An irregular column from wine-botherer Ruth Ford
...to accompany an ode to the skirt steak (bavette)
Bavette at Duck Soup in Soho
'Sometimes when you taste a red wine it can leave a really dry sensation in your mouth, as if you've just sipped some tea in which the tea bag has been sitting for too long. The feeling is round your gums, at the back of your tongue and on the roof of your mouth, and it is sometimes described as chalky, bitter, and astringent. All these sound like bad things that shouldn't be there in your glass of wine, but in fact they come from something called tannin, which is a chemical compound found in wine. In some wines the levels of tannin are higher than in others, and that's when you get the sensations described above.
Tannin comes from grape skins, pips, and stalks, and sometimes from oak ageing. It's extracted during the wine-making process, when the grapes are pressed and then when the grape skins are left in the juice for a while to extract colour and flavour. Some grapes have more tannin than others, and also the wine-maker can decide how much tannin they want to extract for the style of wine they want to make.
Tannin provides 'backbone' to a wine - it gives it structure and stops it from being too soft or one-dimensional. It's also a natural preservative which helps a wine to grow old gracefully. It gives a wine complexity and interest of flavour. However, sometimes it can make a wine difficult to drink on its own. And that's where chewy red meat comes in. Chewing meat whilst drinking a tannic red will help to break down the tannins in your mouth so the other flavours in the wine - fruit, spice, etc. - come to the fore and are complemented by the tannin rather than overpowered by it.
Bavette has a fantastic gamey, intense flavour and texture that will help to sort out even the most challengingly tannic wine. Some classic examples of tannic wines include Barolo, young Bordeaux and Chianti, and Cahors from the South of France. If you've tried a wine before and thought you didn't like it because of the sensations described above, why not try it again with Helena's bavette recipe? You might be pleasantly surprised at how the wine changes when paired with the delicious juicy meat.'
Read other posts by Ruth
Follow Ruth on Twitter