What Are Tannins? And Why Do they Matter in Wine?

tannins and wine grapes

Tannins. It’s one of those ‘wine words’ commonly heard in tasting rooms and among wine circles, but many of us are unsure of what is actually means. Tannins are an important characteristic in wine making. They give wines complexity, structure and natural antioxidants to protect the wine, allowing it to age.


wine chocolate and tea tanninsSo What Exactly are Tannins?

Let’s get scientific for a minute. Tannins are are naturally occurring compounds called Polyphenols. These compounds are found in bark, leaves, fruit, and seeds. The tannins in wine can come from two different places, the grapes themselves and to a lesser degree the barrels that the wines are aged in (which is why even a white wine can have some level of tannin). Polyphenols are released from the grapes skins, seeds and stems when they soak in the juice right after pressing. How strong or weak the tannins are in a wine depends on how long the skins, seeds and stems are left to soak.

Tannins in Wine

Tannins are most easily recognized by the dry chalky sensation they leave in your mouth. This is also why they are commonly mistaken for the level of dryness in a wine. In regards to how they actually taste, astringent is probably the most popular term used.  Tannins tend to have an herbaceous, bitter flavor, which makes sense when you think about what they are derived from. If you want to get a clear idea of the flavors to look for when identifying tannins, try brewing a cup of black tea for several minutes longer than recommended and then take a taste. Or if you’re truly brave, try sticking a wet black tea bag directly on your tongue, this is the closest you can get to tasting pure tannin.

Wine Tannins Taste

High Tannins Wines

Low Tannin Wines

  • Merlot
  • Pinot Noir
  • Barbera
  • Zinfandel
  • Grenache

Tannin Fun Facts:

  • You may have heard red wine is good for you. The tannins in red wine are a good source of antioxidants, which have been shown to have many health benefits.
  • Tannins are also responsible for why some people get headaches from wine. If you suffer from tannin headaches, try switching to white wine which has a much lower tannin content.

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