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Dear Dr. Vinny,
Can you please describe what a tannin is, and what it tastes like in red wines?
Tannins are a type of naturally occurring biomolecule found in certain woods and other plants, like tea, nuts and spices. Wine gets its tannins from grape skins and seeds, as well as from oak barrels. Even though tannins are in all wines, they’re at a higher level and thus more perceptible in red wines than in whites because red wines are fermented with their skins (and white wines are fermented without).
Tannins don’t have a taste so much as a feel to them. They’re responsible for the grip on the sides of your mouth and the traction you may feel on your tongue. If you’ve noticed how a strong cup of black tea can have a puckering effect, those are tannins.
Tannins are just one part of a wine’s structure, along with glycerol, alcohol and acidity. Depending on how much tannin a wine has and its relationship to the other elements, tannins can be described as dusty, velvety, chewy, tight, round or even ripe.
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