SEARCH close-mobile-search-button
Order in the next HOURS MINUTES  for NEXT DAY delivery  on FREE next day AND nominated day delivery when you spend £150 or more • FREE STANDARD DELIVERY when you spend £75 OR MORE 

Inside Knowledge: what are tannins in wine?

What are tannins in wine?


In Short:
Tannins are astringent compounds that give structure to wines, especially reds.

What are Tannins in Wine?

A group of astringent, bitter compounds, tannins are an essential part of wine. Naturally occurring, they exist in the fruits, bark and leaves of many plants, including grapes.

The seeds, skins and stalks of grapes all contain tannins, and when these are fermented with the juice – as is common practice with red wines – some of these tannins are transferred into the finished wine.

What’s more, tannins are found in oak, so any wines that undergo barrel aging will have added astringency, too. Altogether, tannins make drinking wine more pleasurable, as they provide balance to the fruit, body and alcohol and make wine food-friendly.

Tannins can even help wines age for longer, because as a wine’s initial fruit character fades, the structure provided by tannins keeps it tasting fresh.

Wine isn’t the only popular food where you’ll find tannins. These compounds are abundant in black tea leaves, dark chocolate, whole nuts and coffee. As with wine, tannins provide these foods with a pleasant bitterness and astringency to balance the foods’ other characteristics.

What do tannins taste like?

Actually, they’re more of a sensation than a flavour. If you sip a wine and feel a drying sensation inside of your mouth, that indicates the presence of tannins. While, due to their vinification methods, most white and rosé wines are low in tannins, reds can vary. A young Bordeaux aged in new oak, for example, will have a lot of tannins, while a fruity, fresh, unaged Beaujolais Nouveau will have very little.

Tannins can also have different qualities. Some might be quite silky or elegant, pleasant to drink even in abundance. Others, even when sparing, might feel harsh or rough – what critics sometimes call ‘green’.


High-tannin wines

Great wines are balanced wines. This is where tannins really matter. The amount and type of tannins a wine has should be in harmony with its body, flavour intensity and acidity.

Full-bodied red wines made from thick-skinned grapes will often be higher in tannins, for example Malbec or Shiraz. Many wines are deliberately made to be high in tannins so that they have the potential to age for long periods.

As with acidity and fruit, tannins tend to mellow over time but can still provide essential structure to complex wines that have aged in the bottle for many years. For example, Cabernet Sauvignon-heavy Bordeaux is often far too tannic to drink when first released, but over decades of careful aging, this softens to create some of the finest, most complex and harmonious wines you can buy.

It’s this particular relationship between tannins and flavour that allows wines such as Bordeaux, but also Barolo and vintage Port, to be celebrated as the best aged wines in the world.