For even the casual drinker of wine, it won’t be long before they start hearing the word “tannins” when enjoying wine with others or attending a wine tasting event. But what exactly are tannins and how do they affect the flavor of wine? In this post, we explain tannins and how they affect your overall enjoyment of your favorite vintages.
What are Tannins in Wine?
There are two types of tannins that can affect a wine’s characteristic profile – plant-derived tannins and wood-derived tannins. Plant-derived tannins are polyphenols that are derived from the skins, stems, and seeds of the grapes used to make wine.
Wood tannins come from the oak barrels that are used during the wine’s aging process. These tannins are absorbed into the wine the longer the liquid ferments and they can have a mild impact on the wine’s flavor. For instance, in the case of oak barrels, the wood tannins will often imbue flavors of vanilla into the liquid. Tannins are also associated with a wine’s “pucker power.” The higher the tannins, the more bitter and astringent the wine will be. The lesser the tannins, the more fruit forward the wine will be.
What Do Tannins Do?
Tannins are most found in dry red wines, and they are purposely broken down and squeezed out of the skins and into the liquid for a specific reason. Tannins are what is responsible for red wines having a defined structure or fuller “body,” compared to white wines and other sweeter, lighter-toned varietals.
What Do Tannins Taste Like?
Tannins can sometimes impart flavors into a wine, such as in the case of the oak barrel, but they are more associated with a wine’s characteristics than they are taste. For instance, the level of tannins in a wine directly correlates to the wine’s dryness, bitterness, and astringency. They are the compound in wine that results in your mouth feeling “dry” after tasting.
What Causes Tannins in Wine?
Because plant-derived tannins come from the grape, seeds, and stems, the longer the liquid stays in contact with these parts after the grapes are crushed, the more tannins will be featured in the wine. The same applies to the wood-derived tannins. The longer the wine ages in the barrel, the more tannins are pulled out of the wood and absorbed into the liquid.
High Tannin Red & White Wines
There are many popular varieties of wine that are high in tannins, although most tend to be of the red variety. The most common high tannin wines include:
- Bordeaux red wines
- Cabernet Sauvignon
- Tuscan wines (or any made from Sangiovese grapes)
- Shiraz or Syrah
While white wines tend to have very low tannins, some varieties, namely Chardonnay, can be higher in tannins than others. Chardonnay tends to have a thicker skin than other white grapes and Chardonnay is traditionally one of the only white wines that has been preferred when aged in barrels, adding in those oak tannins.
Low Tannin Red & White Wines
If you are a new drinker of wine and find that fuller bodied wines aren’t to your liking, don’t worry. It usually takes some time to develop a palate for wines with higher tannins. In this case, there are several low tannin wines you can choose from. Most white wines (other than Chardonnay) are the obvious picks, but there are sweeter reds that will also suffice. When you want a glass of wine, but you want something other than white, these lower tannin red wines may be more to your liking:
- Pinot Noir
- Zinfandel (Real Zinfandel)
To find the level of tannins you like best, attend a local wine tasting event. Here, you’ll be able to try a wide variety of wines and determine what range your ideal wine resides in.