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Tannins are natural compounds present in grape skins, seeds, and stems, bestowing a kaleidoscope of bitter and astringent flavours and a textured complexity to wines. Moreover, they can also be introduced through oak barrel ageing, infusing additional depth and character to the wine.
How to detect tannins in wine?
Identifying tannins in wine is akin to the sensation you get from sipping cold black tea or savouring a piece of dark chocolate: a notable drying feeling predominantly perceived on the gums and upper inner lips. It's essential to distinguish between the bitterness (a taste) and astringency (a tactile sensation), the latter being a hallmark of tannins, creating a rich tapestry of sensations in every sip.
Pairing tannin with food
Tannins excel in accompanying rich and fatty dishes due to their affinity for protein binding, bringing out a culinary synergy that tantalises the palate. This wonderful interaction not only balances the flavours but also refreshes your palate, encouraging you to indulge in another bite. It is the science behind the classic pairing of a fatty steak with a Bordeaux.
The cheese connection
When it comes to cheese pairings, tannic wines find their perfect match in hard cheeses. The profound flavours and textures of aged Cheddar or Parmesan perfectly mellow the tannin's astringency, forging a delightful harmony in your mouth and elevating the wine and cheese tasting journey. They can be a challenge for softer cheeses though, but more on that in a dedicated article!
Wines famous for their tannin
Tannins are predominantly found in red wines. Their production method with prolonged contact with grape skins, seeds, and sometimes stems during fermentation creates a rich and vibrant flavour profile with the added benefit of ageing potential. However, they are not absent in white wine production. A small number of white wines can acquire tannins through oak barrel ageing or skin contact during fermentation (and let’s not forget the new-kid-on-the-block, Orange wine, with pip as well as skin contact), adding a nuanced complexity to their character. Varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon and Nebbiolo with their thick skins stand tall as examples of high tannin wines, while Gamay and Pinot Noir represent the softer, lower tannin spectrum.
Common terms used to describe tannins in wine
Get acquainted with the vernacular to enhance your wine-tasting journey:
Lower tannins: Terms like soft, feathery, velvety, and delicate describe these gentle, palate-caressing wines. These can often be as a result of a higher alcohol level achieved from riper fruit and more broken-down tannins during fermentation e.g. In a Barossa Shiraz.
Medium tannins: Experience a rounded and grainy profile with wines described as broad, sinewy, or fine-grained.
High tannins: These are the bold contenders, with firm, chewy, and tightly knit textures dominating the experience, especially when young. In comparison to the Barossa Shiraz, a Northern Rhône Syrah is a cooler climate wine often made with less ripe grapes and tannins not as broken down, however, it could be argued it’s a better match for food.
How tannin affects a wine's ageing potential
Tannins serve as the backbone for the graceful ageing of wines, offering a sustaining structure that evolves harmoniously over time. Their slow oxidation process helps retain a structured and balanced profile, preventing the wine from turning lacklustre as it ages.
Aside from grapes, tannins grace a variety of other foods, adding depth and complexity to items like tea, rhubarb, cacao, and walnuts.
We love and appreciate tannins in all their guises and we’re happy to guide you through our range and advise on the different tannin profiles.