Saturday, October 13, 2012

Tannin 101

If you drink red wine, you need to know about tannin!

What is it?

Tannin is a compound that naturally occurs in many plants, including grapes.  It is found in the skins, and makes its way into red wine while the skins are in contact with the fermenting juice.  White wines have no tannin, because they are not fermented in contact with the grape skins.

When you taste red wine, tannin is the drying sensation that you feel on your gums and the sides of your mouth.  It can also taste bitter.

Where is it found?

Many foods and drinks have tannin:  tea, beer (from the hops), many fruit juices, berries, pecans, walnuts, and chocolate, to name a few.

In wine, it is only found in reds, but some reds have more than others.  This can be due to the characteristics of the grapes themselves (thin-skinned grapes have less tannin than thick-skinned ones), the climate, or the length of time the skins are in contact with the wine.

Here’s a handy guide with average levels of tannin:

How does it pair with food?

When pairing a red wine with food, tannin is an important consideration.  Because tannin is mouth-drying and bitter, it is best to avoid high-tannin wines with bitter or tannic foods.  The combination will likely be too bitter and astringent.  Also, tannin will make spicy food seem spicier.  What tannin does best is pair with protein, especially red meat.  This is where the classic pairing of Cabernet Sauvignon and steak comes from!  The juicy, fatty meat coats your mouth, then a sip of the tannic red wine dries it out – the perfect balance.

Some people enjoy tannic wines, and some don’t.  The key is to discover what you like, and know where to find it!

Copyright © 2012 by Joanna Opaskar
All rights reserved.


  1. Don't forget the tannin in wines that have been made from white grapes with skin contact... ;)

    1. Good point - but aren't those tough to find? I'd love to try one, but I don't know which ones to look for. Any advice?

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