Why are wines bitter?
Some wines are more bitter than others. Any idea why? We’ll tell you in the next episode of WineClass. Learn all you need to know about bitterness in wine and pick up the perfect trick for detecting it straight away. It’s not just in red wines!
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Today, in episode nine, we’re looking into one of the most characteristic flavours of wine: bitterness. Where does this flavour come from and how do we perceive it? Make sure you’re paying attention! Hit Play!
Everything you never knew about bitterness
Thanks to our taste buds, we can perceive a wide range of flavours in all kinds of food and drink. With practice, we can hone our skills and make our palates much more precise. But did you know that we can’t detect bitterness straight after birth?
Humans don’t start out life tasting bitterness, but over time, we learn to recognise it and appreciate it. It’s probably one of the more complex flavours, since it can easily be disagreeable if we're not used to it or when it comes in high doses.
Some examples of this flavour are coffee, pure chocolate, olives and even some citrus fruits. But how does this flavour end up in wine. Let’s take a look.
Bitterness in wine
When we taste a wine, specifically a red wine, it can sometimes leave our mouths feeling dry. What do you think causes this bitterness in wine? The main cause is in the grapes themselves.
The seeds, the stalks and the pomace have high concentrations of substances known as tannins. Depending on their maturity and how these elements have been prepared, tannins can make a wine smoother (well-rounded tannins) or astringent, which is what causes a certain roughness.
How to tell if a wine is bitter
The younger the tannin, the longer the bitterness will linger in the mouth. In other words, the wine will be more astringent. Otherwise, if we are drinking a Reserva or Gran Reserva wine, the tannins will be more mature due to ageing, and will make the wine smoother and more complex.
You're probably wondering... Are only red wines bitter? Not quite. However, they do tend to have more tannins in them.
So, is there any method for knowing how to drink a bitter wine? For example, if we drink a wine that needs to develop too early, this astringency will not be pleasant, and we can tell that the wine needs to rest for longer. However, storing a bottle for too long can be counter-productive since it can end up going off.
Our recommendation for enjoying any kind of wine (whether sweet, sour or bitter) is always to store it at home in the right way, checking the vintage to know when to drink it and serving it at the right temperature.
Trick for detecting bitterness
In WineClass, we always offer a simple time to train your palate in each lesson.
The first thing to know about bitterness is where you perceive it on the tongue. In this case, bitterness stimulates the taste buds towards the back of the tongue, near your uvula and throat.
Next, look for a clear reference point for this flavour in other foods, as we mentioned before. When you try them, you might not notice it as firsts. But, after a few seconds, you’ll start to notice that dry feeling.
When you bring this exercise to a wine tasting, play around with contrasts and try wines at different stages in the ageing process, such as a Rioja Crianza (we use El Coto Crianza) and a Reserve wine (such as our Coto de Imaz Reserva).
Do you remember the blindfold we recommended for guessing the aromas in wine? Time to bring it back out to focus your senses on flavour. Can you feel it? It’s a matter of practice.
Take a look back at all of the WineClass episodes on the official El Coto de Rioja YouTube channel. Don’t forget to click the bell so that you never miss a new lesson when it comes out.
Meanwhile, learn more fun facts about the world of wine with the content of our blog. Try this one to start out: