Today we continue analyzing the elements in wines, and I will focus on a very important element, an element that contributes to the structure/backbone of the wine:tannins.
But what are tannins?
Tannins are polyphenols, present in most plants and in our case, they come from grape skins, pips and stems but also from oak, if the wine is fermented or aged in new oak.
On your palate you will feel tannins as astringent and greety, it is like having a bag of super dark tea seating on your tongue, tannins will dry your mouth and gums and will feel as sandpaper. When harsh they can make your mouth pucker but with time they mellow down, thanks to polymerization (this is one of the reasons, people age wines with lots of tannins, like Vintage Port or Fine Bordeaux).
Certain varieties have more tannins than others, ripeness is important, and every winegrower tries to harvest the grapes, once tannins have matured, since green tannins will be very astringent and produce wine with vegetal flavors, if you don’t believe me try a Cabernet Franc from the Loire Valley from a cool vintage.
Grapes that are super tannic include Nebbiolo (Barolo and Barbaresco), Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Tannat, Petite Syrah, etc. On the other hand, Gamay, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, Grenache are some of the grapes that have low tannins.
Besides aging the wines to allow tannins to soften in the bottle, one can soften tannins by matching them with the right food; protein or fat, will soften tannins in your palate and you will feel that they become less harsh. Now you know why cheese is just a great match to tannic reds!
But tannins are a very important element in wine and I don’t want you to see them as a bad thing, quite the contrary, they are key to the personality of a wine and like acidity they help preserve the wine and allow it to age.
Anthocyanins are also polyphenols and these are responsible for the red color in wine, these are extracted during fermentation, and also via the maceration with skins that most red wines go through. But don’t confuse anthocyanins with tannins, since some varieties that have tannins have low anthocyanins, and therefore will render wines with a light color. For example nebbiolo is high tannins but low in color, while Shiraz is both high in color/anthocyanins and tannins.
Here are some wines with high tannins to try:
Barolo: Damilano Barolo Le Cinque Vigne 2014 $40.
Napa Cabernet Sauvignon: Caymus Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley 2017 $92.
Uruguayan Tannat: Garzon Tannat 2017 $22.
Remember, that most wines produced nowadays (about 90%) are made to be consumed young and in these cases, tannins will be low to medium, and very soft, coating your tongue as velvet… The rest are the wines that you normally will age in a cellar.