Tannin, which belongs to a class of compounds called phenols and comes, from the skins and seeds, is among the most intellectually intriguing components in wine—especially red wine. Depending on the amount and nature of tannm and how it is balanced (or not) by those other constituents, it can add to a wine’s greatness or augment its inferiority.
A friend of mine who is a wine professional once described tannin with the following parable: A woman who loves tea makes herself a cup. Just as she finishes pouring the boiling water over the tea bag, the telephone rings. It’s her best friend who tearfully announces she’s going to get a divorce. The woman consoles her friend for half an hour. When she goes back for her tea—which she is now craving—she finds she has left the tea bag (the last in the house) in the cup.
The bitterly astrmgent flavor of the tea brewed too long comes from taimin, found in the leaves. Tainin in tea is related to tannin in wine. If you can imagine the harshness of that cup of tea, you can imagine the harshness tannin can potentially (but not necessarily) bring to wine.
The question is: What can the woman do to make her cup of tea taste better? Adding more hot water will simply produce diluted bitterness. Adding sugar will disguise the bitterness momentarily, but then the harshness will kick back in with a vengeance after the sweet Havor disappears. Adding lemon will make the tea thoroughly intolerable, since acidity and bitterness reinforce each other. The only substance that could improve the teas flavor is milk. Milk’s fat and protein can effectively camouflage the bitterness and make the tea taste softer.
In wine drinking the same idea has been applied for centuries. Why, in all those nostalgic European travel posters, does the villager cradling a jug of wine hold a chunk of cheese in the other hand? Because after hundreds of years of unconscious trial and error, Europeans came to understand that cheese somehow made wine, especially cheap red wine, taste better. Like milk in strongly tannic tea, cheese tempers the harshness of the tannin in the wine. (There’s an entertaining tip here. As clever caterers have always known, no one will notice the shortcomings of an inexpensive wine as long as enough cheese is served alongside.)
Are Wine Tannins Good or Bad?
Tannins + Health = Good There is actually a study on the effects of wine and tea tannin and oxidation in the body. In the tests, wine tannin resists oxidation whereas tea tannin did not. In other words, it may be super good for you. You can read the synopsis here.
What About Migraines? The jury is still out on the connection between tannin and migraines. In order to remove tannins from your diet you’ll need to stop consuming chocolate, nuts, apple juice, tea, pomegranate and, of course, wine.
Age-worthy Wines Tannin is a key component in what makes a wine age worthy. Check out this article on the 4 traits of wines that age well.