What Are Tannins in Wine?

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

Examples of tannins in wine.

What Are Tannins in Wine?

Tannin is a naturally occurring polyphenol found in plants, seeds, bark, wood, leaves, and fruit skins.

And polyphenols are macromolecules made of phenols–complex bonds of oxygen and hydrogen molecules. Yep, wine is science!

Need an example? About 50% of the dry weight of plant leaves is pure tannin.

Tannin in wine adds both bitterness and astringency, as well as complexity. Tannins are most commonly found in red wine, although some white wines have tannin too (from aging in wooden barrels or fermenting on skins).

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.

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Other High-Tannin Foods

  • Tea Leaves
  • Walnuts, Almonds, and other whole nuts (with skins)
  • Dark Chocolate
  • Cinnamon, Clove, and other whole 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.

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. For example, Tannat is an uncommon red wine with some of the highest levels of tannin of any wine grape anywhere!

Pure wood tannin. by Simon Eugster

What are Wood Tannins?

Wood tannins dissolve into wine through contact. Most commonly, this happens when storing wine 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.

High Tannin Red Wines
High tannins: Even compared to bold wines like Cabernet Sauvignon, Tannat and Sagrantino are in a league of their own.

High Tannin vs. Low Tannin Wines

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

Higher-Tannin Red Wines

Lower-Tannin Red Wines

Are Wine Tannins Good or Bad?

Tannins + Health = Good There is 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. 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.

Basic traits in wine sweetness, acidity, alcohol, tannin, body

The Basic Traits of Wine

Tannin is one of the 5 basic traits of wine. See the other ones.

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About Madeline Puckette

James Beard Award-winning author and Wine Communicator of the Year. I co-founded Wine Folly to help people learn about wine. @WineFolly