Greig Santos-Buch

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 | Winetraveler.com
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 Snooth.com.

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
Co-Founder at Winetraveler.com
Greig Santos-Buch is a Co-Founder at Winetraveler.com and a WSET 2 sommelier. He works with several brands focusing on experiential and immersive-style travel.

In his spare time, you can find him hiking with a bottle of Cabernet Franc in his backpack or scuba diving trying to talk a reef shark into trying Swiss wine.
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