What Are Tannins in Wine?

April 5, 2013 Blog » Learn About Wine » What Are Tannins in Wine?

Where Wine Tannin Comes From

What Are Tannins in Wine?

In wine, tannin is a textural element that makes wine taste dry.

Tannin is a naturally occurring polyphenol found in plants, seeds, bark, wood, leaves, and fruit skins. About 50% of the dry weight of plant leaves are tannins. As a characteristic of wine, tannin adds both bitterness and astringency, as well as complexity. Wine tannins are most commonly found in red wine, although white wines have tannin from being aged in wooden barrels.

What Does Tannin Taste Like?

Tannin tastes dry and astringent and you can feel it specifically on the middle of your tongue and the front part of your mouth. Unsweetened black tea is a great example of nearly pure tannin dissolved in water.

High-Tannin Foods
  • Tea Leaves
  • Walnuts, Almonds, and Other Nuts with Skins
  • Dark Chocolate
  • Cinnamon, Clove and Other Spices
  • Pomegranates, Grapes, and Açaí Berries
  • Quince
  • Red Beans


Where do Wine Tannins Come From?

Tannins in wine come from two possible places: wine grapes and wood.


Anatomy of a wine grape

What Are Grape Tannins?

Grape tannin comes from the skins, seeds, and stems of a wine grape. For this reason, red wines tend to have higher tannins than white wines because the extended contact of the grapes skins with the juice give the tannins time to dissolve in the alcohol and water in the wine.
Some types of wine have higher tannins than others. The Nebbiolo grape used in Italian Barolo, is a high grape tannin wine.


Pure tannin. by Simon Eugster

What are Wood Tannins?

Wood tannins dissolve into wine through contact. Most commonly this happens when wine is stored in wooden barrels. Oak barrels are the most popular choice because of the flavors they add to wine such as vanillin.
Tannin powders, oak chips and oak staves are growing in popularity because they are more affordable. It is hard to say which is better, since an oak barrel can be used in winemaking for up to 70 years.

Which Wines are High vs Low in Tannin?

We picked out a few examples to help illustrate wine tannins. It’s helpful to remember that winemaking style greatly affects how much tannin is in a wine. In general, high production wines are deliberately created to have “rounder” feeling tannins.

High Tannin Wines

  • Nebbiolo
  • Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Tempranillo
  • Montepulciano
  • Petit Verdot
  • Petite Sirah

Low Tannin Wines

  • Barbera
  • Zinfandel
  • Pinot Noir
  • Primitivo
  • Grenache
  • Merlot


Are Wine Tannins Good or Bad?

Tannins + Health = Good There is actually a study on the effects of wine and tea tannin and oxidation in the body. In the tests, wine tannin resists oxidation whereas tea tannin did not. In other words, it may be super good for you. You can read the synopsis here.
What About Migraines? The jury is still out on the connection between tannin and migraines. In order to remove tannins from your diet, you’ll need to stop consuming chocolate, nuts, apple juice, tea, pomegranate and, of course, wine.
Age-Worthy Wines Tannin is a key component in what makes a wine age worthy. Check out this article on The 4 Traits of Wines that Age Well.


By Madeline Puckette
I'm a certified sommelier and creator of the NYT Bestseller, Wine Folly: The Essential Guide to Wine. Find me out there in the wine world @WineFolly