Friday, January 16, 2009

First Rule of Horseback Riding: Don't Lick the Saddle

While this may be an odd thing to admit on a wine blog site, most people will tell you that beverage consumption in the west was vastly improved with the introduction of something that had been known in the Far East for millenia, tea.
The English love tea. Wars have been fought over it. In 1773 a good deal of it was dumped into Boston Harbor. In 1973 another great deal of it was dumped into San Francisco harbor also, --well the cops were chasing me, it was dark! --Just kidding.

The habit of wearing of clothes was greatly improved when Armani discovered leather, not really just any leather but fine Italian leather, but as cave-man movies and historians of skin will both
testify, skins and furs have constituted apparel from time immemorial.

Well, what do these do improvements to Western Civilization have in common? They are based on
tannins. Tannins are what give tea its pleasant astringency and they are also what is useful in 'tanning leather', thus, it is actually the case that 'tanning' here refers to the use of tannic acid in the process and does not refer to an assemblage of cows in bikinis.

Tannins, (as mentioned in my previous post), also are an important component of wine and in this case, and unlike tea, their presence in wine can be directly traced to the woodier part of a plant. (At my age, I'm glad when it occurs anywhere.)

Tannins, (as in the case of Emporio jackets), as well as in wine, act as a preservative and they contribute a quality, interestingly enough in both cases, called 'suppleness'. (Also interestingly, when I went to the Armani site to price Emporio leather jackets, I got an 'unsupported browser', error-- even my computer can't afford them.)

The question is, why does this occur. Without going into a lengthy technical discussion on the subject, the simple answer is that tannins love proteins, they dance with them, they bind to them, they,-- complete them. When you drink either wine or tea (or chew on an Armani jacket), what occurs is that the tannic components bind with the proteins in your saliva. The result of this
is less viscosity to your saliva which we interpret as astringency. Viscosity is a quality that most people are familiar with in reference to motor oils but I can assure you, that most people have thirty or forty weight saliva
which is really not optimal either for winter driving, or for wine-tasting. In fact, the reason why plants produce tannin is for this very same quality. Pests usually penetrate into plants by biting and injecting saliva. Interestingly the tannins have the same effect on insect saliva as they do on human saliva. (The lesson to be learned here is perhaps that if an insect is spitting at you the best defense is a tea bag.)

Not to stray too far from the subject at hand, we have mentioned that younger tannins can be a bit harsh, a bit judgmental, and the reason for this is something called the law of averages. Have you noticed that whatever it is you might roll down a snow covered hill in the winter, whether it is a stick or a, package of Ding-Dongs, or a VW microbus, by the time it gets to the bottom, it has acquired a roundish shape, or at least the roundest shape of which it is capable. The same occurs with tannins in wine, they tend to aggregate in rounder and larger shapes over time, thus minimizing the sharp and protruding edges. This is not just a metaphor it is an actual chemical fact based on the shape of larger molecules. Gee! Who would have thought you could taste how round a molecule is but the fact is you can! The less biting rounded tannins are large round beach balls of molecules while the taste you interpret as sharp is just that, sharper, more angular in shape and smaller.

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