As someone who tastes wine daily, I find tannin in wine both fascinating and frustrating. Fascinating, because tannins help form the shape of a wine. Frustrating as they can trick you.
Tannin accumulation is the enemy of anyone who tastes many wines in a short period. There is a lag between tasting a tannic wine, and the tannins disappearing from your mouth. This factor can cause a subsequent wine to look tannic when it’s not.
From my tastings, a highly tannic wine can have an impact on the next three to four wines I taste, which is why a bracket of young reds requires numerous breaks. But tannins are fascinating the way they channel the flavours of wine through your palate. Of course, acidity plays a role too, but tannins form the shape of a wine.
In a recent tempranillo tasting, I was intrigued by the uniqueness of the tannin profile in certain wines. The tannins seemed to build slowly from the moment you took a sip, rather than trumpeting on the finish. They seemed to slow down the progression of flavour, leaving more time to ponder and reflect on the taste of the wine.
When paired with food, the tannins were barely noticeable, but the effect of the slow flavour evolution remained. So, the next time you are wine tasting, pause and reflect on the tannins. Too many, or too few, and the wine will be unbalanced. Take note that harsh, or green, tannins never seem to fade. Look for silky, ripe, velvety, papery, structural or gently drying tannins, and build up your vocabulary for describing the shape and finish of a wine.
Big is not always better. In the finest wines, the tannins are intricately woven into the fabric of a wine, barely noticeable yet ever-present. The most important thing is that the tannins are appropriate for the weight and style of the wine. As with everything in wine, balance is the key.