On Politics, Yeast, and Tannin

Three great tastes that go great together? No, that’s not it.

But it is time for a little bit of summary of what I read in my good ole twitter news feed.

First off,  the tariffs are just stupid.  As a nation we stopped doing them quite a long time ago cause they hurt everyone and don’t help trade.  A basic, rudimentary understanding of history and economics clarifies this.  It also clarifies that consumers, not producers or their governments, pay the tariffs.  We’re going to end up paying tariffs.  And our producers get hurt because consumers don’t want to or cannot pay tariffs.

But the orange one in charge isn’t exactly bright (well, he is bright orange).  So this is what’s happening with wine and tariffs right now:

Effective June 1, China will add another 15% tariff on U.S. wine imports to their country. That takes the total tax and tariff on U.S. wines shipped to China to 91% since they ratcheted up several times starting in April 2018.

“This is the third Chinese tariff increase on U.S. wine in the past 14 months, and with each additional round, it becomes more and more difficult to compete in the fastest-growing wine market in the world,” said Robert P. “Bobby” Koch, President and CEO of California-based Wine Institute…

China is one of the fastest-growing wine markets in the world and will soon be second only to the U.S. in the total value of wine sales.

And as those prices go up, where will Chinese consumers who want big Cali reds go? South America and Australia/New Zealand.  Just great for economy, genius.

And sadly, the story quotes a brainwashed farmer who cannot understand that this doesn’t get us to free trade, or at least not in a way that is helpful to farmers and average consumers, only in ways that bankrupt farmers and let Mega Agri-business buy them and then create monopolistic free trade.

But hey, wine not going to the massive and growing Chinese market could flood to our shelves and lower our prices.  Thus, again, hurting our farmers, especially small, independent ones.  I’m not a conspiracy theorist except when reality forces me to be.


Yeast is amazing.  It’s what makes our favorite refreshment so…… refreshing.

As yeasts consume sugars and turn them into alcohol, all the sugar-bound aromas are set free to express themselves. This is why wine tastes so fundamentally different from grape juice and develops so many fascinating new flavors not originally detectable in the fruit itself.

The article goes through the history of fermentation and how winemakers of old struggled with temperature control to manage fermentation and keep it from going crazy, or completely stopping before the juice got good.

The article touches on cultured yeasts versus low-intervention, spontaneous fermentation.  That’s the stuff that gets me excited.  Sadly, native yeast wines appear destined to be for lower production wineries, as the cultured yeasts allow for controlled, repeatable wines that will always taste the same, year after year, and that is what the market currently desires.  I enjoyed this article.

Which feeds into the pet nat craze, in which fermentation isn’t done when the wine is bottled, so the yeast finishes fermenting the wine and then settles as sediment in the bottom of the bottle.  This isn’t the only reason you get gunk in your wine, but it’s one of them.

20190511_1219112408388367320662721.jpg
The incredible Pet Nat Rose, Plateau, from Walsh Family Wine.

I literally freaked out the first time this happened, with unfined bottle of The Poet from Cosentino in Napa, sometime around 2007 or 2008.  I was certain glass shards were in my wine and I was likely to die (though the wine was quite good, so if I had to go, I would at least go happy).  But it turns out that the gunk is really the yeasty goodness that makes our wines unique and special:

Most of the time, sediment in wine is either tartrate crystals (“wine diamonds”) or spent yeast, called lees, which are both natural byproducts. Neither is harmful to your body.


Finally, there is such a thing as a tannin scale.  I find myself always curious about the astringent ending some reds have – that pull in your mouth at the very end of the swallow that the deepest, reddest, richest red wines have.

Tannins are the phenols, a health-promoting chemical in our wine.  They can be harsh and make your mouth pucker, or they can be smooth and simply slide across your tongue as you sip.

Decanter discussed a tannin scale recently.  It doesn’t seem to be anywhere near an exact science, and there isn’t universal agreement either, as another group has proposed measuring tannins by weight instead.

‘When you see numbers in the 90s and 100s, like this year, then you know it was a vintage where grapes got very ripe, so the polyphenol count was high.’

Tannins are key for structure in a red wine, particularly for wines that are intended to age a long time.

In the ageing process they can evolve from feeling coarse to having a silky quality, as they become more integrated in the wine.

‘Apparently average IPT has risen 20% since 1982 – along with alcohols I presume.’

Which would go along with warmer climates and longer growing seasons, aka climate change.  And just like that we’re back to politics in this blog post.  Or are we?

The good news is that I do like wines with more tannin, namely tannat and petit verdot.  They also tend to age very well so you can hold them for a good period of time.

What are you seeing in the news that stokes your curiosity or makes you crave a good glass?

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