What are Tannins?

I love tannins so I gravitate towards tannic wines.  If you’ve read my reviews, you know I refer to tannins quite a bit.   So, what are tannins?  Why are they in wine? What do they taste like?  Does all wine have tannins?  Understanding what tannins are doesn’t make you a wine snob, but it can help you to voice what you like or don’t like in a wine.  It also will assist in understanding what you are looking for when considering what to sample in a tasting room or what you would like to purchase for a night in or out!

Tannins in wine come from the grape skins, seeds, stems, and any oak it is aged in.  If you have ever tried eating only the skin of a grape before then you have noticed the “dry” taste and feeling.  When the grapes are crushed prior to fermentation the tannic sources stay in the juice. Certain wines, specifically reds, have more tannic structure than other wines.  The dryness in your mouth isn’t just taste. The chemical makeup in the tannins has an effect on the saliva in your mouth; tannins break it down. The more tannins in a wine, the dryer you will perceive the wine to be.  Tannic acid is a term often used to refer to the tannins in wine.

Why is red wine typically dryer than white wine?  Typically, red wine is red because the skins (along with other tannic material) stay in the crushed juice longer than in the juice destined to be white wine.  This gives the tannic material a longer time to disolve into the grape juice.  Tannins are used to add character to a wine (keep in mind they aren’t the only source of character).  Depending on a variety of factors (type of grape, sugar levels, acidity, flavor profile) the winemaker will adjust the tannic level in the wine.  Additionally, wines with a higher tannic profile tend to age better.  It should also be noted that some tannins seep from the oak barrels that wine is aged in as well.

Tannins are sometimes introduced by other means.  Tannic powder is used by some winemakers.  Also, sometimes in place of using an oak barrel for aging, wood chips are added during the wine making process.

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