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Dear Dr. Vinny,

Can you explain the tasting term “dusty tannins” for me? Are such tannins good or bad for wine? Can you list some words that are frequently used to describe tannins?

—Scorpio, China

Dear Scorpio,

Tannins are part of what gives a wine structure. They come from the grape skins and seeds, and from the oak barrels in which some wines are aged. Tannins give you the pulling, almost puckery sensation on your tongue and on the insides of your cheeks that you might get from strong black tea. You mostly feel them while drinking red wine rather than white. Overall, sensing tannins is neither a good thing nor a bad thing; it’s just a way to describe the wine’s structure.

But not all tannins are the same, and how they interact with other elements merits further explanation. The most negative way I’ve heard tannins described is as drying or harsh. But chewy or rustic tannins can be charming. More desirable tannins might be described as silky, round, integrated, smooth, velvety, lush or supple.

Dusty tannins are neither positive nor negative on their own—it really depends on the context. To me, dusty tannins have a texture that gives them some density. Whether or not that provides a good backdrop for the fruit flavors, or if it’s a drying note that the wine finishes on, depends on the rest of the description.

—Dr. Vinny

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