Wine Word of the Week: “Tannins”

Winter is prime “red wine” season and the topic of tannins is a hot one this time of year. For that reason, it’s our official Wine Word of the Week. But if you think you don’t know what “tannins” are, chances are good that if you’re reading this, you’ve encountered them before:

  • Have you ever taken a sip of red wine and felt a drying sensation in your mouth?
  • Have you ever woken up with a throbbing headache after a night of drinking red wine?
  • Have you ever enjoyed an aged red wine that was deliciously smooth and elegant?

If you’ve experienced any of the above, then you’ve experienced tannins, my wine loving friends! But just what the heck ARE they?


Tannins are naturally occurring compounds which play an important role in a wine’s structure and directly affect its color, texture and aging ability. They are found in a host of plant species as well, and their astringent, bitter taste is intended to discourage predators and insects from consuming them. Similarly, tannins in wine are generally perceived as a drying, leathery sensation which is considered desirable by many wine lovers. This astringency acts as a preservative for wine, allowing it to age slowly with grace and not turn to vinegar.

Depending on the type and age of a wine, its tannins can be described as velvety, firm, ripe, chewy, tight, dusty or round. In older wines, the tannins often precipitate out of solution to some degree and collect at the bottom of the wine bottle in the form of harmless sediment.


Wines acquire tannins through contact with grape skins, seeds and stems as well as charred oak barrels the wine is aged in. For that reason, they are much more prevalent in red wine which remains in contact with its skins in order to obtain its color and is usually aged in oak barrels. Also, the deeper the color of the red wine, the more tannins it contains, so a Cabernet Sauvignon will most likely have more tannins than a Pinot Noir.

As far as food and wine pairing goes, protein actually mitigates tannins. Therefore, foods that are high in protein, like a juicy New York Strip Steak, pair remarkably well with high tannin wines like Cabernet Sauvignon. In addition to Cabernet Sauvignon, the three most tannic grape varieties are Nebbiolo, Syrah and Tannat.


While some studies have shown tannins have beneficial effects on cardiovascular health, some believe it is the chemical compound that wreaks havoc on migraine sufferers. So, if you experience migraine headaches after drinking red wine, it’s NOT the sulfites, my friend! White wine has approximately twice the sulfites as red wine and true sulfite allergies generally manifest as breathing issues, not headaches. So if you’ve got a tendency to get migraines, you may want to steer clear of high tannin red wines and opt for those with lower levels and see if it reduces their frequency and/or duration (for more information on this, please click here).

I hope you enjoyed our latest Wine Word of the Week and if you have any “wine words” you’d like to learn more about, please feel free to share them in the Comments section below. To see previous installments of this segment, please click here and, as always, thanks for reading!


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Stephanie Miskew
Stephanie Miskew