Tannin

Definition - What does Tannin mean?

Tannins are an organic compound found in wine, tea, wood, bark, roots and stems. In wine, the tannins are vitally important. They give wine structure and aging ability. Throughout the winemaking process, tannins change the composition of a wine; they bind with other proteins, combining and breaking apart. This can affect the characteristics of a wine.

Due to the prolonged exposure to the skins, seeds and stems during maceration and fermentation, red wines are higher in tannins than white wines. However, oak barrels, oak chips, oak staves or tannin powder can be used to add tannin to any wine, red or white. When a wine is aged in or with oak, the wood tannins dissolve into the wine through contact.

WineFrog explains Tannin

Winemakers use tannins primarily to age wine. This is one reason why young wines are dry and bitter - they are high in tannins. As they age, they lose those characteristics, evolving into structured but drinkable wines, especially if the winemaking is done well. Technically, tannins are large polyphenolic compounds -- to simplify, they combine with proteins to turn something "soft and floppy" into something "tough and inert."

Younger red wines are higher in tannins. This means that they have that dry, puckering and furry sensation in the mouth. It can be bitter and astringent. As the wine ages, the tannins dissipate and the wine gains complexity, structure and depth. When done well, tannins add a polished, creamy feeling to the wine. It is said that, as the wine ages, the tannins are getting bigger and falling out of the wine, causing sediment, but there is no solid factual evidence of this: some wines that have aged do have sediment but some don’t. One popular theory is that the tannins themselves are changing the composition of the wine, bonding with the other parts of the wine and evolving into new molecule chains.

White wines generally have very few tannins, which is why they are usually made to be enjoyed early. However, those aged in oak have in wood tannins that allow them to cellar a bit longer than the average white. Vanilla is the most common characteristic noted in oak-aged wines.

Examples of highly tannic reds are:

  • Nebbilio
  • Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Tempranillo
  • Sangiovese
  • Montepulciano
  • Petit Verdo
  • Petite Syrah
These and other highly tannic wines should be paired with steak, lamb or cheese. The fatty qualities of a dish counteracts the astringency in the wine and makes it more palatable.
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