What are tannins?
They are organic substances contained in grape skin and seeds and the stems (the woody parts that connect the berries to the vine). Each variety of grape contains a different quantity of tannins.
We find more tannins in red wines because the skins and seeds are macerated in the juice during vinification. Depending on the type of red wine, the maceration process can last anywhere from 15 to 35 days before pressing. The tannins contained in the grapes then have the time they need to impart their characteristics in the wine. White wines, on the other hand, have a much shorter maceration period because white grapes are pressed as soon as they arrive in the winery.
Tannins and the art of tasting
Grapes contain polyphenols, substances that are the source of a wine’s colour and texture. These include tannins. Tannins are activated when they come into contact with saliva and produce that familiar rough sensation on the tongue. We describe this feeling as astringent. It can be an acquired taste.
Tannins bring structure to red wine and come in a variety of profiles: soft, fine, silky, smooth... Depending on the grape varieties used and the ageing process, the tannins will offer different taste characteristics. Pieces of oak, for example, also contain tannins found in the wood.
Balanced tannins: the vital link in fine cellaring wines
Grapes picked before they are ripe produce ‘green’ wines, which are generally acidic, lacking in body and contain immature (‘green’) tannins. These wines, composed mainly of hard tannins and fragile in structure, do not keep well and are often difficult to drink because of their poor balance.
If the winegrower bides their time for the grapes to reach peak ripeness, the resulting wines will be far more balanced and complex on the palate since the tannins were allowed to reach their optimal condition. It is this appreciation of high standards that we encourage at Maison Gabriel Meffre!
Some varieties of grape are naturally conducive to making balanced wines owing to the quality of their tannins. This quality is an essential one for producing a vin de garde or ‘cellaring wine’.
“There are some excellent terroirs, like those around the village of Gigondas which, because of their location and remarkable natural conditions, produce excellent cellaring wines, even in poor climate years. Because of their altitude, their exposure and the types of soil found there, these terroirs don't get in the way of letting the grapes ripen,” explains Antoine Dupré, vineyard director. Such is the case of the terroir on which grapes are grown at Domaine de Longue Toque, nestled in the heart of and around the Dentelles de Montmirail.
Fine, mature tannins need to exist in quite high quantity for a wine to keep well. They evolve in the bottle, change and improve over time, developing their taste perception. All in all, it’s important to keep an eye on the wines in your cellar by tasting them regularly!