You will often hear wineries and reviews talking about tannin structure in the wine, but what actually is it?
Tannins are a class of naturally occurring, astringent biomolecules (called polyphenols) that bind together organic compounds in plants, for example about 50% of the dry weight of plant leaves are tannins. The name is derived from Medieval Latin and refers to the ancient use of oak bark when tanning hides into leather.
In our wines, tannins add both bitterness and astringency to the final product, as well as depth, complexity and how the wine feels in the mouth and during the finish. More often than not you perceive it as a drying sensation in your mouth and depending on how your mouth feels you can determine whether a wine is high or low in tannins, with a wine that is high in tannins being referred to as tannic.
Tannins in wine can be derived from two possible places: the grapes themselves and the wood barrels.
In grapes the tannins can come from the skins, seeds and stems of the wine grape. The longer the juice has more contact with these, the more tannin characteristics it will impart. This explains why red wines have stronger tannin structure than white wines, as the winemakers want the depth of colour in their red wines, leaving them on skins longer than white wines. With barrels the tannins dissolve into the wine through contact, which also imparts the vanillin or cedar notes to the wine.
Wine makers love tannins in their wines because they act as a natural antioxidant to protect the wine, and are one of the main things we look at when working out how long a wine will age for.
However there are three downsides to tannin structure in wine: it can give some people headaches, which is rare but can happen, if you get a headache from tea, coffee or dark chocolate then you might have a reaction to it, try sticking to white wines which have less tannins; secondly with spicy foods a high tannin wine will cause the spice and chilli to burn longer in your mouth, try to avoid them unless you like that burn.
And lastly in our tropical climate those high tannin wines can seem quite harsh, heavy and chewy, almost prickly in the mouth during our warmer months. However round about now, with the cooler weather kicking in, they type of wine that most of us like to sit down with and ponder the big questions in life.
A couple tannin rich reds to try:
Wynns Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon – The Wynn’s Black Label is all about consistency, its inky dark in the glass, black fruits and underlying toasty oak, the tannin structure is fine and silky, will be long lived.
Longview Nebbiolo – a seriously impressive and chewy red that struts and swaggers across your tongue rather than dancing. Black cheery, orange peel, leather, Chinese five spice with a dry herb tannin structure. The finish is long and dry, and super savoury.
Coriole Sangiovese – Sangiovese is the predominate grape in Chianti, often being made as 100% sangiovese. It’s perfect for food as it’s highly tannic and able to stand up to bold flavours of food. Coriole have been the pioneers of the variety in Australia, its spicy, with dark cherry and plum and dusty dry finish.