Understanding Tannins

“High tannins” is a phrase that is used to describe wines a great deal, but few people truly understand what that means. Most only know that it means that the wine will be dry and astringent.

Tannins appear in many foods, life tea, dark chocolate and cinnamon. Technically, tannins are polyphenols that make up about half of the weight of plant leaves. In wine, tannins create a dryness that is most often associated with red wines, but can be found in white wines as well.

One of the best ways to learn what a tannin tastes like is to drink a strong cup of unsweetened black tea. This is almost pure tannins dissolved in water. One bite out of a quince will also give you a taste of a very high tannin food.

The tannins in wine come from the skin, the seeds, and the stems. The long contact between the fruit of the wine and these parts of the grape are what make red wines higher in tannins than white wines.

The oak barrels that wine is aged in also contribute tannins. These tannins tend to carry with them the taste of the barrel.

The combination of the naturally occurring grape tannins and the oak tannins from the ageing process help to create wines that are complex and interesting.

What Do Tannins Taste Like

Tannins are the element that make wines and other foods ‘dry’. Obviously, a liquid like wine isn’t dry, but the tannins make it feel dry on the tongue.

It also lends an astringent taste to the foods. When a glass of wine makes you feel a bit like puckering. This feeling starts on the front of your tongue and will move to the middle.

Enjoying Tannins in Wine

Many styles of wine, including Chiantis and Riojas, are famous and loved for their tannins. The strong flavour makes them an excellent companion to the hard and tomato dishes of Italy and the spicy foods of Spain.

The length of time that the fruit of the grape, the juicy inside part, is in contact with the skin and stems is what will generally govern the tannin content of the wine. Red wines are fermented with the skins and stems in the mix. White wines typically have those items removed immediately.

One style of wine that is making a comeback is orange wine. Orange wines are white wine grapes that are fermented with the skin and stems in the barrel. In fact, often it’s not a barrel, but a large clay jar buried in the ground. The solid bits are removed as the wine is bottled. This is a very primitive method of making a wine. It gives you white wines that have the complexity and tannins of a red wine with the sweetness of a white wine.

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