The tannin test

Ever been gagging for a glass of water after polishing off a nice bottle of Argentinian Malbec or Californian Cabernet Sauvingnon? Don’t blame you, these wines are pretty high in tannins.

Tannins are bitter compounds which contribute to the make-up of many plants in nature. They’re purpose is to put off hungry pests that might want to eat a plant before it is fully ripened by giving it a very unattractive flavour.

Us humans, however, are surprisingly attracted to these flavours in certain products such as coffee, tea, dark chocolate and wine. This is especially apparent as we grow older and our palates develop from enjoying sweetness into accepting and eventually liking bitterness in our food.

In wine tannins are a superpower that allow us to:

  • age a bottle for 20+ years
  • enjoy it with super fatty, rich foods
  • balance the sugar and fruity compounds so that we can enjoy it glass after glass!

So where do you feel tannins?

High tannin wine – you’ll feel them all around your mouth and almost struggle to open your mouth ans salivate.

Medium tannin wine – you’ll most likely just feel the tannins gripping to your gums, making you want to run your tongue around them.

Low tannin wine – there will still be tannins but you won’t be so aware of them as they shouldn’t grip onto your palate as much, you could feel them on your gums if your super sensitive!

Where are tannins originating from?

  • The skins
  • The pips
  • The stems
  • The oak barrell

Why do some wines have more tannins than others?

It depends on…

  • How thick the skin of the grape is e.g. Cabernet Sauvingon has very thick skins vs Pinot Noir which has very thin skins and less tannins.
  • How the wine has been made e.g. wine has been left to ferment with the stems on in a whole bunch (more tannin) or have the grapes been taken off the stems (less tannin)?
  • How the wine has been aged e.g. in oak barrels which add tannin (more if they are new) or stainless steel tanks which do not impart any tannin into the wine.

Is there tannin in white wine?

Yes! Usually, however, the skins are separated from the juice before fermentation so they get very little chance to have any impact on the wine.

In orange wine making though, the skins are left on during the fermentation which adds an orange colour and much higher tannins.

Tannin Test!

Take a grape and peel its skin off.

Taste the skin on its own and focus on how it makes your mouth feel…

Maybe it feels dry and you have a bitter taste? Now you know what feeling to detect in the wine to guess either low, medium or high tannin!

Alternatively you can do this test by brewing a black tea and waiting until it’s cold. I must warn you though…this is really not pleasant, the bitterness and tannins are quite strong!

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