Wine Class 101: Tannins

Heading into the new year, it is always good to take stock on the basics. So let’s break this wine thing down and make it fun. After all, wine is not a complex mystery – it’s simply fun!

This week’s Adventure: Tannin

Tannins are naturally occurring compounds that exist inside grape skins, seeds, and stems. These polyphenols release from the skins, seeds, and stems when they soak in the grape juice just after the grapes have been pressed.  Tannins are what give certain wines, like Cabernet Sauvignon, their dryness or astringency. You experience tannins anytime you drink a wine that creates a drying sensation in your mouth.  Depending on how dry your mouth feels, you can determine whether a wine is high or low in tannin. When a wine has high tannins, we call that wine ‘tannic’.

Homework: To determine what ‘tannin’ is, steep a bag of black tea for about 10 minutes.  That feeling that sucks your lips to your teeth is tannin.

A wine’s tannic level comes from the amount of time the juice of the grapes spends on the skins, seeds, and stems.  The longer it steeps, the more tannin, color and complex characteristics that are extracted into the final wine. This is why white wines and roses do not have tannins to speak of, because the juice doesn’t spend much time on the skins, not extracting tannins. Tannins are a natural anti-oxidant that helps a wine age.  Not only does it help a wine age, but there are also benefits to our health as human beings!  Within moderation, of course. On the flipside, tannins can cause headaches or even allergic reactions in some people, as tannins activate histamines.

When talking about the ‘dryness’ of a wine, you aren’t necessarily talking about tannins, but instead, people are usually talking about sugar content in a wine.  It is important to determine how and which kind of ‘dry’ you are looking for.

Wines and their tannic level: 

Low to medium tannin wines:

Pinot Noir

Gamay Noir (Beaujolais)

Medium to high Tannins:
Cabernet Sauvignon (high)

Nebbiolo (Barolo)


Merlot (medium)

Sangiovese (medium)

Malbec (medium)

Petite Sirah (high)

Hope this helps!  See y’all soon.

Cin Cin!

Jill Pienta
Wine Specialist |Big Red Liquors

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