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What Are Tannins in Wine: Origin, Taste & Influence

Tannins are a crucial component that shapes the very soul of wine. Like artists manipulating their palette, winemakers use tannins to craft each bottle's intricate balance of taste, texture, and longevity. In this blog, we'll explore what is tannin in wine, its pros and cons, and how it shapes the character of different wines. Join us as we unravel the mysteries of tannins and their pivotal role in the world of winemaking.

Tannins In Red Wine

What Is Tannins in Wine?

Tannins are naturally occurring compounds known as polyphenols, found in grape skins, seeds, and stems. When it comes to taste, tannins are what give the wine its astringency, creating a dry, puckering sensation in the mouth. This is often mistaken for the wine being "dry" in terms of sweetness, but it's actually a textural description.

Pros of Tannins in Wine:

  • Structure and Complexity: Tannins provide structure and complexity, which is vital for the aging potential of wine.
  • Antioxidant Properties: They have antioxidant properties that can contribute to the health benefits of moderate wine consumption.

Cons of Tannins in Wine:

  • Overwhelming Astringency: In excess, tannins can make wine taste overly astringent and unbalanced.
  • Varietal Limitations: Not all grape varieties have high tannin levels, limiting the variety of wines that can develop complex aging characteristics.

Where Do the Tannins Come From?

Tannins in wine predominantly come from grape skins, seeds, and stems. The type of grape, its ripeness, and the winemaking process influence the tannin levels. Red wines typically have higher tannin levels because they undergo fermentation with their skins, allowing the extraction of more tannins. White wines, on the other hand, are usually fermented without skins, resulting in lower tannin content.

Grape Vineyard

What Factors Can Influence Tannins?

Tannins, vital for defining the taste and texture of wine, are shaped by several key factors. From the genetic varietal of plants to the nuances of aging and fermentation, each element uniquely influences tannin profiles.

Plant Varietal and Species

The inherent genetic makeup of a plant plays a crucial role in its tannin profile. For instance, in grapevines, different varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Pinot Noir, have distinctive tannin structures and concentrations. These genetic differences dictate not only the quantity of tannins but also their sensory characteristics, such as bitterness and astringency.

Climate and Terroir

The environmental conditions under which a plant is grown profoundly impact the development of tannins. In winemaking, the concept of terroir encompasses the climate, soil, and topography of a vineyard. For example, grapes grown in a cooler climate tend to develop higher levels of tannins with a more astringent quality, while those from warmer regions often have softer, less aggressive tannins. This is due to variations in temperature, sunlight exposure, and soil composition, which affect the rate of ripening and the synthesis of phenolic compounds, including tannins.

Fermentation and Winemaking Techniques

In the context of winemaking, the process of fermentation and subsequent techniques can greatly modify the tannin profile of the final product. The decision to include grape stems, seeds, and skins during fermentation, and the duration for which these are left in contact with the juice, significantly affects tannin extraction. Techniques such as 'cold soaking' before fermentation or 'extended maceration' after fermentation allow for more tannin and color extraction.

Aging Process

The aging of wines and spirits in oak barrels is a critical factor in shaping the tannin profile. During this process, tannins from the oak wood are leached into the beverage, adding complexity and altering the existing tannin structure. The type of oak (American, French, or others), the level of toasting of the barrel, the size of the barrel, and the duration of aging all contribute to the end result. Newer barrels impart more tannin and oak flavors compared to older barrels. The interaction between the oak tannins and the wine's or spirit's own tannins over time can lead to a softer, more integrated tannin profile, affecting the overall balance and mouthfeel.

How Do Tannins Affect the Wine?

Having got a basic understanding of what are wine tannins, you may wonder “What does tannin mean in wine?” Tannins significantly influence the taste, structure, and aging potential of wine. They impart a sense of dryness and bitterness, which, when balanced, add depth and texture to the wine. Tannins also act as natural antioxidants, playing a crucial role in the wine's aging process. Over time, they evolve, softening and integrating into the wine, which can transform a young, robust wine into a smoother, more mellow drink. This evolution is particularly evident in red wines, where tannins are more pronounced, and is essential for the development of complex, nuanced flavors and aromas over time.

Red Wine

Wines with High Tannins and Low Tannins

High tannin wines are typically red wines like Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Nebbiolo. These wines are known for their robust structure and longevity. They often require some aging to soften the tannins and are ideal for enthusiasts who appreciate a more complex and layered drinking experience.

Low tannin wines include most white wines, like Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio, and some reds like Pinot Noir. These wines are more approachable in their youth, offering a smoother, lighter experience. They are perfect for those who prefer a wine that's easy to drink without the astringent quality of high tannin wines.

How to Pair Tannic Wines with Food?

Pairing tannic wines with food indeed requires a thoughtful approach to balance and complement flavors. High tannin wines, such as bold Cabernet Sauvignons or Barolos, are excellent with rich, fatty foods. The astringency of tannins interacts beautifully with the fat in foods like steak, roasted lamb, or aged cheeses, such as Gouda or blue cheese. This interaction not only balances the palate but also enhances the flavors of both the wine and the food.

On the other hand, wines with lower tannin levels, which are typically lighter-bodied, pair well with more delicate dishes. Chicken, fish, or vegetable-based meals are ideal partners for these wines. The lighter body and subtler tannic structure of wines like Pinot Noir or some Merlots complement the flavors of these dishes without overpowering them. The key is to match the weight and intensity of the food with that of the wine, ensuring a harmonious dining experience that highlights the best qualities of both.


In conclusion, tannins in wine are vital compounds that contribute significantly to a wine's structure, mouthfeel, and aging potential. Originating from grape skins, seeds, stems, and oak barrels, tannins shape the sensory profile of the wine, offering a range of flavors from astringent to complex and nuanced. Understanding what is a tannin in wine is key to appreciating wine's diversity, from selecting the right bottle to pairing it perfectly with food. As intricate as they are influential, tannins are indeed central to the art and science of winemaking.

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