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Written by Phoebe Phillips
Remember when you tasted cold tea (without milk) and you got that dry, grippy feel in your mouth? That’s tannins! The only science bit you need to know is that a tannin is a polyphenol compound which loves to latch onto the proteins in your mouth – like those in your saliva – and so gives a slightly tight, astringent sensation.
Have you ever bitten into a grape pip? That dry coating you get on your tongue as you chew the seed is – you guessed it – tannins. Grape seeds, stalks and skins are where tannins are found, so if you want to try them out to really understand the textures of tannins – go get a grape and bite into those parts.
So, why on earth is this important in wine? Well let’s imagine there’s a delicious glug of wine in your mouth, but it slides down quickly and hasn’t really had a chance to attach itself to your taste buds and give you a proper introduction. Tannins not only help wines to age and give them much needed structure, they enable the flavours to linger in the mouth and coat your palate with everything that wine has to show.
Tannins are much more prominent in red wines, which is a reason why some wine drinkers shy away from red and stick to white or rosé, but that’d be a damn shame when there are some quick ways around dryness and headaches the next morning.
Very tannic wines might not work for you and that’s fair enough; some of us literally can’t stomach the acidity (we’ll come onto acidity in another article) and tannins in some Italians red wines, such as Barolo or Sangiovese, can have a drying effect and twist up your tummy.
If you find you are sensitive to tannins, a way to sidestep any un-pleasantries is to bring food into the mix. Tannins love fat as fat makes the wine seem less bitter, so pairing a little cheese with your tipple of choice can make a tannic wine much more agreeable. Remember when you drank that €4 carafe on holiday and it tasted amazing with the cheesy nibbles? There’s a reason why it doesn’t taste as good when you bring a bottle home and drink it without said local delicacies…
So if you feel the tannins taking over and giving you a case of desert-mouth, bring a bit of food into the situation and it’ll make for a much smoother journey.
Phewph, that’s quite enough about that! So, in short, if you’re looking to buy a wine and it’s described as ‘tannic’ or as having ‘lots of tannin’, don’t wince but instead consider: this could be the perfect wine for that steak dinner you’re cooking, or for that cheese board you’re planning.
Either way, tannins are something all us wine lovers need to get to grips with, as they’ll always be a vital part of the good stuff.