You had me at Tannin

Tannin. The word might have cropped up in conversation, at a tasting or the back of a wine label. It’s a strange name flung together with descriptive words like ‘mouthfeel’, ‘structure’ and even ‘silky’ and ‘smooth’.

So what does the word mean and why should one care?

Tannins are naturally occurring compounds that exist inside the skin, seeds and stems of grapes, tea, cranberries, cacao and various other plant species. Scientists call these types of compound Polyphenols and they have an enormous impact on the final quality and taste of especially, a red wine.

Once harvested and the grapes crushed, pending on the style of wine we are making, we allow the juice to rest along with the skins to extract colour, flavour and tannin.

And like personalities that differ from being extroverted to introverted to something in between, some grape varietals have more tannin than others. Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinotage and Shiraz are such examples and although we can to some degree, tame the extraction of tannin through certain winemaking techniques, it’s sometimes best to let the grapes’ natural tannin structure shine naturally.

Tannins also balance a wine, it adds to quality along with alcohol, fruit aroma and acid. High tannin content in wine allows them to mature for up to decades.

Tannins are sometimes described as bitter or astringent since tannins react with the protein in one’s saliva, resulting in a rather dry, roughness in the mouth. The younger the wine, the rougher the tannins. During maturation the tannins polymerise into long chains, this results in the wines tasting softer, smoother and less bitter and gives us winemakers goosebumps.

So, don’t be afraid when you read the word ‘tannin’ on a wine label. Ask yourself what do you find in the aftertaste along with the (hopefully) complex array of flavours. Is there a feeling of tightness, puckering or smoothness in the aftertaste? But above all – love the wine you with and find pleasure in exploring the fascinating journey of grape to bottle.

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