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If you’re new to the world of wine, you might be unfamiliar with one of the most frequently used words: tannins. Tannins are essential elements in what makes wine special and distinctive—in what makes wine taste like wine—and learning about them is crucial to understanding and appreciating wine.

Tannins are among the least understood aspects of wine, and one of the most difficult to master, because they cannot be isolated and smelled or tasted. But you don’t need a doctorate in chemistry to comprehend what’s going on in that glass of wine. Understanding and recognizing tannins will take you a long way toward wine connoisseurship.