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I’ve heard some red wines that I enjoy described as being soft, but I’m not sure what that actually means?

I’m prone to use the term “soft” to describe the texture of wines that are less bitter, less acidic and sweeter in style. “Easygoing” or “easy-to-appreciate” are other signposts I’ll use in reviews for fruity and approachable wine styles that typically enjoy mass appeal.

Beaujolais and value-priced red wines, especially Merlots and pinot noirs from California and other warm wine regions, slide easily into the crowd-pleasingly soft category. Though styles may vary from producer to producer, American Chardonnays and sweeter styles of Gewürztraminer and moscato are quintessential soft whites.

These hearty reds are ideal for combatting the February blahs

Wines that contain noticeable amounts of acidity and/or tannins are perceived as being harder or more aggressive. Acidity, tannin and alcohol are structural components for wine, much like the skeleton is for humans. Fruit and sugar add the flesh. Acidity and tannins can make certain wines seem harsh or astringent on the palate. Some grape varieties contain more acidity than others; popular white wine styles, notably sauvignon blanc and Pinot Grigio, tend to be higher in acidity than bestselling red varieties.

Those red varieties, however, contain tannins, compounds from the skins, seeds and stems of the grape, that come from fermenting black grapes with their skins for colour and more character. (Most white wines are fermented as pressed juice, without direct contact with their skins or seeds. As a result, tannins aren’t often a factor in the taste profile of conventionally made white wines.)

The extraction of tannins during wine making is largely dependent on the process. Modern techniques allow winemakers numerous ways to lessen the impact of tannins. Notably, they can introduce more oxygen during fermentation, which helps to break down tannin molecules leading to softer wines, or they can pick their grapes later to ensure riper seed and stem tannins, making for less coarse or biting components. Some tannins in wine come also from the oak barrels used for fermentation and aging.

Residual sugar is another tool that winemakers can use to help make their wines more supple and mouth-filling. Sweetness can mask acidity and tannin, making for less angular or severe wines. The success of popular California red wines, including bestselling labels Apothic and Ménage à Trois, can be attributed to hitting a sweet spot. These are sweeter-style red wines made approachable because of riper fruit, lower tannins and lower acidity. They have inspired a range of wines with elevated residual sweetness that smooth out any rough patches.

Depending on your taste, these might be akin to drinking flat cola. They could be the first red wines you actually enjoy. For better or worse, they’re defined by their soft nature.

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