Can You Have An Intolerance to Wine Tannins? 

If you can’t happily sip a glass of Merlot for an evening without experiencing unpleasant side effects, then it may be an indication that you have a sensitivity to wine tannins. 

Similar to other allergies, people can be just as intolerant to wine as they are to gluten, peanuts or pollen. In fact, having a sensitivity to alcohol is very common with approximately 9% of women and 5% of men experiencing it each year. 

While there are many factors that can make a person have a sensitivity or intolerance to wine such as the sulfites or histamines present, other components of a wine can also cause a reaction even tannins. When it comes to wine, especially red grape varietals, having a side effect such as facial flushing or digestive issues is an indication that you may have an allergy or intolerance to wine tannins. 

As tannins are a product of the skin of a grape, if intolerance is present and they are ingested the body will treat it as a foreign invader and trigger an immune response. This then causes signs of an allergen such as swollen lips, digestive and bowel issues. If you also experience these symptoms when drinking black tea or coffee, then it is a good indication sign that you have a sensitivity to tannins, as those beverages have the same grippy mouth feel as they are produced by the steeping process to extract flavour like red wine is.

It is important to note that each person’s sensitivity to wine tannins can vary from very mild to severe. If you begin experiencing moderate to severe reactions after drinking a glass of red wine or black tea, make sure to consult with your physician as soon as possible. 

How To Tell The Difference Between Tannic Levels

Tannin is present in all wines to an extent; however, red wine is renowned for having high-tannin levels. If you do have an intolerance to wine tannins, the only way to prevent experiencing a reaction is to educate yourself on how to tell the difference between tannin levels in wine. 

As you may already be aware, tannins are astringent and impart a dry feeling in the mouth. That feeling of your cheeks being sucked in and moisture evaporating on your tongue is a prime characteristic of wine tannins. The more tannins present, the more intense the mouthfeel. 

Due to tannins being a naturally occurring compound, all wine will be tannic. That’s why it is hard from first glance to tell a wine’s exact tannic level. However, observing how wines are made is a good indication of what the tannin level will be. 

  • White & rosé wine – If you have a sensitivity to tannins, sticking with a white or rosé wine is often recommended. Although tannins may still be present, they are much less noticeable than red wines. The reason for this is that most white and rosé grapes are not fermented with their grape skins, seeds, or stalks. 
  • Old wines – Older red wines such as an aged Bordeaux will have significantly fewer tannins present than a new release. The reason for this is that as wine ages, the tannins tend to soften and not be so harsh.
  • Low-tannin red wines – There are red wines such as a Pinot Noir or a Barbera which are most often times on the lower end of the tannin level scale. If you do have a tannin sensitivity and would like to try a glass of red, stick to these red grape varietals that are lighter in style. 
  • High-tannin red wines – Generally speaking, those red wines that are produced using the whole cluster fermentation process will be higher in tannins, as this winemaking method is used to beef up the tannin structure in a wine. Red wines that are dense and rich in profile such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Nebbiolo, and Syrah are known for their high levels of tannin. 

Try These Low-Tannin Red Wines This Year

If you do suspect that you have a mild tannin sensitivity, but are not yet ready to say goodbye to red wine completely, there are plenty of low-tannin red wines that you can try. 

Some of our favourite low-tannin wines are:

  • Luigi Righetti Campo Tordi Corvina 2019  – Comprised of 100% Corvina, which is a grape lighter in colour and tannins. Unlike traditional wines of Veneto, Campo Tordi is fermented in temperature-controlled, stainless steel tanks as opposed to neutral Slavonian oak barrels, making it a crisp, fresh red wine.
  • Marcel Cabelier Cotes du Jura Trousseau 2017 – This is a great red that is light and won’t weigh you down at the table. It is best enjoyed lightly chilled (between 13 and 16 degrees).
  • Tunella – Pinot Nero 2018 – This Pinot Noir offers hints of wild berries, raspberries and fresh dill. This thin-skinned grape makes a red wine with a silky mouthfeel with low-tannin. 


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