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What Are Wine Tannins? Taste, Mouthfeel, And Quality Explained

There’s a reason why biting into a grape, walnut, cranberry, or rhubarb piece leaves you with a dry mouthfeel – the natural tannin present. Since tannins are present in various fruits, nuts, and tree bark, it only makes sense for them to appear in various wines.

So, what are wine tannins? And, how do they present in wine’s taste, mouthfeel, and quality?

In A Nutshell – What Are Wine Tannins?

Tannin molecules are found in nature in various plants, including leaves, legumes, seeds, and fruits mentioned above. They’re also in other food and drinks, like dark chocolate, tea, beer, and coffee. Tannins are known as polyphenols, aka phenolic compounds. Meaning they come from phenolic acids. These complex molecules can bind with many items, including minerals, proteins, and starches, making them insoluble.

While many people think of wine tannins in connection to red wine, the truth is many types of wine have tannins. However, because the fermentation process for red wine typically includes grape skins, it has higher tannins than white or rosé wines.

Where Do Tannins In Wine Come From?

The tannins found in wine come from grape skins, stems, and seeds. When wine is created, the grape skins, stems, and seeds are typically soaked in the liquid during fermentation. At this time, wine tannins naturally form.

However, tannins can form in wine in a few other ways. The mouthfeel or taste may be off for a particular one. In that case, winemakers can include tannin additives to red or white wine that they feel need more tannins. Additionally, tannins can seep into wine while fermenting in oak barrels since this type of wood also produces tannins.

How Do Tannins In Wine Taste?

Simply put, tannins cause the astringent, bitter taste in most wines. However, they also help create a complex flavor in spirits. You can tell if you’re consuming high-tannin wines if your mouth feels dry when drinking them.

You’ll find higher tannins in some wines that have not been aged long. In this case, the tannins are typically quite strong and can even make your mouth pucker at the dryness. Some tannins can also create a smooth mouthfeel, adding to the complexity of the wine.

How Does Climate Affect Tannins?

Warmer and cooler temperatures affect how quickly wine grapes ripen. This translates to which tannins are produced (dry or smooth mouthfeel). For example, a warmer climate can produce a smoother wine, while a colder one may mean a weaker tannin taste.

What Wine Has The Most Tannins?

Full-bodied red wines typically have the most tannins. Some red wines with high tannins include:

  • Syrah
  • Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Tannat
  • Monastrell
  • Petit Sirah

What Wine Has Low Tannins?

Generally, white wines have the lowest amount of tannins. You’ll find an especially low number of tannins in wines that have not been aged in oak barrels. A few examples include the following:

  • Pinot Grigio
  • Riesling
  • Sauvignon Blanc
  • Sparkling wines

What Red Wines Have No Tannins?

No wines (red or white) are devoid of tannins since tannins naturally occur in grape skins. However, there are red wines that have lower amounts of tannins. These low-tannin red wines include:

  • Pinot noir
  • Dolcetto
  • Frappato
  • Gamay

How Do Tannins Help Balance Wine?

As mentioned, tannins add astringency and bitterness to a wine. Tannins help balance the other wine qualities, including sweet, acid, and fruit notes. Additionally, tannins help create a complex taste in wine. Tannins also help create body in wine, with higher tannins generally leading wines to be more full-bodied.

Do Tannins Help Wine Age?

Beyond flavor and mouthfeel, tannins also help provide structure to the wine. The amount of tannins in a wine is the main way to tell whether a red wine will age well. Red wines that have a higher amount of tannins typically age better than red wines that don’t.

Additionally, tannins can help slow the oxidation process of wine as it ages. This factor helps wine maintain its fruity notes and color instead of losing its complex flavors.

The Health Benefits of Tannins

Many claims have noted red wine as a healthy beverage in moderation. These health benefits are due to the tannins found in wine. Since tannins are polyphenols, they help produce antioxidants in the body. These antioxidants can provide benefits such as protecting the body from free radicals. Free radicals have been known to cause oxidative stress on the body, which can lead to chronic diseases.

Other potential health benefits of tannins include lower cholesterol, a decrease in blood pressure, and a better immune system. These health benefits are not guaranteed when drinking red wine. However, they are a possible outcome of moderate consumption.

Are Wine Tannins Bad For You?

Generally, wine tannins are considered good for you – especially considering their potential health benefits. However, if you consume too many tannins, it can lead to headaches. Tannins release serotonin, which can cause headaches in those sensitive to changes in serotonin levels.

If you purchase higher quality wines, they do not typically create headaches or create fewer headaches. Though, this can vary greatly depending on the individual.

Why Do Winemakers Love Tannins?

Many winemakers add tannins to their offerings because tannins can help keep bacteria out of the wine. As mentioned, tannins also help in the wine aging process, with higher tannins leading to a wine that ages better.

Additionally, tannins help create a complex flavor, texture, and mouthfeel for wines, making them more exciting and interesting to consume.

Pairing High Tannin White & Red Wine With Foods

Enjoying a high-tannin wine (red or white) during a meal is a great way to prep your palate for the dish’s flavors. Since tannins help dry out your mouth, they act like palate cleansers in between bites so you can better taste the food.

As a general rule of thumb, when pairing high-tannin wine with food, consider enjoying a decadent, bold dish. For example, tannic red wine pairs well with a cheese and hard meat charcuterie board. Other great pairings include marbled red meat, lamb chops, ribs, and even a pasta dish with a hearty meat sauce.

Avoid pairing fish with high-tannin wines, as it can make the dish taste too “fishy.”

Do White Wines Ever Have Tannins, And What About Orange Wines?

Yes, white wines have tannins. However, they generally have lower levels of tannins. In some cases, white wines can have more tannins, like chardonnay.

As far as orange wines, they typically have more tannins than white wines. Orange wines are fermented with skins, leading to more tannins in orange wine than in white.

Final Notes About Tannic Wines

Now that you understand the role of tannins, you can more easily select wines that fit your tastebuds. Whether you prefer the astringent, bitter flavor, or something sweeter, you’ll find sufficient options in the wine world.

If you prefer a high-tannin wine, try Syrah or Cabernet Sauvignon. If you prefer an option that is not as dry, sparkling wine may better fit your taste buds.

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