You’ve definitely heard wine connoisseurs mention tannins, but what exactly are they? Read on and find out!
If you’re new to the world of wine, you’ve probably run into a few new terms. You know, things like terroir, wine legs, and definitely tannins. Unfortunately, nodding your head like you know what they’re talking about will only get you so far. That’s why we’re breaking it down!
Read on and learn exactly what wine tannins are, whether they’re good or bad for you, and how tannins impact the overall wine experience.
Tannins Are Polyphenols
The simplest explanation is that they’re polyphenols. Boom! You get it , right? Okay, maybe that doesn’t completely explain it…
Polyphenols are naturally occurring organic compounds found in various seeds, barks, leaves, and fruit skins. “Phenol” refers to the type of chemical compound and “poly” just means there are multiple compounds. Sometimes polyphenols help plants by making darker pigments, repairing physical damage, and even protection from UV rays.
There are several different types of polyphenols including phenolic acids, stilbenes, lignans, and flavonoids. Tannins happen to fall under the flavonoid category. The word “tannin” is actually derived from the Latin word for tanner and refers to the way people used to use tree bark to cure leather (also known as tanning). There are two main types of them—hydrolyzable tannins and condensed tannins.
The former includes gallo- and ellagitannins and tannic acid. You can find gallotannins in berries, grapes, persimmons, and pomegranate. Berries, coffee, fruits, nuts, tea, and wine from fermented in oak barrels all contain ellagitannins.
Condensed tannins, also known as proanthocyanidins, can be found in several different types of berries, red cabbage, different barks, and in the skins of many kinds of grapes.
How Do They Get Into Wine?
Wine has tannins mainly because of the naturally occurring tannins in grape skins, seeds, and stems. The more time a wine spends with the grape skins, the darker it will be and the more tannins it will end up having.
Grapes are pressed or squeezed to release their juice. This releases some tannins, but not much since the majority of them are found in the skins of grapes. Depending on the type of wine being made, the grapes may be taken out (as in white wines) or left in the juice (as in red and rose wines).
Obviously, that means any wine that ferments or undergoes a maceration process with grape skins will have higher amounts of tannins. However, there is another way.
Wines that are aged in oak barrels can end up with additional tannins. As it ages, wine will slowly leach them from the oak wood giving it a more complex tannic structure.
How Do Tannins Affect Wine?
First, and most obviously, they impact the taste and texture of wine. Tannins impart unique taste sensations such as dryness, astringency, and bitterness. Generally, the more prevalent these sensations, the more tannins there are. This is also related to texture, or the way wine literally feels in your mouth. It can feel velvety, silky, or it can make your mouth pucker (astringent).
They also act as preservatives. That means a wine with lots of tannins might last longer or it may benefit from aging. As a wine ages, the tannins can soften and become more subtle.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that all tannic wines must be aged. Letting a tannic wine breathe (promoting aeration) can help soften and dilute the tannins to create a smoother, less overwhelming experience.
Are They Good for You?
The general consensus is that they’re good for you because they’re antioxidants. However, there is some debate about that.
Polyphenols are antioxidants which provide several beneficial properties. That’s why so many dieticians recommend eating antioxidant rich foods like blueberries, broccoli, kale, etc. In fact, many of the polyphenols in wine have been studied for their antioxidant potential.
Condensed tannins have been studied for their potential to improve joint flexibility, circulation, reduce certain kinds of infections, and even combat allergies. Others, like catechins and epicatechins, may even help lower total cholesterol. There are some individuals, however, who are sensitive to them and may get headaches.
Some even think tannins are the culprit of the dreaded red wine headache. The jury is still out on that one though. If they were the problem, then strong black tea (another tannin-heavy beverage) would also give people headaches. While there are studies that show worse hangovers after drinking alcohol with lots of tannins (bourbon, other barrel-aged alcohols, etc.), there’s not much evidence that they’re the main culprit of the basic red wine headaches.
So, in general, it’s pretty safe to say that tannins are perfectly okay to ingest.
Test Your Tannin Knowledge!
Ready to put your knowledge to the test? Consider hosting a wine tasting party to compare wines with different tannic levels! Wines like Cabernet Sauvignon tend to have lots, while reds like Pinot Noir tend to have less. We suggest you get a variety so you can develop your understanding of them!
Whatever you do, let us know how it goes! Comment down below and let us know about your tannin experiences, preferences, and even questions. Plus, don’t forget to stock up on all your favorite bottles.