Up high in the Mayacamas Range lies California’s most unique winegrowing region, complete with high altitudes and a sunny mountain climate. This special environment lends itself to bold wines with rich flavors and low tannins. While each and every component of our wines here at Byrd Vineyard are important to the overall quality, the importance of tannins can sometimes be a source of confusion. What are tannins and what role do they play in wine tasting? How do they affect the overall taste and texture of the wine? And why does Byrd Vineyard pride itself on its low tannin red wine?
What are tannins and why are they important?
Put simply, tannins are phenolic compounds found in the wine that leave a bitter and puckery feeling in the mouth. These compounds originate inside the skin, seeds, and stems of the grapes and are carefully extracted into red wines such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Bordeaux.
Tannins are important because the drying sensation that they provide brings texture and mouth-feel to the wine, as well as a sense of structure and balance. Without tannins, wine could taste too sweet or feel unbalanced like something is not quite right! Tannins are also the reason why red wine pairs so well with red meat — the drying sensation of the tannins pleasantly complements the rich fattiness of steak and other hearty dishes.
Lastly, tannins are important because they define the character of the wine. By adding texture, mouth-feel, and complexity, tannins can elevate a good wine to a fantastic (and award-winning) wine.
How do they affect the taste, texture, and overall quality of the wine?
A wine expert would never describe a wine as “well-balanced” without the presence of tannins. The harmonious combination of acids, sugars, alcohol, and tannins creates a well-structured wine that is complex and enjoyable.
High tannins create wine that would be described as “dry” due to the bitter and puckering sensations that tannins are known for. On the other hand, wines with lower levels of tannins are described as round, smooth, and soft. Their velvety, pleasing texture is easy to drink and not too tannic or astringent.
Low tannins create red wine that is neither too dry nor too sweet. Those who are not the biggest fans of bitter flavors like dark chocolate or coffee may prefer wines low in tannins, as they are more fruit-forward and less bitter.
Tannins are also high in antioxidants, or nutrients found in food that can also work to preserve wine. Antioxidants benefit both the wine (by allowing it to age gracefully) and those who drink it (by providing health benefits including improving heart health). As if you needed another reason to reach for a bottle of red wine!
Why low tannin wine?
The strength of a wine’s tannins can be a result of the climate where the grapes were grown. In our case at Byrd Vineyard, our high-altitude mountain climate creates smaller grapes that are high in acids and flavor and low in tannins.
Low tannin red wine has a beautiful, smooth texture and is not too bitter or astringent. Byrd Vineyard’s red wines are said to be soft and smooth, as well as even-textured and round. Our complex red wines with their low tannins and high acids are structured perfectly — allowing for each sip to be well-balanced and harmonious.
Our high altitude and mountain soil work together to actually change the way that grapes are formed in comparison to other winegrowing regions. For example, our grapes have thicker skins and smaller berry sizes due to the solar intensity that comes as a result of our high altitude. Richer tannins and bolder flavor also increase with altitude. As a result of our unique terroir here at Byrd Vineyard, our low tannins wines are unlike any you’ve experienced before.