Tannins and Wine #3 - THEGRAPE

What Are Tannins In Wine?

Have you ever been to a wine tasting and heard people use the term tannin or tannins to describe the taste of a wine and wondered, “What are tannins?” and, “How do I know if I’ve tasted them?” The truth is, if you’ve had a glass of wine you’ve more than likely tasted tannins. It is even more likely that you’ve tasted them in nearly every red wine you’ve tried, especially younger red wines. That’s not to say that you haven’t tasted tannins in white wines though.


So what are tannins and what is their function in wine?

Well, tannins are a natural preservative of wine that come from the stems, skin, seeds and pips of a grape. Tannins are also derived from the wooden or oak barrels that serve as a vessel for ageing and fermenting many wines. Without tannins, certain wines would be unable to benefit from ageing in a bottle or cellar. Tannins give color, flavor and structure to a wine’s personality. Generally, red wines have higher tannin levels, which would also account for their color. Since the juice from red grapes is fermented with the grape skins, the wine turns red and the tannin levels increase.

Tannins are also found in white wines but the levels are considerably lower when compared to red wines because the juice from the white grapes isn’t normally fermented with the grape skins. Interestingly, there are red grapes used to make white wines. Although, during the harvest the skins from the red grapes are removed immediately after they’ve been picked. As a result, this prevents the color from passing on to the wine, producing white wine. Some examples of white wines that come from red grapes are: white Zinfandels, Pinot Meunier or Pinot Noirs. There are certain regions that produce white wines, which are known for their (higher) tannin levels. For example, white wines from Southern Italy, some French wines from Loire Valley, Cotes du Rhone, and wines from Greece.


How do you know if you’ve tasted tannins in your wine?

Tannins have a very distinct taste that is described as astringent (meaning sharp), bitter, or even dry. It is described as having a taste similar to that of a strong tea. Subsequently, you may feel like you need a big glass of water or food to encourage salivation because your mouth suddenly feels extremely parched. This is why meats and cheeses are often paired with wines that have higher levels of tannins. Certain varietals, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Tempranillo, Aglianico and Nebbiolo, are highly tannic and some have a sharp acidic taste when savored. If you happen to open a bottle with strong tannic flavors, try letting your wine breathe or aerate for a while. This will help unlock the natural aromas and bring out the flavors of the wine. On the other hand, there are certain wines that benefit from ageing. When aged properly the tannins begin to fade, allowing you to appreciate and enjoy the wine for all of its smooth enticing flavors, characteristics and qualities.

To summarize what we’ve covered in this article, tannins are natural preservatives that come from a grape’s skins, seeds, pips, and stems. Wine is also able to absorb tannins from the wooden and oak barrels used to ferment and age wine. Tannins are found in red and white wines, although more frequently in red wines. Usually red wines benefit from ageing due to the high level of tannins and after ageing for several years the tannins begin to dissipate, resulting in smooth, refined flavors that sing in your mouth. Tannins can affect the taste of the wine by leaving a strong astringent, bitter or dry after-taste. When this happens, try to pair it with meaty foods or cheeses, or consider oxygenating (aerating) the wine to unlock the aromas and flavors. Cheers!


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