Here is the eleventh in our weekly series of Another Wine Bytes; information about wine you can use to impress your friends (but not in an obnoxious way, of course!)
I have a very fair complexion. So much so that people used to call me “Casper” (The Friendly Ghost.) Every year at Spring Break all the wealthier kids would head to Florida and come back “tan.” Those who couldn’t afford the trip would buy the package-deal at the local tanning salon. It seems now the rage is an air-brushed tan.
Since my mother never allowed me anywhere near a tanning bed — and let’s face it, most people do not look good with carrot-colored skin — you could find me on the upstairs “sun porch” of our home in West Virginia as soon as the temperature got above 65 degrees. When I moved to Texas, I didn’t realize just how much hotter the sun was here (or that there were probably more holes in the ozone due to Houston’s fabulous environmental pollutants) and spent much of the first few years I lived here burned.
I find the connection between tanning and social status interesting. Growing up in West Virginia, and living in Northwest Ohio, a “tan” was something that signified wealth. I suppose it does in Houston as well. Those women that have nothing to do all day but play tennis or sit by the pool have fabulous tans. But back in my grandmother’s day, it was just the opposite. Pale skin was a sign of aristocracy, and women actually drank small bits of poison to keep their skin pale. Because a tan indicated someone who worked out in the fields.
I would also assume that back in my grandmother’s day, the winery owner’s wife had pale skin and the people that harvested the grapes were tan. And the depth of one’s tan indicated one’s station in life.
The same might be said of wine. I’m reading a little book called History of Wine Words: An Intoxicating Dictionary of Etymology and Word Histories of Wine, Vine, and Grape from the Vineyard, Glass, and Bottle by Charles Hodgson. In it he talks about tannins:
TANNINS. Tannins have a complex relationship with wine. Grapes themselves have tannins, and winemakers may add other tannins by storing wine in wooden barrels or by using any number of other methods. Tannins can add bitterness or improve the taste and longevity of wine. Suffice it to say tannins are important in winemaking, even though wine scientists haven’t fully figured them out. The word tannin appeared in English in 1802, but the idea of tannins and the source of their name are much older. Leather has been tanned for thousands of years, and in being tanned it takes on a brownish color. This is why lying on the beach and turning your skin brown is called tanning. Ancient craftsmen crushed the bark of oak trees and extracted an infusion used to tan leather. The Latin word for tanning leather in this way was tannare but the root of the word may be a Celtic or Gaulish word, tanno, meaning “oak.” from The History of Wine Words
While tannins pucker your mouth, and make it feel like all the moisture is being sucked out, they are considered beneficial in wine. Natural tannins like those found in Cabernet Sauvignon indicate potential longevity and ageability.
As tannic wines age, the tannins begin to decompose and the wine mellows and improves, and the tannins can help the wine survive for as long as 40 years or more. White wine and those that are vinified to be drunk young, rather than cellared, typically have lower tannin levels.
A study in wine production and consumption has also shown that tannins (in the form of proanthocyanidins) have a beneficial effect on heart health. The study showed that tannins suppressed production of the peptide responsible for hardening arteries. In support of their findings, the research scientists also pointed out that wines from the regions of southwest France and Sardinia are particularly rich in proanthocyanidins, and that these regions also produce populations with longer life spans.
Tannins have a number of other positive qualities. And while tannins are healthy, tanning is really not. Not only will it make you look older, it can also result in skin cancer.
May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month, and the Skin Cancer Awareness Foundation is providing free skin cancer screenings throughout the U.S. If you spend a lot of time in the sun, get yourself to a screening.
Have some red wine — and drink to your health!
And that’s this week’s Another Wine Byte.