If you’ve ever been to a wine tasting you’ve probably heard a sommelier, bartender or wine steward talk about tannins. Some of us may understand tannins, some might have an idea of what tannins are and others are completely lost on the subject. Don’t stress! and don’t feel silly, unless you’ve taken a little bit of time to actually study wine tannins, it can be a difficult topic to understand.
So lets breakdown what tannins are, where they come from, and what they taste like.
What are they?
Tannins are naturally occurring polyphenols found in all kinds of plants, leaves, woods and seeds. Because red wine generally sits on the seeds and skins much longer than white wine, it is natural for red wine to be much higher in tannins than white wine. Tannins are present in all kinds of food you most likely consume on a regular basis, such as nuts, chocolate, tea and certain berries.
Where do they come from?
Tannins in wine can come from one of two places. Most commonly you will taste grape tannins, these flavors come from the skins and seeds of the grapes themselves. When the fruit is crushed and eventually fermented, the wine maker will allow the juice to sit on the seeds and skins to allow tannins (along with colors and flavor) to be extracted from them. Wood tannins (most commonly Oak) are also a kind of tannin you may frequently taste in wines. These tannins, as you may have guessed, come from the wood barrels that wine is commonly aged in. The longer the wine ages in the barrels the more wood tannins it will have.
What do they taste like?
Tannins usually impart a bitter or astringent flavor in the wine. One of the most straight forward examples of tannins is black tea. If you have the opportunity, brew a cup of black tea, let it cool and then drink it as is. That bitter, slightly acidic drying flavor is what we identify in wine as tannins.
One last thing… Tannins are an integral part of wine, especially aged wines! A higher concentration of tannins is what you should look for in a wine you are buying to age. These tannins give the wine body and structure that over time softens and develops, assuming the bottle is stored and aged correctly.
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