You know when you’ve accidentally left your Five Roses teabag in your cup for too long and when you have a sip it feels like all the moisture has been sucked out of your mouth, leaving you with a raisin where your lips used to be and a dry bitterness that pierces through your very being? Well, my friend, those are tannins.

Now, before you shy away in disgust like a 5-year-old learning about the birds and bees and swear to never drink a high-tannin wine in your entire life (because WHO DOES THAT TO THEIR MOUTHS VOLUNTARILY?), stay for an extra minute and let me explain.

Can you say phe- phe- phenolic compounds?

Tannins are phenolic compounds found in grape skins, seeds and stems. This is why tannins are more often found in red wines. After red wine grapes have been pressed, the fresh juice is left to soak with the grape skins and seeds. This is called maceration. White wines, on the other hand, ferment without the skins and seeds. The maceration process gives red wine its colour, but also its tannins. The longer the juice sits with the skins and seeds, the darker the colour of the wine, but also the higher the tannin.

Wines can also get their tannins from wood aging. Tannins from the wood barrels dissolve into the wine. Wine matured in new oak barrels will have a stronger tannin punch than a barrel used for the second or third time, kind of like your second and third cup of tea after you keep reusing the same teabag.

Get to the point. How is this a good thing?

Tannins give wines structure and body. They add that golden characteristic you always hear winos going on about: complexity.

Tannins also give wine their ageing power. Heard of wines ageing for up to 8, 12, even 30 years? You can thank the tannins.

If we think about tannins as texture, rather than just a tongue-drier, it starts to make sense. You get tannins that feel like denim or corduroy (your high tannin wines), but you also get tannins that feel like silk or velvet (low tannin wines). One isn’t necessarily better than the other. They’re just different. But a red wine without tannins? Now, that just feels like a deflated balloon.

Get to know tannins

Want to try a little tannin flirting before you realise how great the tannin birds and bees can really be? Start off with some low tannin wines:

  • Pinot Noir
  • Grenache
  • Merlot
  • Barbera
  • Cinsaut

Feeling bold? Try some high tannin wines:

  • Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Pinotage
  • Shiraz
  • Malbec
  • Nebbiolo

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