Updated October 26, 2011
Deborah D. asks Tim:
I keep hearing the word "tannins" described by wine drinkers. What are tannins and what do they have to do with wine?
Tannins can sometimes be a difficult word to describe. I typically describe it as the "cotton mouth effect." Tannins are a natural organic compound found in the grape skins, seeds and stems that give that puckering sensation in your mouth and the back of your throat. It is an excellent antioxidant and natural preservative that also gives wine structure and texture. Wine makers have the ability to control the tannic structure of their wine by using specific juicing extraction techniques to reduce or increase the amount excreted.
Wines with little tannin should be drunk young as they do not need time to tame, however wines that require aging are typically big, bold, and highly tannic wines that need a few years to mellow out. Through time the tannins become less noticable and a delicate and smooth wine appears.