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What Are Tannins in Red Wine?

Tannins-in-Red-Wine

Anyone new to the world of wine collecting is likely to encounter tannins.

As you’ll soon discover, there are many different ways to describe wine, and wine lovers used the term tannins to describe the following qualities in wine:

  • Bitterness
  • Dryness
  • Astringency

You’ll typically find tannins in red wine. Tannins deliver the opposite effect of the sweetness you associate with many of the best white wines – we’ll expand upon that below.

It is important to note that tannins are not intrinsically good or bad. Sure, there are plenty of red wine varietals that are beloved all over the world for their elevated tannin levels. That said, you may simply not enjoy the signature sensation of dryness in the mouth imparted by wines rich in tannins.

Ultimately, the more deeply you understand what tannins are and the role that they play, the more chance you have of finding a wine aligned with your palate.

What are tannins in wine, then?

Tannins 101

The tannin content of a wine is one of the key components of its structure, impacting the behavior of the wine in the glass and on your tastebuds.

As we will explore below, tannins are also a pivotal factor in the wine aging process. The more tannins present in a wine at the point of bottling, the lengthier the shelf-life.

Tannins are complex compounds that come from the phenol family. Phenols are aromatic organic compounds of hydrogen, oxygen, and carbon. The compounds are naturally-occurring, abundantly present in nature. You can find phenols in the bark of trees, as well as in the leaves of grapes and other fruits.

When you taste tannins, the sensation is similar to that of black coffee or dark chocolate. Tannins will contribute to the taste and feel of the feel, imparting a noticeable drying effect on the tongue.

Wine lovers describe tannins in terms such as velvety or silky according to their perception of the tannins on the tongue.

Plants have developed tannins to for preservation and protection. For this reason, tannins in wine help with preservation, too. Tannins also impact the flavor of the wine.

Now you understand what tannins are, where do the tannins in your wine come from?

Tannins-in-Red-Wine-1

How Are Tannins in Wine Formed?

Tannins in wine come from these areas of the grape:

  • Skins
  • Stems
  • Seeds

As you learn more about different types of wine, you’ll discover that tannin levels vary according to the grape varietal.

Red wines are fermented on the skins. White wines, by contrast, are aged in wooden barrels – typically oak. The tannins from those wood barrels will dissolve into the wine as it ages.

The Taste of Tannins

Tannins have a pleasantly bitter taste. Tannins on the tongue deliver an effect similar to drinking coffee or tea, and also similar to eating bitter dark chocolate.

When tannins hit your tongue, you’ll notice a distinct dryness. This will feel like the moisture on your tongue has been sucked away. This occurs because of the way in which various saliva proteins attract tannin molecules.

Tannins are sometimes described as delivering puck power – this is the puckeringly astringent effect found in grapes, cranberry, and pomegranate.


Are Tannins Essential in Aging Wine?

Tannins play a part in the wine aging process.

Having said that, you will find that many whites will reach respectable ages even without tannins.

When it comes to red wines, though, the way the wine feels on your mouth will change as it starts to mature. Initially, only small molecules of tannins will leach into the wine. Eventually, the tannins will combine in the bottle, forms long chains. This process is called polymerization.

Some wine aficionados theorize that wine’s aging process helps to minimize the tannins’ reactive surface. This results in a soft and gentle mouthfeel. When the chains of tannins become so long that they end up collapsing under their own weight, this will create the sediment and deposit found in older bottles of red.

Scientists do not yet fully understand whether the above reaction is the only factor responsible for aged wine becoming less astringent. When tannins in red wines reach this stage, they are described as resolved.

What about other varieties of wine, then?


Are There Tannins in White and Sparkling Wines?

Some white wines call for a short maceration period. During maceration, winemakers take the grape juice before it ferments and leave it soaking the crushed skins, seeds, and stalks of the grape. Before this, the winemaker will crush the grapes and leave them on their skins for a few hours. This allows the flavors to come out fully before the grapes start fermenting.

If you have encountered orange wines and asked yourself what these are, you’re not alone. Orange wines are not associated with oranges. Instead, these wines are named for the rich amber color generated by vinifying white grapes with the same full skin contact used for the vinification of red grapes. White wines of this type will have some tannins, but the overall effect will be less pronounced than the tannins in red wines.

Sparkling wines will highlight all elements of the wine through the bubbles. Tannins in this type of wine will taste bitter and undesirable.

Now that you’re becoming more familiar with the role tannins play in the aging and overall of wine, here are some wine suggestions with their corresponding tannin levels.

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Red Wines with Low Tannin Levels

For anyone new to the world of wine, you probably want to start exploring the concept of tannins. Be patient, always be ready to ask for advice, and do your own research.

Any of the following red wines make a great starting point and all of these wines have very low tannin levels:

  • Pinot Noir
  • Tempranillo
  • German Riesling

Red Wines with High Tannin Levels

As you start becoming more and more comfortable identifying the tannins in wines, you may feel it’s time to experiment with some red wines notorious for their high tannin content. You may find wines like this described as full-bodied.

The production process means that some wines from the same grape varietal will differ slightly in tannin content. Despite these small differences, all of the following wines have a reputation for a typically high tannin content:

  • Syrah
  • Shiraz
  • Bordeaux
  • Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Tuscan wines
  • Wines made from Sangiovese grapes

You will find that high-tannin wines not only taste great – as long as you don’t mind a hint of bitterness, but they will also normally age better than wines with a lower tannin profile.


Conclusion

If you arrived here today at Slow Wine Magazine unsure about what tannins are and how they affect the taste of the wine in your glass, you should now be clear on the role of these compounds.

As well as helping slightly with the preservation of red wine, tannins also deliver the dryness associated with many reds.

Bookmark Slow Wine before you go and be sure to come back soon. We update our content daily with guides on every aspect of wine collecting. We also bring you unbiased reviews to help you pick the right gear for this most rewarding of pursuits. We’ll see you soon!


FAQ

1) Do any white wines or orange wines contain tannins?

Some white wines are macerated briefly. Maceration is informally known as skin contact. When grapes are freshly harvested, they are crushed and then left for several hours on the skins. This occurs before the grapes start fermenting. The maceration process draws more flavor from the grape skins. Maceration is standard practice with semi-aromatic and aromatic whites like Riesling. Orange wines are made from white grapes that have been vinified with complete skin contact just like the process used for red grapes. Although orange wines have a slight tannic element, it is not as pronounced as the tannin content in red wines.

2) Do sparkling wines have tannins?

The bubbles found in sparkling wine serve to magnify all aspects of the wine. The bubbles already add plenty of texture to the wine. All wines fermented in the bottle also gain texture from yeast aging. What this means is that the presence of tannins in this type of wine would taste bitter. The bubbles would further inflame the bitterness. To this end, it is crucial to get the pressing regime for top-notch sparkling wines right. With the handful of red sparkling wines – Lambrusco or Shiraz, for instance – the sweetness from a touch of added sugar will counteract the bitterness

3) What does pressing wine mean?

When red wines have finished fermenting, they are pressed. The pressing process separates the liquids from the solids. The best winemakers all factor multiple variables into the tannin management process, including the ripeness of grapes and skins, as well as the wine style. With intelligent tannin management, both bitterness and harshness are avoided.

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