Red wines the world over have become fresher and more energetic in the last decade, offering delightful and lively alternatives to the once-dominant fruit bombs that could sink a palate in one salvo.
This has been very much to the good, though perhaps one unintended consequence of this stylistic shift has been the diminishing presence of tannins in red wines.
Tannins are felt as a drying, slightly astringent quality in wine, just as in tea that has been overstepped. They come largely from the skins of grapes, but also from seeds, stems and from wood, if a wine has been aged in new barrels.
In more rustic wines, tannins can dominate, and feel as if they are gripping the insides of the cheeks and tongue as you take a sip. In others, they can be barely noticeable, yet providing the wine with a gossamer internal structure.
Even before the stylistic shift, many red wines were becoming noticeably less tannic, part of a greater evolution over the last 30 years toward wines that required fewer years of aging before they were ready to drink.
Historically, the audience for fine, age-worthy reds was small and largely wealthy — people who had the means to buy wine for the long term and possessed suitable cellar space for storage.