Tannins: What are they?

If you've been enjoying wine for a bit, one word you've most certainly heard, especially when people are discussing red wine, is tannin.

So what is tannin exactly?

Tannin is actually a natural substance found on plants, or specifically related to wine, the grapes' skins, stems, and seeds. Since red wine is fermented with all of the stems, pips (seeds) and skins, red wine becomes tannic. Red wine can also get its tannins from being aged in barrels, particularly oak barrels.   

How would you describe tannin in a wine?

It will be very beneficial for you to know whether or not you enjoy tannic wines or not. If you're at a store or ordering wine from a restaurant menu, it'll help whoever is giving the recommendation know which route to go as some grapes are known to be more tannic than others. So how would you describe tannins in wine? Tannin is what provides that sense of bitterness or astringency in red wines. Have you ever had a sip of red wine and your mouth feels dry after? That drying feeling is actually tannin!

If you'd like to find out if you enjoy tannic reds, I'd give a bigger and bolder red a try such as cabernet sauvignon or bordeaux. If you do enjoy tannic reds, I'd be sure to pair them with a hearty meal such as steak or beef stew!


Dry vs. Sweet

One of the most difficult things to learn about wine, in my opinion, is how to describe it. You not only have to rely on all of your senses and pay attention to the tastes and smells of the culinary world and beyond (freshly opened can of tennis balls, anyone?), but you have to know what "wine lingo" to use. The "wine lingo" is a huge barrier to entry into the wine world. We do not want to seem incompentent or uninformed when ordering a bottle of wine at a restaurant, so people either shy away or only stick to wines they know.

If you do ask for a recommendation, usually one of the first questions after "white or red" is do you like dry or sweet wines? So what do these words dry and sweet actually mean in the wine world?

I used to think that dry meant the wine actually gave the feeling of drying out your mouth a little bit, but this is not the case. Usually that is attributed to alcohol content or tannin. Dry actually means that there is no residual sugar left in a wine after the fermentation process, and therefore, it is not sweet. Dry is simply the opposite of sweet.

Another key thing to remember is that sweet and fruity are not necessarily the same. Sure, sweet wines can be fruity, but cou can also taste fruit flavors in a dry wine, it just won't be sweet. As I read somewhere during my research on dry wines, think of sweet as like apple or grape juice. Dry wines will still have a fruit flavor, just not the sugary sweet taste of a fruit juice.

This topic can be very difficult to describe without having wines in front of you to taste and because sweetness is subjective, but I hope that this helped clear up the dry vs. sweet debate at least a little bit.