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Tannins: What Are They?

By Avi Arora

“This wine is high in tannins.”

“Can you feel the tannins?”

I’m sure all of us getting into wine have heard the term “tannin,” but what does it mean? Is a tannin a taste, smell, feeling, or flavor? It took me several tastings to finally be able to identify that specific tannin feeling. Before tasting wine to identify what exactly a tannin is, I was given the Ice Tea Test. The Ice Tea Test is when you have a glass of unsweetened iced tea (the bitter), a lemon (the sour), and sugar (the sweetness). You try all three types separately while paying specific attention to how exactly each affects your tongue. When tasting just the tea, I noticed my mouth pucker. My tongue clenched and my lips pursed. There it was: the tannin.

Tannis are essentially the pucker power that creates a dry sensation on the tongue. When you sip on a glass of red wine, have you ever noticed that your mouth often dries out? That feeling right there is caused by tannins. Tannins are derived by all parts of the grape that lack sweetness: the stems, seeds, and skin. Because red wines are in contact with grapes for a longer period to get their rich color, they are higher in tannins than white wines. This sensation leads to a bitter and astringent sip.

When a wine is high in tannins, the wine tends to be described as having more body. A rich, full-bodied wine such as a Bordeaux, Cabernet Sauvignon, or Shiraz is high in tannins. I’m sure you’ve heard of someone finally opening that 10-year-old bottle of Cabernet Savignon for a special occasion. This is because wines high in tannins age better than lighter, sweeter wines.

With light reds like Pinot Noir, we experience less pucker power. These light reds have fewer tannins. Tannins take away from sweetness, so if you’re new to wine, especially reds, stick to a lighter, sweeter red to adjust to this new tannin pucker power.

Now that we have a better understanding of what tannins are, pour yourself several variations of red wine and try to see if you can now identify the pucker power of tannins!

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