The first wine I ever bought in a full case was a Merlot. I’ve heard that a Merlot is an “entry level” red wine for people who don’t drink reds. That may be. I think they went through a phase where they suffered from their own popularity — for a while, Merlots seemed to get into the “my Merlot is oakier than your Merlot” competition, and they got so tannic that they’d pucker you up faster than a lemon-flavored antihistamine.
“Oak” refers, of course, to aging the wine in oaken barrels, and oak is well-known for its tannins. One way to tan leather is to use a hatchet to make a bowl in an old oak tree stump, then soak the animal hide in rainwater collected in the stump. Or so I’ve been told. I’ve never tried it, myself.
Wine stored in oak casks will also leach tannins out of the wood into the wine. The result is the “tannic” taste you get with a strong black tea (which is also chock full of tannins), which leaves your mouth feeling dry and puckered — “leathery” you might even say.
Like hops in beer, a little bit goes a long way.
I haven’t had a Merlot in years. Then I tried this one, and I was delighted! It isn’t very tannic at all — just a nice, full, mellow grape nose and flavor. It’s a wine you sip, and then nod with a smile and take another sip. And then another. It’s a dangerous wine, but an entirely pleasant danger.