Wine Words Demystified: Phenols

You know the deal, the more some folks learn about a topic, the more shortcuts/slang/acronyms/initials/technical speak can be tossed around.  I’m here to help you understand those sometimes mysterious words and phrases, thus – Wine Words Demystified!

This week’s word is phenols (a.k.a. phenolics)

According to Karen MacNeil‘s The Wine Bible:

 A group of chemical compounds occurring naturally in all plants.  In wine, phenols are derived from grape skins, stems, and seeds as well as from oak barrels.  Among the most important phenols are TANNIN, COLOR pigments, and some flavor compounds, such as VANILLIN  

It’s the phenols from the grapes skins, seeds, and stems that determine a wine’s balance, aromas, taste, color, and consistency (i.e, “profile”). The context in which I’ve most often heard the term used is “This wine has great phenolics”, meaning great color, aromas, taste, and body.  Phenols are most important and evident in red wines.

The three primary types of phenols in wine, each of which contributes to a wine’s profile are: Anthocyanins, which add color, catechins that add bitterness, and tannins, which add a drying, astringent mouthfeel.

 Also, it’s the phenols in wine to which health benefits are attributed because of their antioxidant properties. The most well known type of phenol with antioxidant properties is resveratrol, which has been linked to reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer among other things.