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Tannins in wine

Tannins are mostly spoken of in the context of red wines, because it`s in red wines they tend to be prominent.   Some white wines may well have tannins, but in most they are barely perceptible. Traces of tannins derived from oak in white wine can add texture, while excessive amounts can be astringent and bitter. Oak tannins may well have a part to play in the texture of red wines too, of course, but the dominant source of tannins in red wine is grape skins, from which colouring is also derived in the form of anthocyanins. Tannins are also found in the stalks and pips, though an excess of these can add an unwelcome bitterness in wine. So, what are they, exactly? They are “polyphenol compounds”, plant matter rich in antioxidants. Besides having health benefits, they facilitate the aging of wine, combining with other molecules over time to create a smoother taste. Young tannic red wines can have a drying sensation on the palate which can take some getting used to, admittedly. I have a few customers who really don`t like the feel, described, variously, as:     chalky, grainy, grippy, aggressive, astringent, harsh, rough and crunchy. It`s what I call the stewed teabag effect. Certainly, young tannic reds can be drying, though this effect is ameliorated when pairing with food, especially red meat. It`s also the case that wine grapes more consistently reach phenolic, physiological ripeness these days, as a result largely of ever improving techniques employed in the vineyard, which makes tannic red wines less drying. One talks more of a tannic wine having structure, in a positive way. Indeed, provided the tannins are ripe and fleshed out with fruit, they can be attractive even when young to all but the most tannin averse. With age, of course, the best of them will turn to velvet and silk, and I`ve never heard anyone complain about velvet or silk!   It`s worthwhile remembering that the aging process softens tannins in red wine – smoothens them out – and it could be a matter of just cellaring.

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