When you read the tasting notes on the back label of a bottle or a wine, the term “tannins” usually appears. What does it mean? What are these enigmatic components? Here is everything you need to know about tannins to understand better your favorite wines.
You’ve probably read many reviews which describes the tannins of the wine as soft,, round, voluptuous or pointed. But what these concepts actually mean? Is there any significance or is it just a poetic license of journalists and wine critics? I invite you to the world of tannins.
What are the tannins?
Tannins are very small moleculesfound in various parts of the vine. Tannins are not only present in grapes, but in many other species. Their job is to protect plants from the birds and other animals because when the fruit is not ripe, and tannins are green, they have a very rough or astringent taste.
I invite you to visit the Concha y Toro Cellar and Winert at Pirque, where you can observe the evolution of the vines from pruning to harvest in Variety Garden.
The birds know that a green berry is not tasty and they don’t touch it. But when the skin and the seeds of grapes are ripe, the fruit changes its color, reduces the level of acidity and sugar level rises. With this phenomenon, the nature flirts with birds and invites them to eat the berries thus transport the seeds elsewhere.
This change of color of the grapes, which is evaluated by tasting and analysis in laboratories, is also a sign for winemakers. Fruits are ready to become wine.
Where do the tannins come from?
Tannins come from the vine (skin, seeds and stems) and from the oak wood of the barrels where the wine matures later. In the skins there are other grape polyphenols called anthocyanins (a red, blue and black pigment) which are responsible for the color of red wine.
White varieties have little tannins, but many of them are provided during the winemaking process, where wines mature in wood barrels. During this process white wines not only gain some structure, but also acquire complementary flavors, such as vanilla, coconut or cinnamon.
For genetic reasons, some strains have more tannins than others. For example, the Cabernet Sauvignon has a much higher concentration of polyphenols that the Pinot Noir. That we can notice by looking at the color and body of the wine. The Pinot Noir is lighter and more delicate with a faint color, even sometimes semi-transparent. The Cabernet Sauvignon, however, does not allow us to see through the glass and its structure is more dense and voluptuous.
How to recognize tannins?
We cannot see the tannins, but we can taste them. When green, they give the wine a bitter and astringent taste. Tannins are coupled with proteins present in saliva and therefore they make us feel a hard and drying effect.
The same feeling can be experimented when eating nuts, dark chocolate, strong tea, pomegranate or quince. These products are also rich in tannins. Prepare a black tea, leaving the bag for much longer than indicated to package directions and drink it as an experiment. You will experience a desiccant sensation on the tongue. Those are the tannins.
What tannins really do in wine?
The first job of the tannins is to give a structure to the wine. A wine of the same strain can have hard or soft tannins due to two aspects. The first one is the conditions of the grapes in the vineyard (if the grapes ripen slowly with balanced amounts of sun, wind, humidity, etc. the wine will develop soft and round tannins).
Here we have to mention the importance of excellent vineyards conditions, such as Puente Alto for Cabernet Sauvignon or Peumo for Carmenere. The second factor is the time the winemaker allows the grape juice to be in contact with the skins of the grapes after the pressing process. The longer it takes, the more tannin and color will have the red wine.
The quality of the grapes and the work of the winemaker are essential for achieving wines with round tannins, pleasant in the mouth. Try Trio Cabernet Sauvignon, a wine of high complexity and with a high concentration of tannins, yet elegant, smooth and balanced on the palate.
Tannins and aging potential
Tannins are antioxidants that protect the wine naturally. This is one of the factors deciding about the aging potential of a wine. For example, Casillero del Diablo Leyenda Cabernet Sauvignon can be stored for years in the cellar because of the quality and concentration of tannins of Cabernet Sauvignon, which mature slowly in a cool terroir as Pirque.
In this vineyard grapes have very favorable conditions for the strain, which allow it to become even more elegant with a long aging. So a young and vibrant wine like this becomes softer and complex.
Tannins and health
We heard it before: polyphenols / antioxidants are good for our health because they protect our cardiovascular system, strengthen the eyes, prevent cancer and rejuvenate us.
Sometimes we are afraid of the urban myth that says that tannins cause headache. Sometimes it does, but not in all cases. If you are unsure, try a very strong black tea or chocolate with over 70% cocoa. If you have no pain, probably a glass of red wine won’t causes discomfort.
Tannins and pairing
Finally tannins are responsible for the complexity of the wine and define its “body”. As you know, wine can have a light body, like Casillero Diablo Pinot Noir; a medium body, such as Casillero del Diablo Carmenere; or rather a complex body as Casillero del Diablo Cabernet Sauvignon.
This factor indicates the weight that your matching dish must have. If you choose a full bodied wine with visible and tasty tannins, you also need a voluptuous recipe. In this case, we chose a more abundant plate as beef, ostrich or wild boar protein.
We can also modify the weight of the dish with techniques that enhance its structure, like grilling or adding sauces with a lot of weight. To illustrate this concept I recommend you to pair Casillero del Diablo Reserva Privada Cabernet Sauvignon with the exquisite Florentine steak. Enjoy it!
Bistecca alla fiorentina recipe
Ingredients for 4 people
- 2 large bone steaks
- 1/4 cup of olive oil
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 2 sprigs rosemary
- Lemon wedges, to serve
- Heat the grill.
- Brush the steaks with half the oil and season with salt and pepper.
- Grill it in the hottest part of the grill, turning once, until browned, 4-6 minutes.
- Using rosemary sprigs as a brush, baste steaks with remaining oil.
- Cook to desired doneness, 4-6 minutes for a sealed or medium ram meat. If the outside begins to burn before the meat is cooked, move it to the cooler side of the grill until it is done.
- Let the steaks rest for 5 minutes; upstream cut along the bone.
- Serve with lemon wedges.