What Are Tannins, Anyway?
Tannins are an important descriptor for wine tasting. It refers to the dryness, bitterness, and astringency of wine and is mostly associated with red wines as opposed to the sweetness found in many white wines. Tannins are often a desirable flavor in wines, but not every wine has tannins, and not every wine drinker enjoys them.
We have put together a quick reference guide to understanding tannins, their role in wine, and how to identify and describe them.
Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Tannins
1. What Do Tannins Do?
Tannins are a type of bitter and astringent chemical compound that belongs to a larger group called polyphenols. They can be found in nature, namely in wood, bark, leaves, and fruit of plants as various as oak, rhubarb, tea, walnut, cranberry, cacao, and grapes.
Tannin molecules are typically larger than those found in other types of polyphenols, and they can combine with other molecules, including proteins, causing them to precipitate. This is the basis of leather production, in which the structure of the animal hide is changed by using various tree barks.
2. Where Do Tannins Come From?
Tannins are sourced from the grape skins, seeds, and stems, and wood barrels used during aging. They provide texture and mouthfuls to wine and a sense of weight and structure. White wines are mostly made from the juice that’s pressed when the grapes arrive at the winery. Red wine, on the other hand, is made from the entire grape.
As the red wine ferments, skins, seeds, juice, and sometimes stems are all macerated together. During that process, both color and tannin become part of the wine. Tannins create a drying sensation in your mouth when you drink red wine.
3. How to Describe Tannins?
The texture is used to describe the quality of tannins. When a wine has a pleasant amount of tannins, it’s often described as “grippy.” When tannins are described as “green,” they’re slightly bitter and have unpleasant astringency. However, “polished” tannins will be very fine-grained in texture, noticeable but pleasant.
It’s important to distinguish the difference between bitterness and astringency. Bitterness refers to taste, while astringency refers to tactile sensation.
4. What Are the Tannins in Different Types of Wine?
Some grape varieties have more tannins than others. Tannic wines include Cabernet Sauvignon, Nebbiolo, Malbec, Tannat, Tempranillo, Merlot, and Sangiovese. Whether the winemaking technique encourages the extraction of the tannin is still questionable. Wine made from grapes like Pinot Noir, Gamay, and Grenache, which have much thinner grape skins, are much less tannic.
While grape variety can provide a good idea about the concentration of tannin in the wine, ripeness, and climate also matter.
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