Tannin is quite an important component in wine, and it’s a term is quite key, and that you should be comfortable with and understand well.
So what is tanning? Tannin is actually the name of a compound that is found in red wine and that has a bitter taste.
From there we have the word “tannic” which is how we describe a wine that is very bitter because of its high tannin content.
Along with sweetness and acidity, tannic is one of the 3 basic tastes that are found in wine.
But it is only found in red wine!
So a wine can be low in tannin as certain grape varieties like Gamay for example can be.. or it can be high in tannin and be described as tannic as Malbec or Cabernet Sauvignon can be.
Why is tannin only found in red wines?
The tannin compound is found only in the skin of the grape, the stalks and the seeds. When red wine is made, the grape juice (which doesn’t contain tannin) is left in contact with the solid parts of the grape. It is during that phase of contact that tannin is extracted from the solid parts and transferred into the juice (it is also during that phase that the red colour is transferred from the skin to the juice which otherwise would be clear).
However, when making white wine the juice and the solid parts of the grapes are immediately separated, so tannin doesn’t have time to be extracted from the skins and seeds.
How can you pick out the tannic taste in a wine?
When tasting a wine, you need to look out for a bitter taste, that kind of dries out your tongue, gums and inner cheeks.
Tannin is also found in tea… and a good exercise is to put a couple of bags in a cup, leave with boiling water for a while and then taste that tea as you would a wine. You will really understand what tannin is like. This will also enable you to create a scale for tannin. This is very useful when marking a wine. Imagine water being a 0 and your super strong black tea a 10..
Then, when you mark tannin when you taste wine you have an idea of a scale.
Although some people dislike tannin, it’s very important in wine.
Firstly, it helps make wine a great partner to certain styles of food. This is very true for high protein food such as red meat, or certain fatty dishes where tannic wine can be an ideal pairing.
Secondly, it also helps the wine age as tannin is an antioxidant.
Also, when a wine ages, it becomes less tannic, so it’s important that wine is tannic to start off with, if you want to age the wine or it will be very imbalanced.