What Are Tannins In Red Wine?

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If you’re new to wine collecting, you might be wondering about tannins.

Well, there are many ways to describe wine, and tannins is a term used to describe the bitterness, dryness, and astringency of a wine. Tannins are typically associated with red wine, essentially delivering the opposite of the sweetness associated with many white wines – more on that below.

You shouldn’t think of tannins as either a good thing or a bad thing. While you’ll encounter many red wine varietals loved the world over for their high tannin levels, you may not enjoy the sensation of dryness in the mouth that tannin-rich wines impart. To this end, the more fully you understand what tannins are and what they do, the more likely you’ll find a wine that pleases your palate.

So, what are tannins exactly?

I. What Are Tannins?

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One of the principal components of wine’s structure, the tannin content will affect how the wine behaves, both in the wine glass and on the tastebuds.

As we’ll outline below, tannins play a key role when you’re aging wine. The more tannins present in a wine when it’s bottled, the longer the shelf life you can expect.

Tannins, then, are complex compounds from the phenol family. Phenols are bonds of oxygen, hydrogen, and carbon. These compounds occur naturally and abundantly throughout nature, from the bark of trees to the leaves of certain fruits like grapes.

These tannins contribute to the overall feel and taste of wine. The taste of tannins is similar to tasting black coffee or some bitter dark chocolate, with a pronounced drying effect on the tongue.

When wine lovers describe tannins, they often use descriptors like silky or velvety, depending on how they perceive those tannins hitting the tongue.

Plants develop tannins as a form of preservation and protection, and it’s for this reason that tannins can help with the preservation of wine in the bottle, as well as impacting the way that wine tastes.

So, you now know what tannins are in the simplest sense, so where do the tannins you find in wine actually come from?


II. Where Do The Tannins You Find in Wine Come From?

The tannins found in wine come from the following areas of the grape:

  • Skin
  • Seeds
  • Stems

As you become more knowledgeable about different wines, you’ll discover that some varietals of grape have more tannins than others.

You ferment red wines on the skins, while white wines have much more subtle tannins after being aged in wooden barrels. You’ll find tannins from the wood dissolve into your white wine as it ages in the barrel.


III. How Do Tannins Taste?

The taste of tannins is pleasantly bitter, imparting a similar effect to eating dark chocolate, or drinking tea or coffee.

Also, you’ll notice a dryness on your tongue as though all the moisture has been scraped away. This occurs due to the way tannin molecules are attracted to various saliva proteins.

Tannins are also described as delivering “puck power”, a puckering and astringent effect you find in foods like pomegranate, cranberry, and grapes.


IV. Are Tannins Necessary For Aging Wine?

Tannins do have a role to play when it comes to aging wines, although many white wines hit respectable ages without tannins.

With red wines, though, the feel of the wine on the mouth will change as the wine starts maturing. To begin with, the tannins leaching into the wine are all smaller molecules. Over time, the tannins start combining, forming longer chains in a process known as polymerization.

Some wine lovers theorize that the aging process serves to reduce the reactive surface of the tannins, in turn creating a softer and gentler mouthfeel. Eventually, these chains get so long that they collapse, creating the deposit and sediment you see in some older bottles of red wine.

It is not fully understood whether this reaction is all that makes matured wine become less astringent.

The tannins in aged red wines are described as resolved. This means they are softer and smoother, and no longer astringent at al.

How about other types of wine, then?


V. Do White Wines and Sparkling Wines Contain Tannins?

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With some white wines, there is a short period of maceration involved. Maceration is skin contact. The freshly picked grapes are first crushed and then left for several hours on their skins before fermentation begins. This serves to draw out the flavors from the grape skins.

You may also have noticed orange wines and wondered what these were. They have nothing to do with oranges, but are named for the amber colors achieved when white grapes are vinified using full skin contact as with reds. These white wines will have some tannic element, but it won’t be as pronounced as you would find in red wines.

With sparkling wines, the bubbles work like magnifying glasses, highlighting all aspects of the wine. The extra texture you get from tannins will come across as quite bitter in this type of wine.

So, now you’re starting to become much more familiar with the role of tannins in the taste and aging of wine, it’s time to get started with the fun part: trying some wines with various levels of tannins to decide which kind are most to your liking.


VI. Low Tannin Red Wines

Perhaps you’re just starting out on your wine journey and you’d like to ease your way gently into the world of tannins.

If you’re looking to develop and hone your palate for tannins, pack plenty of patience. Be prepared to ask for advice and to do plenty of research.

Try any of the following wines to get you started. These wines are all low in tannins:

  • Pinot Noir
  • German Riesling
  • Tempranillo

VII. High Tannin Red Wines

Once you start becoming more comfortable with identifying tannins, you may want to step things up to some red wines notoriously high in tannins. Often, wines high in tannins are referred to as full-bodied.

Sometimes, production causes wines of the same varietal to differ in tannin content, but all of the following are typically considered high-tannin red wines:

  • Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Bordeaux
  • Tuscan wines
  • Shiraz
  • Syrah
  • Wines made with Sangiovese grapes

Not only do high-tannin wines taste great – assuming you’re a fan of astringency – they also usually age better when bottled than those lacking tannins.


VIII. Conclusion

Well, if you arrived here today at Barnacle Bar unsure about what tannins are and how they affect the taste of the wine in your glass, you should now be clear on the role of these compounds.

As well as helping to some extent with the preservation of red wine, tannins also give you that dryness associated with some reds.

Make sure you bookmark our blog before you pop off today and come back soon. We update our content daily with informative guides on all aspects of wine collecting. We also bring you impartial reviews to help you choose the right equipment for this rewarding pursuit. We’ll see you soon!

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