Tannins can be a confusing concept to understand. Simply put, they’re the compound found in wine that dries your mouth out, but they’re so much more than that. Tannins are found in a grape’s skins, seeds and stems as well as in the oak of the barrel the wine is aged in, and in addition to creating that drying sensation, they also protect a wine as it ages and add nuance and depth to that wine. And while all red wines have a bit of tannin, some wines have more tannins than others, and it’s these wines that will help make learning about what tannins are, as well as whether or not you like them, much easier.
Young Left Bank Bordeaux
The left bank of Bordeaux is the birthplace of king Cabernet Sauvignon, one of the grapes that is most often associated with tannins, and while Cabernets grown all over the world have tannins, there is no better way to experience Cabernet’s tannins than with young Bordeaux from the region’s Left Bank. In it’s youth, Bordeaux’s tannins are so strong, the chalkiness in your mouth is unmistakable. This makes Left Bank Bordeaux tough to drink at this age but is also why it is so delicious when it’s older. As Bordeaux ages, the tannins smooth out, which is why the wine can fetch some of the world’s highest prices when very old.
*Fun Fact: If you want to drink a younger Bordeaux, grab a bottle from the Right Bank instead. Thanks to Merlot being the dominant grape, the wine is supple and smooth even in its youth.
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While containing a good amount of acidity, Tempranillo — most often found in Rioja — also contains a ton of tannins, both from the berries themselves and from the oak the Reservas and Gran Reservas age in for over two years before being bottled. If you want to understand how oak really affects tannin, grab a bottle of Cosecha Rioja and a bottle of Reserva Rioja. The former has seen no oak at all, the later, at least two years. It’s a geeky thing to do, but really interesting.
Used to make Barolo and Barbaresco, Nebbiolo is a grape with robust tannins — they can actually be referred to as “gripping” thanks to their strength — and high acidity. This makes Nebbiolo another grape that is much better as it ages than when it is very young.
They don’t call wines made from this grape “dusty” for nothing. Grab a bottle of Brunello or Chianti and you’ll quickly see how tannin fits in to help create a deep and rustic wine.
The name says it all, named after the monster tannins inside this berry, Tannat makes a wine that is all about about this compound. Big, bold and certainly gripping, this is the wine to look for if you really want to understand what tannins are all about.