When I was writing the previous article on tannins in white varieties, one aspect I couldn’t track down with any ease is the relative thickness of the skins and the quality of tannin in each variety.
It was a question I went back and asked Thorne & Daughters’ John Seccombe, to which he gave me the following interesting answer:
‘I think it’s a great question about the grape skins. One of my original motivations in producing the 2013 Tin Soldier was the quality of tannin in the semillon skins that we were looking at picking. Semillon in particular (and the semillon blanc especially) has a very thick skin, and as the tannins ripen, I can only describe them as ‘fine and creamy’ in texture. It’s precisely this character that I was looking to extract in the wine.
I’ve played around with chardonnay fermented on skins in my previous jobs, but I must admit that the tannin character is rather neutral. It lends great texture to the wine, but it is not particularly characterful. I’ve been quite taken with the character of Clairette blanche’s tannins, something that I saw on the Craven wines early on in tank. They have a wonderful texture that I describe as ‘talcum powder’ and this will start to form part of the Rocking Horse 2015 wine along with the semillon.
So going back to thickness of skins, I don’t think it is the sole criterion for choosing a grape variety that will work well with skin contact. Another factor to consider is leaf-roll virus which does have an impact on grape berry development. Andrea Mullineux made the comment that we are not always sure what the manifestation of virus will be for a given variety. All of the semillon blocks that I buy from are heavily virused, so it may be this is where this particular character of tannin is derived. I’m basing this on an article I read by an Italian vigneron (I can’t remember who), who said that we are not always sure how these viruses express themselves, so we cannot be certain that they always have a negative influence. Certainly all of the red semillon I have seen is virused.
I think that what I am trying to say is that there is no clear answer, and we are really on the doorstep of all these discoveries. For me, it has been extremely gratifying to find so many die-hard fans of more texturally rich wines, and I think that is a great start in being able to produce these wines.
I place a lot of importance in tasting the raw ingredients (a chef friend of mine taught me this), and using this sensorial library to build into a vision of what can be produced. I think much of the industrial winemaking we are looking to move away from sought to shoe-horn grapes into products. It’s always been my intention to respond to the produce of the vineyard, and use my skills (such as they are) to show these characteristics to best effect.’
This is an intriguing subject that will undoubtedly receive more attention as our adventurous winemakers experiment further with our excellent white wines.