We’re breaking down everything you need to know about tannins: what they are, the words to describe them, and just exactly how they make their way into your favorite wines. Red wine lovers, this one’s for you.
What Are Tannins?
In short, tannins are the naturally occurring compounds in wine that leave a drying sensation in your mouth. This drying sensation can be felt on the tongue, cheeks, and / or gums, depending on how tannic a wine is.
Where Do Tannins Come From?
Tannins are naturally occurring compounds that are found in grape seeds, skins, and stems. Tannins are also frequently referred to as polyphenols. The intensity of a wine’s tannins is generally determined by how much contact the juice spends with its skins, seeds, and stems. Certain grapes, such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Nebbiolo, are naturally high in tannins.
Tannins in wine can also come from certain oak vessels, though these tannins are much less noticeable than those imparted from direct contact with grapes’ stems and skins.
Are Tannins Only Found In Red Wine?
Tannins in wine are experienced in any wine that undergoes extensive skin contact. Generally speaking, tannins are most often associated with red wines, though skin-contact orange wines can also be quite tannic.
What Are Examples of High-Tannin and Low-Tannin Wines?
Certain grapes are naturally much higher in tannins than others. Cabernet Sauvignon, Nebbiolo, and Syrah are three grapes most commonly associated with producing tannic wines. On the other hand, Gamay, Pinot Noir, and Schiava are three varieties known for their low to near-absent levels of tannins.
Are Tannins Good For You?
Tannins in wine contain antioxidants, so technically yes, tannins bring some health benefits to the table. Whether these are outweighed by the alcohol present in wine is up for debate!
What Are Some Good Words to Describe Tannins?
When thinking about tannins, using adjectives that describe texture are generally best. Tannins can be approachable, light, silky, and well-integrated, as well as robust, prominent, gritty, and firm.
What Other Ways Can I Experience Tannins?
A great experiment for understanding tannins outside of wine is to oversteep black tea. Like wine, tea is also high in naturally occurring tannins, though oversteeping will bring out their presence. Taking a sip of oversteeped brew will create a similar sensation on the palate to that of a tannic red wine.
How Can I Make Tannins More Approachable?
There are a few ways to tame tannins in wine. Highly tannic wines generally make for great cellar candidates, as tannins are part of the backbone to ageworthy bottles. Letting your tannic wines age in cellar-appropriate conditions for a few years will ensure that they soften nicely.
In the short term, pairing tannic wines with fatty foods—think red meats, rich cheeses, and more—will also render them more approachable. When consumed together, tannins and fat actually undergo a chemical reaction on the palate. As tannins become more approachable, they also bring out the flavor in fatty foods – a true win-win situation!