Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Tannins but Never Dared to Ask
Tannin is a polyphenol that naturally occurs in bark, fruit skins, leaves, seeds and wood. Approximately 50% of plant leaves are tannins. The word comes from the Latin word for oak bark, ‘tannum’. In wine, tannins come from either the wine grape skins or seeds, or from wood. It is the element that gives it a dry taste. It also adds astringency, bitterness and another highly sought after element: complexity.
The Taste of Tannin
When you take a sip of wine, mostly red but also white sometimes, the taste of the tannins will catch you particularly in the front part of your mouth and in the middle of your tongue. If this doesn’t sound familiar, try taking a mouthful of unsweetened black tea, which is almost 100% pure tannin dissolved in water, it tastes dry and sharp. Tannin can be found in quite a wide variety of foods. Here are a few examples:
– Nuts like almonds and walnuts
– Dark chocolate
– Red Beans
Grape tannin comes from the stems, seeds and skins of grapes. When making white wine, grape skins are extracted before the fermentation process, whereas red wine grapes are fermented with their skins and dissolved over time. This means that red wines are generally higher in tannins than white wines. Nonetheless, even in red wines tannin levels vary. For example, Nebbiolo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Temprannillo and Petit Verdot are high in tannin while Zinfandel, Pinot Noir, Primitivo, Merlot and Grenache have significantly lower tannin levels.
But the grapes themselves are not the only source of wine tannin. Wines that are aged in wooden barrels absorb tannins from the wood, which in this case is usually oak wood due to the interesting flavours it infuses into the wine. And even when the aging process doesn’t take place in a wooden barrel, oak chips and tannin powders are becoming increasingly popular as a more affordable substitute.
Are Tannins Healthy?
Tannin is quit a controversial topic health wise. At some point, it was marked as a cause for migraines but the debate about the connection between migraines and tannin is on-going. Other than that, studies have shown that tannins have antioxidative properties, as primary and secondary antioxidants. They assist the prevention of cellular damage and are effective against bacteria and viruses., not to mention reducing blood pressure – just one more reason to love wine.