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Dear Dr. Vinny,
I'm very new to the wine community. I thoroughly enjoy Rieslings and Moscatos. However, I haven't been able to get into reds as much because of the powerful flavor of tannins. What type of wine would you suggest for someone like me who has a sweeter palate?
—Ebonè V., Austin, Tex.
First off, let me point out that tannins, which are astringent chemical compounds that naturally occur in the skins of grapes (as well as in the oak barrels that are sometimes used for aging wines), are something you feel more than taste. They are responsible for the drying, puckery feeling you get when you drink a big red wine.
Even though we’ve just met, I’m going to make an assumption about you. While you may indeed be drawn to wines that are technically on the “sweet” end of the wine spectrum (the other end being “dry,” meaning without perceptible residual sugar), you might also be responding to the ripeness of the fruit flavors. I often run into people who aren’t sure how to use the term “sweet” (though Moscatos and Rieslings certainly have their fair share of truly sweet examples), and sometimes they just mean they’d rather have wines that taste more like ripe cherries, blackberries or plums, and less like austere notes of earth, spice or tobacco.
To that end, I’d recommend you look for wines that mention ripe fruit flavors, and perhaps focus on New World wines. This is an extreme generalization, of course, but wines from, say, California will typically be riper than similar wines from, say, France, with more of a core of ripe fruit flavors. (My attorney wants me to be clear that there are innumerable exceptions, and I’m not being judgmental, as open-minded wine lovers can appreciate wines made in a variety of styles.)
I’d also focus on reds that tend to have softer, plusher tannins, like Pinot Noir, Merlot and Grenache. But don’t sweat it if red wines just aren’t to your liking. Some of my favorite wine-drinking companions are firmly white wine drinkers.
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