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Tannat Wine is an excellent model to learn about astringent mouthfeel

Tannat wines are the most astringent wines I ever tasted. Astringency is one of many sensations you can feel in the mouth.

Mouthfeel is one of the most complex sensations to describe in wine.

If you thought describing wine aromas was challenging, hang on,
the mouthfeel of wine is even more challenging.

Why? There are not many reference standards wine experts can agree on, and verbal descriptions are often elusive.

An Uruguayan Study on Tannat Wines

Tannat wine, the flagship red wine of the Uruguayan wine industry, is a good model to study for mouthfeel. Its principal mouthfeel attribute is astringent. Reading the definition of what astringency does not make an appealing sensory experience to have:

“the complex of sensations due to shrinking, drawing or puckering of the epithelium as a result of exposure to substances such as alums or tannins” [ASTM, 2004].

The key words to describe astringent Tannat wines

Leticia Vidal and colleagues attempted to capture the keywords that would best describe Tannat wine astringency [1].

First, they asked consumers how they would describe Tannat wine mouthfeel.

Not surprisingly, they had only a few words to pick from their wine vocabulary. As described in another article, we humans are trained to eat with our eyes first and do not have a lot of vocabulary for other perceptions.

Most of the 125 participants used “rough” or “dry” to describe this sensation they perceive on the tongue or the palate, usually after drinking the wine. That could be persistent. So astringency is what sensory call a temporal sensation because it evolves with time.

Measuring astringent qualities in wine 

Secondly, this Uruguayan research team used sensory evaluation techniques to characterize Tannat wine mouthfeel better. 

They recruited nine panelists with previous experience in sensory evaluation of wine or with wine tasting experience as professionals.

The panel participated in 81 sessions of 20 minutes long, first to get trained on the methodology used, and second to assess 40 commercial Tannat wines from different wineries. 

To capture the persistence aspect of the sensations, they applied a time-intensity technique. To understand astringency sub qualities, they asked panelists to check attributes from a list taken from the literature.

The nine astringent qualities of Tannat Wines

Results showed a few differences among the wines on the perceived intensity of astringency.

These differences occurred more at the start of the perception after sipping and on the duration of the perception.

The majority of the Tannat wine samples were dry, rough and mouthcoating.

The sub-qualities of the perception provided more differentiation among the 40 wines: some samples were described as velvety, silky, and suede. In contrast, others were associated with intense astringency and described as hard, harsh, and aggressive.

A silky wine seems more appealing than an aggressive wine, would you agree?.

So what are the nine words that you need to describe Tannat Wine mouthfeel?

  • Generically: dry, rough and mouthcoating
  • Low intensity: velvety, silky and suede
  • High intensity: hard, harsh and aggressive

These words only described wine astringency.

This physical reaction in the mouth caused by wines rich in tannins, which dry the mouth by reducing the effect of the saliva lubrification mechanism, and making your cheeks pucker. Other mouthfeel attributes exist besides astringency[2].

Some tips to manage astringency in wine tasting

How do you recover quickly from a persistent astringency?

I use fruit pectin diluted in water; its thickness and viscosity help moisturize the mouth mucosa.
In Vidal’s work, panelists were using stirred plain yogurt.

Don’t forget to rinse your mouth with water before tasting another wine.

If you don't know what is astringency , taste a reference.

Here is a recipe to prepare a reference to experience this sensation, alum solution (5 g/L alum, McCormick, Hunt Valley, MD).

Published January 31, 2019

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  1. Sensory characterization of the astringency of commercial Uruguayan Tannat wines
  2. How do consumers describe wine astringency?
  3. A ‘Mouth-feel Wheel’: terminology for communicating the mouth-feel characteristics of red wine