People who are new in the world of wines might be unfamiliar with tannins. Tannins are what makes wine unique and special. It is the key wine ingredient due to which the wine tastes like this. Therefore, learning about them is essential. That knowledge will help you better appreciate and understand wine.
What are tannins?
Tannins occur naturally in seeds, plants, wood, fruit skins, leaves, and bark. The technical term for tannins is polyphenols. Polyphenols are a type of macromolecules that are a combination of both oxygen and hydrogen.
Wine tannins come from stems, seeds, grape skins, and oak barrels. When stems, seeds, and skins soak in juice, tannins are released. The more time they spend in the juice, the more tannin is released.
Tannin occurs mainly in red wines, and rarely in white wines. Typically, tannin adds astringency, bitterness, and complexity to the wine. It leaves a rubbing, drying sensation on the tongue.
The significance of maceration and fermentation
Maceration and fermentation are two processes that lead to the creation of tannins.
Fermentation is a process in which yeast creates alcohol from sugar. In winemaking, it is the grape juice that is used as a sugar source. That’s the case when whole fruits are part of the fermentation process and when most tannins are extracted from the skin.
However, certain wines are made just from grapes whose skin has been previously removed. This leads to lesser tannins. Typically, it is the white wines that are made by grapes that don’t have their skin on.
Maceration is a process in which already fermented wine has been placed in a barrel that contains grape skins. That way, the newly made wine has a higher concentration of tannins. Most of the time, the process happens under heat. Just on rare occasions, there is a cold maceration.
Five ways tannins influences wine
Tannins have multiple effects on wine. Here are the most notable ones:
Tannins, not acidity, are responsible for the wine’s astringency, dryness, and bitterness. As a general rule, the drier the mouth, the more tannins there are in the wine. After tasting a wine rich in tannins, we instinctively pucker our lips. That’s tannins through and through.
The more tannins in the bottle, the longer its shelf life will be. As a result, many winemakers overload their wines with tannins. The older the wine, the more subtle the tannins will become. That is why aged wines are quite expensive and much desired, and why some wines (like Sangiovese) vary greatly with ageing.
In an ideal scenario, the wine is has a good balance between its acidity, fruit, and tannins. The better the balance, the better the wine. Any imbalance and the wine will not taste quite right. This is where the real difference is made between excellent, good, and bad wines.
This is also known as “mouthfeel”. But no matter how you call it, it represents how the wine feels in throat and mouth. Tannins are the primary contributors to the texture in the wine. Sometimes that mouthfeel might feel firm, silky, astringent, or velvety.
Ripe tannins can create a sensation of depth and structure. On the other hand, too much of it will dry out the mouth. Again, only the best winemakers in the world have mastered this. It is one of the top reasons why their wines are exceptional and so much in demand.
Wines high in tannins
Almost by default, red wines are high in tannins. Some of those red wines are Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Montepulciano, Nebbiolo Petite, Monastrell, Sirah, Sangiovese, and many others.
Red wines low in tannins
But there are also certain red wines whose tannins levels are not that high. Some of the most notable low-tannins varieties include German Riesling, Pinot Noir, Barbera, Tempranillo, Gamay, Zinfandel/Primitivo, and Grenache.
That’s pretty much all the essential stuff about tannins, what are they, why they matter, and how to tell them apart when wine tasting. What’s even greater about tannins is that they are proven to have a super-positive impact on health. So, not only they made the wine tasty, but they can make you healthier.