Overheard at the wine store recently: “I like full-bodied, raspy and coarse wines.” In short, this person likes tannic wines. But by the way, where do tannins in wine come from and what is their purpose?
We often hear about the tannins in wine. They contribute to the quality of wine but are sometimes disliked by some because they can be bitter.
Tannins are polyphenols contained in the seeds, wood, leaves and skin of fruits. They are also found in chocolate, tea and the skin of nuts among others. In wine, tannins are mainly found in the skin and pips of the grape and in the case of wines matured in oak barrels, in the wood of the barrels. In the winemaking process, tannins also help stabilize the wine and protect it from oxidation.
The taste of tannin
When you get that drying sensation in your mouth while taking a sip of red wine, you are experiencing tannins. It is in fact the reaction of proteins found in saliva to these tannins that triggers this sensation.
The younger the wine, the more tannins are present in the wine. Note that the level of astringency varies according to the grape variety.
So pinot noir or cinsault have very low tannin levels, while grenache, carignan and malbec have medium levels. If you are looking for more tannic wines, then look for Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese and Syrah. For the more tannic wines, try Nebbiolo (Barolo), Sagrantino (Italian grape from Umbria) or Tannat (from Uruguay).
Types of tannins
Green tannins : Often the result of an early harvest. The tannins bring a vegetal character to the wine.
Fleshy tannins: Typical of a wine that has a round structure and does not assault the taste buds.
Supple, velvety or silky tannins: The type of wine made from Grenache for example where the asperity of the tannins is not present.
Melted tannins : Result of aging, these tannins have seen their astringency melt with time. This is often the case with good, well-balanced wines that are ready to drink.
Are tannins responsible for headaches ?
Finally, a common but unproven belief: tannins cause headaches. In fact, no, it is rather dehydration that causes this pain. To avoid it: drink a glass of water for each glass of wine you drink…
Benoît Marsan of scienceetvin.com explains: “There are many reasons for headaches caused by wine consumption. Without going into the multiple details related to the responsible compounds, besides ethanol (this is not the appropriate place and complexity assured), I will limit myself to talk about tannins since it is the subject of this article (other classes of phenolic compounds can also contribute to headache, depending on their molecular size and their concentration in wine, while others can on the contrary decrease its importance). If it is true to say that the long molecular chain tannins (mostly associated with older wines) are hardly absorbed in the digestive tract, their basic molecule (called monomer or catechin, in higher concentration in young red wines) is quickly absorbed. The oxidation of catechins (a small compound) is able to inhibit the action of a specific enzyme whose subsequent reactions lead to the dilation of cerebral blood vessels…and headache. In short, young red wines are more likely to give a headache than older red wines.”
So what type of wine do you like the most ?