Wine 101 Series: Tannins

Posted by Christopher Gifford on

Have you ever opened up new bottle of wine, taken your first sip, and then your mouth gets a little dry? That's probably the tannins in the wine.

What are tannins?

Tannins come from grape skins, stems, and seeds when used to make the wine, so the tannin levels in your wine will depend on the type of grape, as well as the winemaking process. 

The longer the pressed juice is kept in contact with the skins, seeds and stems prior to fermentation, the greater amount of tannins will develop.

And after fermentation, tannins can be absorbed by the wine if is stored in oak barrels. 

Younger wines, higher tannins

Normally, tannins are more pronounced in younger red wines that haven't had the time to soften as they age. A wine with high tannins can be described as bitter and astringent. 

You'll also get tannins in tea, and in some nuts, dark chocolate, and some spices like cinnamon.

The important role of tannins in wine

The most important thing in wine is balance, where all the qualities of the wine work in harmony with each other. Tannin gives wine its backbone or structure. While it can be astringent on its own, it helps to balance out the sweetness, the acidity, the alcohol and the fruit.

Furthermore, some of the world's top wines can be unapproachable or "chewy" when young. I'm thinking some Bordeaux or wines made with Nebbiolo. And it's the presence of high tannins which allows these wines to age for decades. And it also makes them great food wines, particula

Over the course of five to ten years, their tannins lose their bitterness and become really smooth. There's nothing like a Bordeaux or a Barolo with 10+ years of ageing.

The Terrific Tannin Tea Taste Test

Tannins can be difficult to describe, and in wine there's so much else going on, so here's a good exercise to train your palate. All you need is a cuppa.

  1. Make a strong cup of tea, leaving the teabag, or tea leaves in the cup for about 10 minutes. Don't add any milk or sugar.
  2. Take a sip and swirl it around your mouth. That drying, bitter or astringent sensation is tannin.
With this experience, you should be able to return to a red wine tasting and have the ability to recognize the tannins.

High tannin red wines

While I mentioned the wine production having an impact on the wine's tannins, the following are generally high in tannin.

Bordeaux red wines or those made in Tuscany from Sangiovese grapes. Syrah and Mourvedre too.

If you're looking for some lower tannin red wines, reach for Pinot Noir or Tempranillo. 

 


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