Tannins in Wine Tasting

What are Tannins?

Tannins are naturally produced substances known as polyphenols that are produced by certain types of plants. They are commonly found in food such as grapes, berries, tea leaves, some nuts including walnuts, and spices such as cinnamon. Red wines contain higher levels of tannins than white wine because grape skins and pips (seeds) are used in the fermentation process. Additional tannins can be found in both red and white wines as a result of using oak barrels versus steel barrels during fermenting. The tannins in the wood dissolve through its contact with the wine. It has been suggested that because of its antioxidant properties, the tannins in wine may be considered good for one’s health.

Sensation of Tannins

The taste of tannin can be described as being similar to the taste of strong black tea. When drinking red wine, the level of tannin can be detected by the richness, firmness, or astringent properties of the texture of the wine. Drinkers will often experience a feeling of dry mouth not unlike the feeling of having cotton or wet teabag placed in their mouths. This sensation is can be felt in the back of their mouth, the middle of their tongue, inside their cheeks, and on their gums. This sensation is in contrast to the how the acids that are present in white wine cause their mouths to salivate in order to neutralize the acid.

Why Tannins are Important

While naturally bitter tasting, some people avoid red wines because of this and its astringent properties can be unpleasant. The use of tannins is important to provide color, add to the complexity of its flavor, provide structure to the wine, and preserve the wine for long-term aging. Through a careful balance of sweetness and other methods, winemakers have found ways to minimize the unpleasantness of tannin presence. Aging mellows out the effects of wines that contain high levels of tannins.

Tannin Level Examples from AYZA Wine List

High in Tannin
Cabernet Sauvignon The Seeker – Chile 2012

Medium Level of Tannin
Syrah Porcupine Ridge – South Africa 2012

Low in Tannin
Pinot Noir Kenwood – USA 2011

High Tannin Wines vs. Low Tannin Wines

Mass produced wines tend to have lower levels of tannin and are often described as having a rounder texture as the tannin level is balanced with sweetness and dryness. An example of these wines include:

  • Merlot
  • Pinot Noir
  • Zinfandel
  • Grenache

Popular high tannin wines include:

  • Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Petite Sirah
  • Nebbiolo
  • Tempranillo