Unpacking The Role of Tannins
Wine has been enjoyed as one of life’s great pleasures for a long time now. From a crisp, refreshing white on a hot summer’s day to a robust, full-bodied red with a hearty meal, wine offers a range of flavours and aromas to suit every taste. But have you ever stopped to consider what makes a wine taste the way it does? One crucial element is wine tannins. Let’s talk about the role of tannins and how they influence wine.
What Are Tannins?
Tannins aren’t just a fancy wine term. They are actually a group of naturally occurring chemical (polyphenol) compounds. Tannins are typically found in various plant species, like grapes, cacao, oak trees, and tea. If you’ve ever had a cup of black tea, you may be familiar with the tannins present as you sip. Especially if you have left the tea bag in the hot water for a bit too long, black tea can taste bitter and leave you with a drying sensation in the mouth.
When it comes to wine, tannins contribute to the overall characteristics of wine, including the taste, structure, and ageing potential. Wine tannins are most commonly found in the skins, seeds, and stems of grapes. They are also introduced to wine through the use of wood barrels during the ageing process.
There are several factors that influence the amount and type of tannins in wine. These include the grape variety, growing conditions, and the winemaking process. Red wines tend to have higher tannin levels than white wines as the skins and seeds of red grapes contain more tannins. White wines also have less contact time with the skins and seeds during the winemaking process, resulting in lower levels of tannins – some whites are even made without skin contact or oak ageing!
What Do They Do?
When you taste a wine with high tannins, you may experience a drying, puckering sensation in your mouth. This is due to the tannins binding to proteins in your saliva and causing them to clump together. The bitterness of the wine tannins when drinking red wine is often described as being similar to that of a strong cup of black tea.
In addition to their taste, wine tannins also play an important role in the structure of the wine. Tannins help to stabilise the colour and preserve the wine’s complex flavour compounds overtime. They also contribute to the wine’s mouthfeel, giving it a sense of weight and texture.
The ageing potential of wine is greatly influenced by its tannin content. Wines with high levels of tannins can benefit from long periods of ageing, during which the tannins will gradually soften and integrate with the other components of the wine. This process can result in a more complex wine with a smoother, more refined taste. On the other hand, wines with lower tannin levels or those that are intended to be consumed young may not improve with ageing, and instead may degrade over time.
Although generally wine tannins can contribute to the overall quality of a wine, some wine drinkers find the astringency of tannins to be too overpowering. If this sounds like you, you will want to look for wines with lower tannin levels. If you are looking for white wine low in tannins, opt for Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc or Riesling. For a red wine, you might enjoy a Pinot Noir or Grenache.
Otherwise, if you are looking to learn more about tannins and expand your palate, we suggest you try out a Chardonnay, Malbec, Shiraz, or Nebbiolo (claimed to be Italy’s prized possession).