Whenever you read anything about wine, you are going to see the word “tannin” pop up again and again. Tannins are an extremely important part of wine. They come from the seeds, stems, and skins of black grapes as well as from oak barrels.

Tannins are an extremely important part of wine. They come from the seeds, stems, and skins of grapes as well as from oak barrels. Photo by John Cameron on Unsplash

Tannins give wine its body and structure, but they also can cause a dry feeling on your tongue ( aka the ‘gritty’ sandpaper effect when you drink wine with higher levels of them.)

In this article we’ll take a look at what tannins are, where they come from and how much is too much (or not enough) for your taste buds!

Tannin is a type of compound ( the scientific term is ‘polyphenol’) that gives wine its bitterness.It also plays an important role in how long a wine will last after being opened.

What do Tannins Do?

Tannins are naturally found in the skins, stems and seeds of grapes, but also in other vegetation like cacao ( aka chocolate before the sweetness, cranberries, walnuts, tea and oak.). What is cool about nature is that tannins actually serve as a defense mechanism for the grape as it deters animals and organisms from wanting to eat or attach before the grape is ripe.

The level of tannins in red wines is generally higher than white because red wines have more of their skin during fermentation. Red wine requires the juice of the grape to sit in contact with the skin in order to acheive the desired rouge color.

Red wine requires the juice of the grape to sit in contact with the skin in order to acheive the desired rouge color.

This skin contact also imparts tannin from the skin into the wine. Naturally, the longer a wine sits in contact with the tannin-containing elements of the juice, the higher the levels of tannin would be in the wine. This is why a Cabernet Sauvignon is going to taste grippier and more astringent than a Pinot Noir.

The antioxidant function of tannins is one of the reasons why certain red wines, including Cabernet Sauvignon, can age so well. Wines also like tannins because they help preserve nutrients, particularly antioxidants.

How To Detect Tannins On The Palate

Attempting to explain tannins in writing is always a challenge. The best way to learn is to experience tannins for yourself. You can do this by brewing a very strong cup of black tea, with no added honey, milk or cream.

Take a sip and pay attention to the noticeable drawing effect on the roof of your mouth and gums even after swallowing. I like to liken it to the feeling of a gritty sand-paper type quality at the roof of your mouth.

This, my friend, is the ‘tannin-effect.’

Tannins may be described in a winde description with terms like “soft”, “velvety,” or “plush.” A “grippy” wine usually indicates noticeable tannin is detectable, but not overpowering the wine. When tannins are referred to as “green,” this likely means they are overly-detectable, bitter and astringent. 

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