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Dear Dr. Vinny,

I find it extremely difficult to use the descriptor "velvety tannins" to describe the degree of tannins in wine. I either taste tannins, or I do not. Am I deficient with my taste buds, or is there another tactile descriptor that you can suggest to help me understand your use of "velvety tannins"?

—Oscar, Diamond Bar, Calif.

Dear Oscar,

I can make suggestions, and I promise none of them involve licking fabric. First, tannins are something you feel, not taste. For the uninitiated, tannins (found mostly in red wines) are the substance that gives a wine structure—derived primarily from grape skins, seeds and stems, but also from oak barrels. Tannins at their most basic are like the sensation on your tongue and cheeks you get from drinking strong tea.

You say you can sense tannins, so that's a good start. Start paying more attention to them; not all tannins are the same. Some are drying, harsh, chewy, or rustic. More desirable tannins are silky, velvety, lush, or supple. Velvet is a rich fabric that your hand sinks into, so if you have a wine that you think is rich, soft, or smooth, you might be experiencing what others call "velvety" tannins. Some people use "velvety" and "silky" synonymously, but since velvet is heavier and thicker than silk, I use the terms correspondingly. Hope this helps.

—Dr. Vinny

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