Defining Astringency as a Wine Characteristic

A Quick Guide to Astringency in Wine

Astringency in wine is a term and sensation most commonly associated and experienced while drinking red wine. I want to emphasize “sensation” as it is very commonly confused with acidity in wine – which is related to taste.

The Level of Astringency Found in Red Wines Varies by Grape Variety |
Different grape varieties offer varying degrees of astringency. Image courtesy US Top Wines.

Scientific Explanation for Astringency in Wine

Astringency is the physiological reaction your mouth experiences when it comes into contact with wine. It causes our taste buds to stand on end while a coarseness or roughness ensues. This makes your mouth pucker and very often begin to salivate further.   Conversely, it can cause your mouth to dry out.

This sensation is caused by a chemical compound that makes body tissue and blood vessels contract. The compound is derived primarily from the skins and seeds of the grapes used to make whichever wine you’re drinking. These chemical compounds are classified as “phenolics.

There are a number of phenolics present in wine at varying concentrations. Each can affect the color, aroma and feel of a wine, but there are a select few that relate to astringency in wine.

Polymeric flavan-3-ols – as the compound is scientifically called – is the biggest contributor to the level of astringency felt in a wine. Polymeric flavan-3-ols is the same compound that is more commonly referred to as “tannins” found in wine.

RELATED: The Definition of Tannins in Wine

What is Astringency in Wine? | Tannins and Astringency

Chemical Reactions on a Biological Level

There are a number of chemical reactions that occur in your mouth as you taste wine. As the tannins interact with proteins present in your saliva – which lubricate your mouth – they essentially bond. This causes your tissues to contract which will ultimately lead to further salivation.

Red wine is truly a wonderful beverage in that these reactions all vary in intensity depending upon how the wine was crafted.  The subtleties from bottle to bottle vary greatly, and many wine aficionados are constantly looking for new descriptive terms to describe the variations.

How Tannins Affect the Sensation of Astringency in Wine
The chemical makeup of tannic content found in various wine grape varieties plays a big role in determining the level of astringency found in wine. Image courtesy

Astringency in Wine is Different than Acidity

All in all, think of astringency as being related to your sense of touch, while acidity is associated with the sense of taste. Both are used to assess the flavoric nuances of a wine at varying degrees of intensity.

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Greig Santos-Buch is a Co-Founder at Winetraveler, WSET II Merit wine thought-provoker and off-the-beaten-path outdoorsman. He first became involved with wine traveling after a month-long solo trip to Spain about 10 years ago, planning the trip almost exclusively around the gastronomic scene of the country. Ever since that particular trip abroad, he developed a passion for traveling and making wine tourism the core driver behind where he ends up. This has since led him to exciting destinations including the Czech Republic, to Austria, Germany, Switzerland, France, Italy, Portugal, California, Washington State, Canada and beyond. His primary aim through Winetraveler is to expose this style of travel to the world and make it accessible to everyone.

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