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  • Writer's pictureTony Elvin

Tannin in Wine - what is it and what does it do?

Updated: Oct 1, 2023

Part of our Wine Science series

Tannins are one of the most important components of red wine, playing a significant role in its taste, aroma, and aging potential. Tannins are natural compounds found in grape skins, seeds, and stems, as well as in oak barrels used for aging wine. In this blog post, we will explore the role of tannins in wine and how they contribute to its overall quality.

What are tannins?

Tannins are a type of polyphenol, a group of compounds found in plants that provide color, flavor, and aroma. In wine, tannins are responsible for the dry, puckering sensation you feel in your mouth when you take a sip, just like when you drink a strong cup of tea or make a cup of tea without any milk. They are also responsible for the astringency of wine, which is the sensation of dryness and roughness in the mouth.

Tannins are present in much higher concentrations in red wines than in white wines, as the grape skins are left in contact with the juice during the fermentation process. Heard of Orange Wine? It's essentially white wine where the grape juice is left in contact with white wine skins, just like Rosé. Tannins are also present in oak barrels used for aging wine, as they are released from the wood during the aging process.

How do tannins affect the taste of wine?

Tannins play a critical role in the taste of wine, as they contribute to its complexity, structure, and aging potential. When you taste a wine with high tannins, you will notice that dry, puckering sensation in your mouth that we mentioned, and a grip of tannin on your gums. This sensation is caused by the tannins binding to the proteins in your saliva, which creates a mouth drying feeling. Be careful, if you are enjoying a spicy dish along with a bold tannic wine, the wine can make the spice stick to the walls of your mouth!

Tannins also contribute to the structure of wine, providing a backbone that supports the other flavors and aromas. Wines with high tannins often have a long finish, as the tannins linger in your mouth after you swallow.

Finally, tannins play a critical role in the aging potential of wine. Wines with high tannins can age for many years, as the tannins gradually soften over time, allowing the other flavours and aromas to develop. Ever drunk a young Barolo? Unless you love bold tannin, and we know a few people that do .. try to resist the temptation. To be at its best, we prefer the tannins to have softened and become more rounded.

How to taste tannins in wine?

Tasting tannins in wine is a skill that can take time to develop. To taste the tannins in wine, take a small sip and hold it in your mouth for a few seconds. Pay attention to that drying sensation, the grip on your gums and note how long the sensation lasts after you swallow.

If you want to practice tasting tannins, try comparing a young red wine with a more mature one. Young red wines often have higher tannins, which will be more pronounced than in a more mature wine, where the tannins have had time to soften. If you have a Bordeaux that's been sitting on the rack for a few years, buy an inexpensive new one to compare with it. The difference can be striking.

Drinking wine with food

Tannin can be helpful when pairing wine with food. A juicy steak or deliciously stinky blue cheese could overpower a light red wine such as a Beaujolias from Fleurie, but with a rich bold Cabernet Sauvignon, the food can take ease away that grip of tannin from the wine, leaving a perfect balance on your palate.

In conclusion, tannins play a critical role in taste, aroma, and aging potential. They can also be essential when pairing wine to rich foods with higher fat content, meats, cheeses etc.

I hope that helps to demystify malolactic fermentation but what else can we demystify? If something confuses you in the world of wine, you can be sure it confuses lots of other people. Let us know what puzzles you and we'll aim to answer the question ..

Tony Elvin - The Wine Events Company


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