In our new series, Ask the Sommelier, we’ll be putting readers’ questions to the world’s top sommeliers. For the first instalment, President of the Irish Guild of Sommeliers and co-founder of the SommNinja app, Julie Dupouy, helps one reader in their quest to enjoy red wine again.
“My go-to wines tend to be full-bodied reds, but since a recent bout of Covid they taste incredibly harsh and astringent. My hunch is that it might have something to do with tannins. What are the best styles of red wine that I might still be able to enjoy while my palate and sense of smell are recovering?”
Sommelier Julie Dupouy responds:
“I’m lucky in that I don’t think I’ve had Covid, but what I’ve noticed whenever I’ve had a very bad cold and I can’t really taste anything is that it actually takes a while to come back to tasting wine properly. What you notice the most is bitterness; most things can taste bitter and potentially even have a metallic taste. When coming back to wine, I often find that reds are the most challenging because the tannins make things very bitter. So, red wine might not be the first option I would suggest returning to.
“If it has to be red wine, I would look at those with a lower alcohol content, with no oak and not a lot of tannin. Go for a fruit-forward style with a good level of acidity – something like a Pinot Noir or a Gamay. I’d even be tempted to try something like a New Zealand Pinot Noir, where you have fruit which is quite generous and quite ripe, but still with a bright acidity. Grenache could work, because there’s a lot of fruit – but they tend to have a higher alcohol content. There are interesting and elegant Grenache wines produced in some areas in Spain, but again, the alcohol content is often quite high.
At least if there is a generous amount of fruit, it won’t be frustrating
“Instead, I would go from slightly off-dry wines to dry whites, and then really keep the red wines – or at least the full-bodied ones – for right at the end of recovery. I find when you often haven’t tasted in a while, alcohol can feel very warm in your mouth, especially when you can’t taste properly. So I’d be looking at lower-alcohol wines like German Riesling, with a hint of residual sugar, such as Kabinett or Spätlese. I know some people don’t really like off-dry wines, but they won’t necessarily taste sweet – they are light in alcohol, and the sugar is a great carrier of flavours.
“Otherwise, try white wines without too much alcohol. Stay away from the Mediterranean style of white wine – look for cooler climates, where wines remain fresh and fruity and aromatic. When you start tasting again you have the impression that you can’t taste properly, so at least if there is a generous amount of fruit, it won’t be frustrating. I’m thinking of wines such as Sauvignon Blanc, Albariño, and maybe some Chenin Blanc from South Africa – if it comes from a cooler area.
“You might even want to consider sparkling wines, too. Prosecco tends to have some residual sugar and is very fruit-forward. It can make for a nice first step back into tasting, to help readjust your palate.
“I would say leave red wine with oak and that tannic structure for further down the line when you’re pretty much back to tasting at 100%. If you feel good enough to want to taste wine, though, that’s already the first step. That probably means you’re halfway there.”