Tannins will not be a new term for many wine tasters but are still a source of confusion. Their origins and the impact they have on the tasting experience is mystifying to many. This article acts as a guide to help you to understand what tannins are, what they do and their importance in a wine’s profile.
A Guide To Tannins: What Are They And Where Do They Come From?
Tannins are naturally occurring compounds that exist in many natural sources, including grapes. These compounds or polyphenols are found inside grape skins, seeds and stems. Tannins provide texture and a mouthfeel to the wine, as well as a sense of weight and structure. They also bind with proteins in saliva, drying out your mouth. This is why red wines typically pair so well with red meats – the tannins bind with the proteins in the meat, making them less astringent on your palate.
Tannins form the basis of the structure of many red wines – and are known for their bitter or astringent components. How tannic a wine’s profile is will depend on a number of factors including grape variety, vineyard conditions, winemaking practices and vintage variation. For example, cooler climates tend to yield a more aggressive tannin. While the tannins of grapes grown in warmer climates are considered to be smoother and larger. As well, some varieties are more tannic than others. Cabernet Sauvignon, for example, is high in tannins, while Pinot Noir is typically much lower.
Tannins In Wine: Knowing Their Importance
Yet, what exactly is the importance of tannin being present in wine?
They help to define the character of the wine while adding texture. Many winemakers will vary the winemaking process depending on the tannic outcome they are looking to achieve. The aim is to ensure that enough of a grape’s tannin is extracted during the maceration process. The more characteristics extracted, the deeper the complexity and personality of the wine.
Another reason why they are important is the way they act as a natural antioxidant that protects the wine. This is one of the reasons why some red wines, including Cabernet Sauvignon, can be age-worthy. Antioxidants play an essential role in the aging process of wine, while also providing great health benefits.
Describing Wine Tannins During A Tasting
For many oenophiles, being able to describe tannins during a wine tasting is a wonderful skill to have. However, it can be difficult to differentiate tannins from other structural elements of a wine, such as the acidity and alcohol.
While tannins are known for their bitterness or astringency, there are differences in the quality of a tannin. For example, tannins that are “unripe” or “green” can leave a bitter taste and make a wine unpleasant, especially if they are not balanced by enough fruit. However, “ripe” or “fine grained” tannins can feel velvety in the mouth and have no trace of bitterness.
Next time that you are tasting a glass of red wine, note the following observations:
- Do the tannins coat your mouth immediately or slowly?
- Do they dominate the wine or are they matched by fruit and freshness?
- Are they gentle and integrated? Or are they harsh and assertive?
Examples Of High And Low Tannin Wines
As we mentioned earlier, how much tannin is present depends on a number of characteristics including grape varietal and the climate in which the grape was grown. While the winemaking process does have its influences, some grape varieties have tannic characteristics than others.
There are many wines that are famously known for either their high or low tannin level. Below, we name a few of these that you should certainly try.
Low Tannin Wines
Wines that are in high production are more commonly found to have a less abrasive and smoother texture. Therefore, having a lower tannin level than other reds or whites. Low tannin wines such as Merlot, Pinot Noir or Zinfandel are often noted for their even textural profile and are more suited for those who don’t particularly enjoy dry wines.
Consider trying a Domaine Magellan – Merlot vdp 2017 from the French Languedoc region. Note its spicy, smoky hints with richness and smooth tannins.
High Tannin Wines
High tannin wines, on the other hand, are often considered as low production wines. Therefore, exhibit a greater variety of textural profiles. High tannic wines include Cabernet Sauvignon, Nebbiolo, Tannat and Sangiovese among others. Pairing highly tannic wines with the right dish can provide wine tasters with an even more engaging textural profile.
If you wish to experience a wine that has high tannin levels, consider trying the La Quercia – Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2015. This full-bodied and smooth Italian wine is packed with notes of wild cherry, chocolate, blackberry and spices. This Montepulciano is a very versatile and flavourful wine that pairs well with many dishes including Italian favourites such as pizza and lasagne.