Tannins will not be a new term for many wine tasters but are still a source of confusion. Their origins and the impact they have on the tasting experience is mystifying to many. This article acts as a guide to help you to understand what tannins are, what they do and their importance in a wine’s profile.

A Guide To Tannins: What Are They And Where Do They Come From?

Tannins are naturally occurring compounds that exist in many natural sources, including grapes. These compounds or polyphenols are found inside grape skins, seeds and stems. Tannins provide texture and a mouthfeel to the wine, as well as a sense of weight and structure. They also bind with proteins in saliva, drying out your mouth. This is why red wines typically pair so well with red meats – the tannins bind with the proteins in the meat, making them less astringent on your palate.

Tannins form the basis of the structure of many red wines – and are known for their bitter or astringent components. How tannic a wine’s profile is will depend on a number of factors including grape variety, vineyard conditions, winemaking practices and vintage variation. For example, cooler climates tend to yield a more aggressive tannin. While the tannins of grapes grown in warmer climates are considered to be smoother and larger. As well, some varieties are more tannic than others. Cabernet Sauvignon, for example, is high in tannins, while Pinot Noir is typically much lower.

Tannins In Wine: Knowing Their Importance

Yet, what exactly is the importance of tannin being present in wine?

They help to define the character of the wine while adding texture. Many winemakers will vary the winemaking process depending on the tannic outcome they are looking to achieve. The aim is to ensure that enough of a grape’s tannin is extracted during the maceration process. The more characteristics extracted, the deeper the complexity and personality of the wine.

Another reason why they are important is the way they act as a natural antioxidant that protects the wine. This is one of the reasons why some red wines, including Cabernet Sauvignon, can be age-worthy. Antioxidants play an essential role in the aging process of wine, while also providing great health benefits.

Describing Wine Tannins During A Tasting

For many oenophiles, being able to describe tannins during a wine tasting is a wonderful skill to have. However, it can be difficult to differentiate tannins from other structural elements of a wine, such as the acidity and alcohol.

While tannins are known for their bitterness or astringency, there are differences in the quality of a tannin. For example, tannins that are “unripe” or “green” can leave a bitter taste and make a wine unpleasant, especially if they are not balanced by enough fruit. However, “ripe” or “fine grained” tannins can feel velvety in the mouth and have no trace of bitterness.

Next time that you are tasting a glass of red wine, note the following observations:

  • Do the tannins coat your mouth immediately or slowly?
  • Do they dominate the wine or are they matched by fruit and freshness?
  • Are they gentle and integrated? Or are they harsh and assertive?

Examples Of High And Low Tannin Wines

As we mentioned earlier, how much tannin is present depends on a number of characteristics including grape varietal and the climate in which the grape was grown. While the winemaking process does have its influences, some grape varieties have tannic characteristics than others.

There are many wines that are famously known for either their high or low tannin level. Below, we name a few of these that you should certainly try.

Low Tannin Wines

Wines that are in high production are more commonly found to have a less abrasive and smoother texture. Therefore, having a lower tannin level than other reds or whites. Low tannin wines such as Merlot, Pinot Noir or Zinfandel are often noted for their even textural profile and are more suited for those who don’t particularly enjoy dry wines.

Consider trying a Domaine Magellan – Merlot vdp 2017 from the French Languedoc region. Note its spicy, smoky hints with richness and smooth tannins.  

High Tannin Wines

High tannin wines, on the other hand, are often considered as low production wines. Therefore, exhibit a greater variety of textural profiles. High tannic wines include Cabernet Sauvignon, Nebbiolo, Tannat and Sangiovese among others. Pairing highly tannic wines with the right dish can provide wine tasters with an even more engaging textural profile.

If you wish to experience a wine that has high tannin levels, consider trying the La Quercia – Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2015.  This full-bodied and smooth Italian wine is packed with notes of wild cherry, chocolate, blackberry and spices. This Montepulciano is a very versatile and flavourful wine that pairs well with many dishes including Italian favourites such as pizza and lasagne.

2 thoughts on “Tannins Explained: A Guide to Tannins In Wine”

  1. Very interesting page
    I have a question,i hope that some one would be able to give me advice
    My question is, Sept.10th 2020 i bought 15 cases of petite syrah grapes and had it crashed and destem at premises
    home i dumped grape skin/juice in big plastic barrel.i let it ferment it for thee days in the barrel after,the color was perfect i removed the skin/seeds and pressed it ( i kept the pressed juice separate from the rest ) it all continue to ferment at slower pace for another four weeks on till it stopped completely.from the barrel i transfer it in 5 gallon glass carboy,
    Today is Oct 22 i decided to check my new wine, perfect color it’s clear beautiful, butt the tannins a bit to much…
    So going back to my question,how can i mellow down/reduce the tannins.

    Thank you and god bless you.
    Rick Romano


    • Hi Rick, thanks for your question. Some red grapes, like Petite Sirah, are naturally high in tannin, so they need a little different approach in winemaking. There are several ways that winemakers try to manage tannins. First, minimize the time in which the juice is in contact with the skins, which is where the grape’s tannins are. The longer you leave the juice on the skin, the deeper the colour, but the more tannin is extracted, so it is a delicate balancing act. Second, and the most common way is to age the wine in barrels. Slow exposure to oxygen allows the tannins to polymerize into larger molecules, which will fall out of the wine as sediment. Be careful of the type of barrel you use, though. New barrels will add wood tannins to the wine, which can add to the complexity, but may not be what you are looking for. Third and finally, ageing a wine in bottle has the same effect — over time the tannins will bind together and form sediment, which is what makes an older wine taste “smoother”. However, not all wines age well. They need to have enough fruit to last while the tannins soften, and they need to have enough acidity to ensure the wine does not spoil or become sherried due to exposure to minimal levels of oxygen over the years of ageing.


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