More on astringent wine with meat

In a previous blog post on the subject I quoted Tim Hanni as saying “fat actually increase[s] the intensity of […] the astringent feeling of tannin”.  But as far as I could establish, Hanni has no evidence for this other than experiences from his own workshops.  In direct contradiction of Hanni,  recently published correspondence in Current Biology from Catherine Peyrot de Gachones et al  seems to show that fatty and astringent substances moderate the effect of each other.

I say “seems too”, because the source of fat in the experiment is salami, which also contains protein and salt.  It is unfortunate that they did not use a purer fat, so it is still a possibility that it is the protein or salt that reduced the astringency, as suggested by others.

On the other hand, as 3 different astringent liquids were tested, it is a lot more certain that the astgringency itself reduced the fatty sensation, rather than anything else common to each of the liquids.

Regardless, to me it intuitively seems a lot more convincing that it is fat, rather than the protein or salt, that reduces astringency in wine.  The idea that astringent wines “cut through” fatty meats is well-known and accepted.  And from a wine and food matching point of view,  I can appreciate that it is good to have alternate opposing sensations in the mouth from sipping red wine while eating meat – the astringency from the wine, and the slippery richness of the fat.

The final lesson we can take from this research concerns the assessment of the astringency of wine.  The research clearly shows that as you take multiple sips of a tannic liquid, the perceived degree of astringency increases over time.  So to fairly compare the astringency of different wines, we really need to make sure we start with a clean palate for each wine, and assess each one after the same number of sips.

Author: Steve Slatcher

Wine enthusiast

4 thoughts on “More on astringent wine with meat”

  1. While we have not conducted a formal study of the effect of fats on the intensity of astringency the results we have observed are very consistent and easily replicated. You are spot-on regarding the flaw in the study using salami – the salt suppresses bitterness and astringency.

    That is what we discovered almost 20 years ago when I hosted a conference with sensory scientists and they pointed out that it was the salt on a steak that gave the illusion of lessening astingency, not the proteins, not the fat. In fact, two of the attendees did their doctorate work on ‘lubricity’ and both agreed the idea that fat was responsible for making wine seem smoother was erroneous.

    I remember reading a report on the fat/tannin phenomenon where mayonnaise was used in a ‘scientific study’. Of course it worked, containing both salt AND lemon juice to mitigate the bitterness and astringency!

    Take several forms of pure fats that are UNSALTED or of as uncontaminated as possible: unsalted butter, pure olive oil, lard and rendered beef fat all work well and it is best to try this with several types.

    Get a GROUP of people together and try a sip of tannic red wine, some of the fat, and then try the wine again. DO NOT slurp and chew the wine – take a drink in the fashion a normal wine consumer would. Allow about 5 minutes for neural recovery between different fats – just as you recommend.

    Of course the people with greater bitter sensitivity to begin with, the Sweet and Hypersensitive Vinotypes as we now refer to them, will observe much more differences, more Tolerant Vinotypes will often perceive no change.

    We find a very high proportion of tasters will report the astringency gets stronger, not subdued, with all of the different fats. Love to hear what you observe, it is a simple demonstration to set up!

    Try it out and let me know!! We are always learning and discovering and love to have you exploring with us.

  2. Hi Tim

    I would much prefer to see results published in a respectable peer-reviewed scientific journal than attempt experiments myself. I know enough about this sort of study to realise it is not simple to get a good experimental design, but not enough to do it well myself, and I certainly lack the resources to do so.

    You did presumably note that astringent liquids were also found to reduce the fattiness of the salami? That is important practically itself. It also lends weight to the idea that astringency and fattiness work in opposition to each other, even though the effect in the other direction seems to be less well established.

    My final point would be really to question how important all this is in practice. I am as interested in this debate as the next geek, but in practice protein, fat and salt often sit on the plate together in one meaty chunk.

  3. We would love to see results from a well done formal study as well but certainly our proverbial plate is full and we have bigger fish to fry with our myriad projects. Just suggesting to have fun by trying the more pure fat sources for your own amusement. My role in all this is to expand my understanding and at the day have a lot of fun in the process.

    How important is this in practice? Not. What is important to me is to lose all of the myths and half truths that is the metaphorical mumb jumbo we call wine and food pairing. Not sure what the debate is, but come to lunch at my house if you find yourself in Napa!!

  4. Well we can agree that it is good to lose myths and half-truths, or at least realise them for what they are and decide whether to play along or not.

    Thank you for the invitation, I shall bear it in mind but fear it will not be anytime soon.

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