Tannins are a crucial component of red wines, yet many wine drinkers aren't quite sure what they are or why they matter. Tannins play a vital role in the texture, flavor, and aging potential of wine, and understanding them can help you appreciate and enjoy your wine even more.
What are Tannins?
Tannins are natural compounds that are found in many plants, including grapes. They are a type of polyphenol, which is a group of compounds known for their antioxidant properties. Tannins are found in the skins, seeds, and stems of grapes, as well as in the oak barrels used for aging wine.
Tannins in Wine
Tannins in wine provide structure and texture. They give the wine its backbone, adding complexity and depth. Tannins contribute to the color of red wines, as they are extracted from the skins during the fermentation process. They also help preserve the wine, allowing it to age gracefully over time.
Wines with higher tannin levels are often described as "firm" or "tight," while wines with lower tannin levels are described as "soft" or "smooth." Wines with high tannin levels can benefit from aging, as the tannins soften and integrate with other flavors over time.
Types of Tannins
There are two main types of tannins found in wine: grape tannins and oak tannins. Grape tannins come from the skins, seeds, and stems of grapes and are often more astringent and bitter. Oak tannins come from the barrels used for aging wine and are smoother and more complex, adding flavors of vanilla, spice, and toast.
Managing Tannins in Winemaking
Winemakers can manage tannin levels by adjusting the winemaking process. For example, picking grapes earlier can result in lower tannin levels, while leaving the grapes on the vine longer can result in higher tannin levels. The type of oak barrel used for aging can also affect tannin levels, with French oak barrels typically imparting more tannins than American oak barrels.
Food Pairings for Tannic Wines
Tannic wines are often paired with foods that can stand up to their bold flavor and structure. Tannic red wines, such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, pair well with rich, fatty meats like steak and lamb.
In conclusion, wine tannins are a complex and important component of wines. Understanding their role in wine's flavor, texture, and aging potential can help you appreciate and enjoy your wine even more. So, the next time you raise a glass of red wine, take a moment to savor the tannins and the backbone they provide. Salud!