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What are Tannins in wine?

Every wine is different, and thank goodness for that! There are a myriad of characteristics that make up the flavour profile of a wine; from dry to sweet, light-bodied to full- bodied and everything else in-between. The flavour descriptors abound and we can find ourselves mentioning everything from crisp apple to deep blackcurrant, tobacco and even - err... farmyard (!) when trying to encapsulate the incredible diversity of flavours we can find inside our glass.

Something we talk about frequently when trying to describe taste, but is often not always understood is the tannin level in a wine. To be honest though - its not really a taste - it's more of a feeling which I will go on to discuss in a bit more detail. At Seven Cellars we often take interest in our customers preferences (or not) for the tannin level. It's really worth noticing what your preference is and how you react to the tannin level of your wine because it will help you when choosing the perfect bottle for yourself or someone else.

Tannin is a naturally occurring kind of molecule called a polyphenol and it can be found in the grape skins, stems, and pips - but also it is present in the wooden wine barrels that are used to ferment and age the wine within. During the wine making process, red wine grapes are crushed (sometimes in whole bunches with the stems too for extra tannin) and the skins are kept in the juice - imparting not just the colour but the tannins as well. Obviously the skins give the colour too but all the other bits have the effect of the tannin adding levels and layers of complexity and astringency to the overall flavour.

Grapes have different levels of tannin depending on the type - so for example, a Cabernet Sauvignon has more tannin than a Pinot Noir. The astringency in tannins also allows for the perfect food pairing partnership - tannin matches with rich, fatty foods and will cut through the meaty protein in a fatty steak for example or the fat in a delicious aged cheese and bind to the protein molecules, this will create a subtle flavour change of both things and create something even more marvellous to taste and is the obsession of the most talented sommeliers everywhere.

As a wine ages, so the tannin breaks down. Some high tannin red wines can age well for decades and it's the tannin that assists the ageing process - breaking down over the years to evolve into a rounder and softer wine. This is to do with molecules again. They create long chains with one another. Obviously you also need balance for a wine to age well (not only tannin) and the four key components of alcohol, fruit, acidity and tannin help to achieve the overall balance and structure in any great wine. 

If a wine makes your gums quiver with excitement - and you can feel the grip of the wine in your mouth and on your tongue - that is tannin - and you like it.

My top 7 picks for wines with a wallop of tannin are as follows:

1. Barolo (Nebbiolo) - we have a good few to choose from in store. Made from the Nebbiolo grape variety and arguably Italy's most prized wine. Bold, tannic, and don't really think about opening one up until its at the very least 10 years in the bottle.

2. Cabernet Sauvignon - if you like your wine with a touch of "spite" as a customer once memorably said to me - then Cabernet Sauvignon should be in your bottle - it's classic boldness and deeply satisfying heaviness is utterly mesmerising. Lots in store for you to try at varying price points.

 3. Syrah - Also known as Shiraz - big, chewy and as brazen as can be or delicate and as light as the stars in the sky. For tannins of note choose a whopper from California or a Shiraz from Australias Maclaren Vale (smaller berries on the vine so higher skin to pulp ratio = more tannin). If you want a softer style - you should treat yourself to a bottle decades in the making. It's truly a douzy of a wine - not to be missed if you have the chance.

4.Monastrell - Also known as Mourvedre. If you're into Cabernet Sauvignon (as described above) and don't like your wines to give over too easily - then pick a Monastrell - its as bold as can be with lots of tannins and is a match for some really big flavours. Mourvedre is often used as a blending grape in Chateauneuf du Pape. It's an important component of the magnificent wines of the Rhone. It's meaty and even gamey in taste. Pair it with beef for the magic tannic/protein transformation we discussed or go for Puy lentils and lots of strong flavours such as tomatoes garlic and onions. Monastrell from Jumilla in Spain often surpasses expectations and over-delivers on the rather important taste and value scale.

5. Montepulciano - this delicious wine from Abruzzo is wonderful with pasta and with pizza. A good whack of tannin but its perfectly ok to drink this on its own - it doesn't necessarily need food to taste amazing. You can get an absolutely brilliant wine for anywhere between £10-15 and you'll be very happy about it indeed.

6. Sangiovese - Ok I admit to being particularly obsessed with alll things Italian but this mighty and tannic grape can't be ignored. If you're into Chianti - you're into tannins. The highly tannic nature of this grape means its an incredibly versatile food pairing wine; actually most Italian reds are best with food. Get involved with Sangiovese - also found in the wines known as Brunello, vino nobile de montipulciano and many different Tuscan wines -  it's a whopper in terms of tannins - and so will match with lots and lots of different foods.

7. Tempranillo - I couldn't leave out this wonderful grape variety made famous in the incredible region of northern Spain known as Rioja and the increasingly popular region of Ribera del Duero. Often aged in French and American oak barrels - which as we now know adds tannins and also distinctive vanilla note to the wines. Australia makes some good ones too - and we've got plenty in store to celebrate this tannic grape variety.

Thanks for reading.

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