Pacifists and peaceniks, please turn away as I punch a woman half my size — and smile.
Protecting my porcelain chin with one fat-gloved hand, I'm following boxing coach Sarah Holgen's instructions to hit her mitt harder and faster with my other hand. "Left, right," she demands, adding that she should hear a "snap" sound when my padded fist meets its destination. Left, snap, right, snap.
Right now I'm inside Aerospace Ashland, a new fitness club that mercifully has no exercise machines, weight scales or clocks. Without these distractions, Holgen and other trainers expect clients to focus on learning proper boxing techniques. I plan to exert my arms, abs and legs before wobbling off to Jell-O Land to ponder once again why I'm exploring a new fitness regimen. What next? Cage fighting?
People who are serious about boxing will say it demands their full attention. But my mind has wandered away from earning this blond Rocky's respect to thinking about my work as a wine writer. Specifically, I need to find a way to talk about a beaten-about word: tannin.
From gallons of research, I have distilled that this pucker-inducing property is the reason some people love and some people loathe so-called "masculine" wines.
In its defense, tannin is the backbone of a well-balanced tempranillo, cabernet sauvignon or other burly, bold red wine made from thick-skinned grapes. A natural preservative, it also helps wine age gracefully. Rumor has it that some people wait 15 years or more before cracking open one of these big boys.
Unlike me and my spasming limbs, winemakers can control tannin. They do this by deciding how long tannin-rich seeds, skins and sometimes stems soak in the grape juice. The amount of time that ripe, nutty-flavored seeds steep in this bath — like tea bags in water — affects the astringency. Yes, tannin is the reason for that gripping, drying sensation in your mouth, something akin to what I feel looking around this gym at its perfect-body crew. No one knows bitterness like I do.
In between pummelings, I ask Sarah to tell me what she knows about tannin. Not only is this lithe 23-year-old fit enough to jump rope for an hour and then knock the stuffing out of punching bags twice as wide as she is, but she's also a brainiac chemistry senior at Southern Oregon University. She could probably explain long-chain molecules and plant-derived polyphenols and other blah-blah terms about tannins.
But instead of getting all Einstein about it, she states the benefits of tannins simply: "Tannins are a class of molecules that include catechins, which have anti-oxidant properties. Our bodies are continually producing harmful free radicals as a product of our daily metabolism, and catechins can help round up free radicals and eliminate them from our bodies. So cheers to that!"
Snap. I hang my gloves at my side — not in defeat, but in awe. So like boxing, tannin brings strength to the body of wine and allows it to hold up as it ages. Yet as tough as tannin is, it softens over time when exposed to oxygen and when paired with fatty and protein-rich foods. But then, don't we all?
EVENT: If you're ready to rumble with a high-tannin wine, you're in luck because tempranillo is celebrated across the globe Thursday, Nov. 8.
The second International Tempranillo Day shines the spotlight on a grape once seemingly unpronounceable and only seen in Spain, but which has been invited into other wine regions. Of the about 250 acres of "tem-prah-NEE-yoh" grown in Oregon, more than half of it is thriving in our hotter part of the state.
In 1995, ole oenophiles Earl and Hilda Jones at Abacela Vineyards in Roseburg proved that the early-ripening grape could do well here. They planted it at the urging of Earl's son, respected climatologist Greg Jones. Soon, Jones convinced other growers to have faith in the deep-red-colored wine, and now there are few wine producers here who don't offer a punchy tempranillo.
Any one of them would be happy to celebrate Tempranillo Day with you. Here's a snapshot of planned parties:
Valley View Winery in Jacksonville now makes up to 2,000 cases of tempranillo a year, selling it under the Anna Maria label ($26) at Fred Meyer, Trader Joe's and Costco, by the glass at The Jacksonville Inn. The Valley View tasting room will pour four vintages — 2007 to 2010 — Thursday through Sunday, Nov. 8-11. See if you can detect each year's softening tannins.
Kriselle Cellars in White City is offering samples from its still-in-the-barrel 2010 Tempranillo and bottled 2009 Tempranillo ($34) plus tapas and live flamenco guitar music Thursday, through Saturday, Nov. 8-10. And three Roseburg tasting rooms are hosting a progressive "tempranillo trail" at their distinct topographical settings. Enjoy complimentary tastings of tempranillo at Abacela ($21-$35), Delfino Vineyards ($20-$25) and Reustle-Prayer Rock Vineyards ($26) Thursday, Nov. 8.
Joining in on the tempranillo fun through Sunday are other members of Southern Oregon TAPAS (Tempranillo Advocates, Producers and Amigos Society). Folin Cellars in Gold Hill, Red Lily Vineyards near Jacksonville and RoxyAnn Winery in Medford will feature current tempranillos and some older vintages paired with manchego cheese.
TASTED: I cannot even think about tempranillo without being instantly transported to that sandy riverfront outside Red Lily's tasting room off Highway 238 in the Applegate Valley. Ah, those summer concerts near the water. Meeting like-minded wine appreciators in the old barn. And just pleasantly whiling away a Sunday while waiting for winemaker Rachael Martin to release another vintage of tempranillo (around $35 a bottle). She ages her babied wine for two years in oak barrels and for at least three more years in bottles. All I can say is ole to age!
Reach columnist Janet Eastman at 541-776-4465 or email firstname.lastname@example.org