Definition - What does Astringency mean?

Astringency is a wine tasting term that applies to the tactile feeling of the wine in your mouth. It refers to the dry, puckering or rough feeling created in the mouth by the interaction of phenolics with saliva. There are many types of phenolics that add different characteristics to the wine; it is the polymeric flavan-3-ols, more commonly known as tannins, that cause astringency in wine. Tannins interact with the proteins in saliva, binding them so that your mouth is no longer lubricated. There are ways to measure the astringency of a wine without tasting it - the taste test by specialized wine tasters, the gelatin index and the ovalbumin test. Though the ovalbumin test is the most accurate, experts have proven that taste testing wines is the best way to determine the level versus personal preference.

WineFrog explains Astringency

Astringency is often confused with bitterness, but they are not the same thing. Bitterness is a taste; the flavours of it run along your tongue, but leave the overall composition of your mouth relatively untouched. Astringency is a tactile sensation; it effects the composition of your mouth - more specifically your saliva - and leaves your mouth literally dry or rough. A wine can be bitter without having high levels of astringency and it can be dry or rough without being bitter.

There are different nuances to astringency: powdery, chalky or grainy is the sensation that your mouth is filled with fine particles; silky, velvety or furry is the rough feeling; puckery, chewy, grippy or adhesive is the need to move your mouth after sipping a wine - as if you’re chewing on something or just ate a sour candy. Astringency can also make a wine soft, supple, fleshy or rich in your mouth - those are all good characteristics in a wine. If the wine is coarse or hard, those are the negative. When a wine’s tannins are balanced and its astringency perfect, a wine will feel perfectly smooth and balanced between dry and moist in the mouth.

Tannins, the cause of astringency, are present in all red wines and are higher in younger reds. Only a few white wines, like Gewurztraminer and Muscat, develop astringent qualities. Poorly made red wines can be very dry and astringent. The difference between a poorly made red wine and a young red wine is that a young red wine can be cellared for a year or two and it will improve; a poorly made red wine will never improve.

Since everyone has different tolerances and preferences in wine, the best way to determine what level of dryness - or astringency - is best for you is to sample as many red wines as you can.
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