Saddle up boys and girls. It’s Bill Nye the Science Guy time. Hop on this Magic School Bus and we’ll take a trip through the…um…Sesame Street.
Sorry, I ran out of educational children’s TV shows and my lead-in kind of suffered for it. But that’s alright; today we’re going to get into some sciencey stuff about tannins.
“Tannin” is derived from the Latin word “Tannin” which is roughly translated to mean “Griffey for President!” but scholars maintain different interpretations on this fact. Also, there’s some debate on the validity of the word “fact” in the previous sentence.
Boring Definition Ahead: Tannins are astringent, bitter plant polyphenols that either bind and precipitate or shrink proteins and various other organic compounds including amino acids and alkaloids. The astringency from the tannins is what causes the dry and puckery feeling in the mouth when you drink red wine. Likewise, the destruction or modification of tannins with time plays an important role in the aging of wine and the ripening of fruit.
Wow…okay I have no clue what the Encyclopedia Britannica entry I just regurgitated for you actually means…there were a lot of big words in there. In retrospect, my translation of “tannin” may have been a little off as well. I think it’s time we go to the expert: Mom (aka Paula Shively, owner of DeVine Wines and Wine Bar). It was a very enlightening conversation.
Editor’s Note: Some of the details of this conversation may have been altered…like the fact that it actually happened and wasn’t just an email she sent that Kevin formatted to look like a conversation because he’s too lazy to write anything original.
Kevin: Hi Mom.
Mom: Hi Kev (she calls me Kev).
Kevin: Drop some tannin knowledge on me.
Mom: Well you’re pretty smart, I’m sure you know almost everything about anything, but I’ll do what I can.
Kevin: It’s true, nothing you say will be new to me. I’m a wine expert…but the other people out there need to learn too, and I’m not so smug that I don’t want to help them along their journey as well.
Mom: How courageous and selfless of you. And just so you know, you’re like the best son ever. Way cooler than your brothers.
Kevin: I know, but I this isn’t about me. This is about tannins. Tell me a little about them.
Mom: Tannin, as you know is a natural substance found in the skins, stems and seeds of all grapes. How much of the tannin is found in a particular bottle of wine depends on the winemaker.
Kevin: Interesting, tell me more. What affects the tannin levels of a wine?
Mom: Tannin levels are affected by several things: how the grapes are crushed/pressed and de-stemmed can make a huge difference. Grapes that are very gently pressed or de-stemmed by hand will have lower levels of tannin, while grapes that are pressed/crushed hard or with machinery tend to have higher levels of tannin. Grapes that are left in contact with the skins for a longer time during the winemaking process will have higher levels of tannin. Oak barrels will impart some tannin as well, so longer barrel aging will create higher tannin levels. Winemakers experiment with each of these aspects in order to find the right levels for the wine they are creating.
Kevin: How can I tell when a wine is especially tannic?
Mom: We recognize tannin in wine by the way it makes our mouth pucker and feel dried out, even though we have wine in our mouth. If you have ever had strong tea you get the same sensation, because tea has tannin. Bite into a grape seed and you get that bitter, astringent taste. That’s tannin. Chew on apple skin – same thing.
Kevin: Wow. Does tannin do anything positive for a wine?
Mom: Yes. Tannin adds structure and texture to a wine – and higher levels of tannin will tend to help a wine age for longer periods than a low tannin wine. Winemakers who want their wine to age for several years know that they need a good tannin structure to hold the wine. Over the years the tannin will soften and mellow. That’s why, when you have the pleasure of tasting a bottle that has aged for a long time, it is usually so silky and soft.
Kevin: So, with all that info, what would you say is the consensus on tannic wines? Do people love them or hate them?
Mom: Some wine enthusiasts love high tannin levels in their wine. They love the feel in their mouth when the tannin is high. Others don’t care for this taste at all. That’s the beauty of wine – its so personal.
Kevin: Wow, the people who don’t know as much as me probably learned a ton there! Thanks Mom!
Mom: No, thank you Kevin. You’re truly an inspiration to us all.
If you have tannin or other wine related questions, feel free to email me at Kevin@de-vinewines.com or just post it to the facebook fan page.