When I first started thinking about wine while a drank it, and reading lots of articles about wine, the definition of tannin escaped me for quite some time.
That was until I realized that tannins aren’t something you smell or taste, like much of the descriptors we use to describe wine–fruity, earthy, chocolatey, etc. Rather tannins cause that puckery/astringent feeling in your mouth when you drink wine. The harsher the tannins, the more you feel it in your inner cheeks.
Today I came across a wonderful break-down about tannins from the Washington Post that follows this same line. From the article:
Tannins are chemical compounds found in the skin, seeds and stems of grapes. They give red wines their structure and ability to age. We can’t smell or taste them — rather, we feel them in the wine’s texture. That’s why writers use different adjectives to describe the way tannins feel in the mouth. Supple, silky, velvety and soft describe the positive contributions tannins make to the wine. Aggressive, chewy, harsh or green tannins overpower the fruit and leave the wine astringent. Over time, tannins lengthen and precipitate out of the wine as sediment. The technical term for this is polymerization.
If someone raves about a wine’s “polymerized tannins,” just say, “My sediment exactly.”
Love the zinger at the end!
Tannins seem to be on the collective wine hive mind. Hottytoddy.com, a blog about Oxford and Ole Miss, also has an explainer out today, describing what tannins do to wine as well as their impact on other food and drink.
It is the puckery stuffer in strong tea that makes you want to put sugar or milk in it as the English do. Tannin in nuts also makes your mouth puckery if the nuts are too green. The same goes for wine.
Another fact to note: as wines age, the tannins fall away, often making the liquid softer and improving taste.