Tannin in Wine Making
Tannin comes from the stalks, pips and skins of the grapes and is the element that can give certain red wines a very long life. It is instrumental in making the wine throw a deposit on which it will live. While such a wine is young, however, the presence of the tannin will be pronounced and give it an almost astringent, bitterish flavour and draw the mouth of the wine taster slightly. This does not make for pleasant drinking, but a wine with the right proportion of tannin and the potential for maturing to produce great quality can be a wonderful drink when its time has come. Unfortunately, because people do not like the tannin in young, big, red wines and because producers cannot always afford to leave wines to mature slowly and naturally, the vinification is often carried out to make a wine that will be agreeable drinking at a much earlier date than would have been possible some decades ago. The great clarets of the past could wait 50 or more years, if the vintage had so made them so that they required long maturing. Nowadays few members of the wine trade find it possible to tie up capital long-term and, even in a year when very long-lived wines could be made, the tendency in even the finer wine regions is to make wines that will ‘come round’ much sooner.
There are various means by which this is done: the simplest is to take the hat off the must in the vat after a short time, so that comparatively little tannin is absorbed. Formerly, with the greatest clarets, this source of tannin might remain in contact with the wine for weeks, but now it is usually only left for a matter of days. There are still, however, makers of great red wines throughout the wine regions of the world who, in exceptional years, will make wines as far as possible in accordance with their traditional potentialities. White wines usually do not contain much tannin – a reason why they tend to have shorter lives than red wines, and also why they are inclined to be more delicate as regards the hazards to which wine is subjected: changes in climate, travel and soon.
When appraising wine, the presence of tannin should be recognised. If the wine seems capable of living with it and on its deposit for some time, it should be admitted as a good thing. This, however, cannot be an asset if the wine concerned is intended to be drunk while young and if the wine could not possibly achieve more quality by ageing. With wines in the medium and inexpensive ranges, the presence of tannin to a too marked extent is therefore obviously not a good thing. With the potentially great wines, in certain years, the tannin that can make them displeasing drinking at the outset will be the basis of their character as they develop.