Definition - What does Leathery mean?

Leathery is a wine tasting term used to denote the presence of leather-like aromas and flavors in a wine. It can also be used to describe the texture or mouthfeel of a wine. Leathery is always used when describing a red wine and never applies to a white wine. This is because most of the leathery characteristics develop as the wine ages or appear in a wine meant to be aged for years.

Fruit, acidity and other characteristics in a wine balance the leathery aromas and flavors. Too much leather could signify a wine fault, such as Brett, or could indicate that the wine has been over-aged. As the wine ages, fruit and acidity fade, making leather more pronounced.

WineFrog explains Leathery

There are two main causes of the leathery characteristic in a wine: tannin and brettanomyces (Brett).

Leathery characteristics caused by tannin are more positive and can be found in aroma, flavor and texture. The leather aroma and flavor will be clean – new saddle, leather gloves, bookbinding, fine-grained leather, leather bag. Texturally, the wine will feel leathery, like a chewy steak. It’ll feel thick, dense, big and soft in the mouth. This is due to an overabundance of tannins – the main ingredient used in tanning leather (which is where tannin gets its name, from “tanning” leather).

Leathery characteristics caused by Brett are more negative. They are found in the aroma and flavor of a wine. These characteristics will be “dirty” – sweaty saddle, muddy boots, wet dog leash, horse blanket. In small doses, leathery characteristics caused by Brett can be pleasant, especially if balanced by the wine’s fruit. However, if the fruit fades, leathery characteristics could become too overwhelming too enjoy.

Note: leather characteristics could also be a result of terroir, climate, grape variety, winemaking technique and more. Brett and tannin are just the two main sources.

Leathery characteristics are found in many European wines. This characteristic is treasured, especially when it harmonizes with the other characteristics in the wine. Some standard leather descriptions are:

  • Glove leather in red Burgundy
  • Sweaty saddle in reds from Spain and South West France
  • Handsome, leathery complexity in Bordeaux Grand Cru
  • Leathery attack in French Malbec
Grape varieties that are more likely to have leather aromas and flavors are:
  • Barbera
  • Cabernet Sauvignon (after aging)
  • Charbono
  • Malbec (after aging)
  • Merlot (after aging)
  • Pinot Noir
  • Syrah (after aging)
  • Tempranillo
  • Zinfandel (after aging)
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