Why the wine industry has changedby Barry Smith / May 21, 2015 / Leave a comment
Published in June 2015 issue of Prospect Magazine
For some time now, red wines have been getting softer, more approachable, made in a style that satisfies popular demand. No more mouth-puckering tannins to contend with, no harsh astringency. But is this trend towards smoother, less tannic red wines a good thing?
Economic factors, consumer preferences and new techniques in vinification have all contributed to the trend. Traditionally, red wines from Bordeaux, Chateauneuf du Pape, Bandol and Barolo needed long cellaring before they were ready to drink. But as wine consumption grew and production increased, holding on to stock became a costly business for producers and wine merchants. At the same time, the new generation of drinkers had neither the patience nor the cellars to mature their wines. They wanted fine wines to arrive ready to drink.
So winemaking began to change. By the mid 80s, the drive towards earlier maturing wines, helped by tannin management techniques such as micro-oxygenation—the controlled oxidisation that accelerates ageing—had brought about softer wines, while more recently the fashion for using riper grapes has led to increased sugar and alcohol levels.
Consumers raised on New World wines made with riper fruit tend to shun tannins, which can have a hard-edged feel in the mouth and, to some, a bitter flavour. But when deprived of their tannic structure, these fruit-driven wines often lack the texture and grip that lends interest to what we are drinking. They also lack the rarefied and complex aromas of bottle-aged wines.
There are good and bad tannins, however. Some are dry; some are coarse and chewy; others are beautifully fine-grained and silky. These latter tannins are likely to be found in…