What Are Tannins in Wine: Everything You Need To Know

by Kelvin Teo | Last Updated: September 17, 2021

Tannin, also known as gallic acid, is the most common polyphenol found in red wines and some white wines. It’s an organic compound that gives wine its astringent taste and mouthfeel. It can be extracted from grape skins during winemaking, but more often than not, it comes from oak barrels used by wineries.

The term “tannin” refers to any of several related compounds with similar chemical structures. They all have at least one hydroxyl group attached to a benzene ring. This OH-group makes them water-soluble and allows them to bind strongly to proteins such as albumen and globulin present in grapes and other fruits.

What do Tannins do?

Tannin molecules binds with protein, which means that when we taste wine, our mouth feels dry because there’s less saliva available to wash away the alcohol from the wine — hence, the astringent flavor. This makes us feel like drinking more!

The reason why tannins make wine taste bitter is because they can cause some compounds called anthocyanidins to precipitate out of solution. This is why red wine and steak are a good match — the wine’s astringency counteracts the fattiness of the meat.

Helping Wine Age

Some winemakers purposefully add tannin powder into their wines to raise the tannin level because they act as a natural anti-oxidant which not only protects the wine but help it age successfully.

When a high-tannin wine is aged, it becomes more complex and elegant — taking on a much smoother texture, which is far less bitter than a younger wine of the same grape. Tannins are organic compounds found in plants that give them color and flavor.

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Are Wine Tannins Bad For You?

Wine tannins aren’t necessarily bad for your health; however, if you’re sensitive to tannins or suffer from heartburn, then you may want to avoid consuming too much tannins.

The problem arises when people consume large amounts of tannins over time without having enough food to digest them properly. In this case, tannic acid could potentially irritate the stomach lining, causing indigestion.

The Sources of Tannins

There are five sources of tannins in wine: grape skin, seeds, stems, wood and additives.

Grape skin tannins are larger than those found in other sources. They consist of several hundred monomers.

Seed tannins are shorter and therefore smaller.

Stem tannins range in size from those found in grape skins to those found in seeds. In addition to the differences in size, the shape of the molecules varies significantly between different types of tannins.

Wood tannins come from oak barrels. During the first few years of use, oak barrels can contribute to wine’s color stabilization due to the presence of non-flavonoids. The sensation of a fine graininess on the tongue is what barrel-derived tannins in wine impart.

Tannin levels vary depending upon how much oak or other materials were added during fermentation. Some producers add large amounts of oak chips at bottling time while others use only small quantities. These additions will affect the color, flavor and mouthfeel of your finished product.

Difference Between Tannins in Wine and Acidity

It’s easy for beginners to get confused between the taste of tannins and acidity. Tannin doesn’t taste the same for every palate — the sensation it gives is normally a ‘dry’ mouthfeel followed by a residual bitterness that will linger throughout your mouth.

Acidity, on the other hand, tastes like sourness or tartness, and it causes salivation. Acids are often used as preservatives in wines, which means they’re added at low levels to prevent spoilage.

The easiest way to tell if there’s enough acidity present in a wine is to take a sip, let your taste buds soak and try to notice if you taste the sensations described.

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High Tannin Wines

The following is a list of some of the most highly-tanned reds on the market today.

1) Cabernet Sauvignon: One of the world’s best known wines, it was originally made by French winemakers as an inexpensive alternative to Chateau Lafite Rothschild. Today, it is produced all around the globe.

2) Shiraz: An Australian classic that is often used as a benchmark against which other varieties may be measured. Its popularity continues to grow worldwide.

3) Nebbiolo: A very high-acid Italian varietal that has become increasingly popular over recent years. It produces intensely flavored wines that are generally light bodied but powerful enough to stand up well to food.

4) Sangiovese: A widely planted variety grown throughout Italy. It is one of the few grapes capable of producing both dry and sweet styles. This versatility makes it ideal for blending into many types of wines.

5) Malbec: A relatively new arrival on the scene, its popularity is growing rapidly. It is particularly suited to warmer climates where ripening conditions favor darker fruit flavors.

Low Tannin Wines

1) Pinot Noir: A versatile red wine with great character and complexity. The name comes from the Burgundy region of France, where this type of wine originated.

2) Riesling: One of Germany’s oldest indigenous varieties, rieslings have been cultivated since Roman times. Their crisp acidity lends them their characteristic “bite.” Many people consider German rieslings among the finest whites available.

3) Tempranillo: A Spanish variety that is often blended into Rioja wines. It has a distinctive flavor profile characterized by its earthy notes and high alcohol content. Its color ranges from light ruby to dark garnet depending on how it was grown.

4) White wines and roses

How To Taste Tannin For Yourself

Red Wine Tannins

There are many words to describe tannins, but the easiest is a cup of tea. This simple test will allow you to identify them without complications from other wine components.

Before you add any sugar or cream, take a sip from your cup of tea. You should notice some dryness and astringency accompanying the taste.

This experience will help you recognise the tannins in your wine later on.

Kelvin Teo founded Filled With Wine™ because one summer night, he noticed that his glass of wine tasted funny. It was only after he discovered that he stored his bottle wrongly that he realised the importance of proper wine storage. Since then, he has taken the art of wine drinking seriously and is now on a quest to help fellow wine lovers achieve the best drinking experience possible.