As a wine drinker, you might have come accross a discussion of a wine’s “tannins”, and although you noddingly approved on everything they said, no one has ever really explained what tannins are. Luckily, we’ve got your back!
You experience the effect of tannins any time you drink a wine that creates a drying sensation in your mouth.
Tannins are naturally occurring compounds that exist inside grape skins, seeds and stems. The scientific word for these compounds is polyphenols. Polyphenols release from the skins, seeds and stems when they soak in the grape juice just after the grapes have been pressed and are what give certain wines, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, their characteristic dryness or astringency.
Depending on how dry your mouth feels, you can determine whether a wine is high or low in tannins. We say a wine that is high in tannins is tannic.
What makes a wine have strong or weak tannins depends on how long the juice sits with the grape skins, seeds and stems after the grapes have been pressed. The longer the skins, seeds and stems soak in the juice, the more tannin characteristics they will impart. This explains why red wines have stronger tannins than white wines. When producing a red wine, the winemaker wants the skins to impart more color, thereby adding more tannins to the juice. Further, by extracting the characteristics of tannins, they are able to add deeper complexity to the wine.
Winemakers also love tannins because they work as a natural antioxidant to protect the wine. This is actually a key reason why certain red wines, including Cabernet Sauvignon, can be so age-worthy. And, as we know, antioxidants aren’t just useful for helping us age wine; they also have great health benefits for humans! Now you can tell your nutritionist there’s no need to keep drinking that pomegranate juice; you’re just going to have a nice glass of red wine instead!
The only downside to tannins is that they can give some people headaches. A good way to test if you’re susceptible to tannin headaches is to determine whether or not similar substances that are strong in tannins, such as dark chocolate and strong black tea, produce the same effect. Tannin headaches are rare, usually we just get a wine headache from consuming too much, but if you do realize you suffer from them, sticking to white wine, which is very low in tannins, would solve your tannin-triggered headaches!
Other items with tannins
- Berries (such as cranberries, strawberries and blueberries)
- Nuts (such as raw hazelnuts, walnuts, and pecans, almonds)
- Herbs and spices (Cloves, tarragon, cumin, thyme, vanilla, and cinnamon)
- Legumes (Red-colored beans contain the most tannins, and white-colored beans have the least. Peanuts without shells have a very low tannin content. Chickpeas (garbanzo beans) have a smaller amount of tannins.)
- Chocolate (Chocolate liquor contains about 6% tannins.)
- Tea & Coffee
- Fruit juices (Although citrus fruits do not themselves contain tannins, orange-colored juices often contain food dyes with tannins. Apple juice, grape juices and berry juices are all high in tannins. Sometimes tannins are even added to juices and ciders to create a more astringent feel to the taste)
VineAdvisor also has the following to add:
While tea and wine have the highest source of tannins, all plants and fruits contain tannins, and they act as a defense mechanism. The tannins prevent the plant, fruit, or flower from being eaten by other animals. The bitter taste and interference with starch digestion usually make the plant unpalatable to many animals.
Tannins are excellent antioxidants. And studies also suggest that when consumed in moderation, tannins lower blood pressure and cholesterol, reduce the risk of cancer, stimulate the immune system, have anti-bacterial properties, and have benefits for the skin.
It is the tannins in wine and tea that give it its flavor and aftertaste. In fact, some of the most remarkable wines are immensely tannic because tannins enhance the flavor of wine and tea by adding structure to the beverage.