What is Tannin in Wine?

Tannin is a term reserved almost exclusively for red wine
Tannin is a term reserved almost exclusively for red wine

Become a wine expert (Part 1): Tannin

Tannins are often talked about as a wine term; however, many people have a hard time understanding what, exactly, tannin is. Without getting too deep into the science behind it, tannins are found in a wide range of leaves, barks, and vegetable products.

In general, tannin level is discussed as a major tasting component of red wine, because much of the tannin in wine comes from contact with the seeds and skins of grapes during fermentation (specifically during maceration) - which most white wines don't see much of (otherwise they'd be orange wines). Other things that have a high tannin content include oversteeped tea, some herbs and spices, and some fruit juices. 

The other main source of tannin in wine is Oak barrels that impart tannin and flavor into wine during Oak aging. The easiest way to truly grasp tannin for yourself is by experiencing it. A simple way to do a test for yourself is by tasting two bottles next to each other and focusing on tannin content. Try this out at home:  

  • Step 1: Grab this highly tannic (and delicious) red blend and this low tannin Sangiovese (the grape used to make Chianti).  

  • Step 2:  Without decanting, taste the Sangiovese first and, while the wine rolls down the back of your throat, think about the feeling on your tongue and all over your mouth. It should feel light and smooth.  

  • Step 3:  Now, taste the red blend, again focusing on how it feels on your tongue and the rest of your mouth. After you swallow you will probably feel a slight coating on your tongue and mouth. You might also feel a drying sensation. This sensation or mouthfeel is you sensing tannin.  

  • Step 4:  Congratulations, that coating you feel on your mouth is tannin!

  • Note: most highly tannic red wines are also fuller in body - you can check out my post about body in wine and, as always, feel free to reach out to me via email at bob@winestyr.com or on twitter: @bobfwilson and I'd be happy to answer your questions.  Cheers.

Robert Wilson, CSW


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