliva. It will become less viscous.
The more the tannins extracted in the wine, the more intense the astringency.
The saliva will wash off the sensation initially; however, eventually, it won’t be enough.
So how can you cleanse your palate during wine tasting? Water will be ineffective in restoring a lubricated mouth.
Here are the three best palate cleansers to remove astringent sensations.
1- Bread: If you can find fresh baguettes, I found the crumbs (not the crust, the white part). It will help you salivate and restore your mouth.
2- Yogurt: Plain greek yogurt works quite well, because it is thick and watery at the same time. It will coat your mouth and hydrate it at the same time. Caution: Rinse your mouth with water to remove any yogurt taste or flavor.
3- Pectin: For the scientists among you, prepare a solution of pectin. It’s a natural fruit ingredient that we use to thicken fruit jams.
What your most memorable experience with a tannic wine, a.k.a. astringent wine?
Leave your story below. I look forward to reading all your comments.