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Breaking Down Tannin in Wine


Tannin is an omnipresent factor in red wine. Tannin is the astringent like feeling that for a split second dries your palate when you take a sip of wine. Similar to black tea, when over-brewed. Tannin is a compound naturally found in all plants; known as polyphenol. In wines, tannins come from the grape’s leaves, skins, and stems which are left on during the initial fermentation process of a red wine.

Most people, particularly in India, have a hard time getting used to tannin in wines. Indian wines are made from grape vines which are very young and hence the polyphenols tend to be aggressive making its presence felt quite strongly in the wine. It also depends on the grape varietal; Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Nebbiolo for instance are known for their strong tannin.

Tannins are also found in oak barrels. When wines are aged in oak or treated with oak these tannins are one of the elements that a winemaker wants to incorporate in the wine. Vanillin is another compound which is added to the wine as a result of oak treatment.

To make red wines more palatable to consumers, winemakers are always looking for ways to soften the tannins. One of the ways this is done is by harvesting grapes later than normal when the grapes are matured. Younger the grapes stronger the tannins, as grapes mature on vine tannins are taken over by sugar content.

How would wine taste without tannin?

Wine would taste quite bland. Tannin is the spine of a red wine. They add structure, depth and character to a wine; without these elements it would just be a fermented grape juice. Depending on the age of the wine tannins evolve. A young red wine will always has stronger tannins making the wine seem harsher. But if the same wine is aged, either in oak or bottle, the same tannins will become softer adding a new dimension to the quality of the wine.
If you still find yourself uncomfortable with tannins, try pairing the wine with rich food like cream cheese, red meats, etc., as they break tannin down on your palate.

Does tannin cause wine headaches?

A lot of wine drinkers complain of headaches or hangover after consuming red wine. Many think it is because of tannin but there is no real proof that they are responsible for headaches. If tannin in wine cause headaches, consuming chocolate, tea and walnuts should also give you headaches because these foods have similar tannin content as in wine.
The headaches are most likely caused due to the alcohol which when consumed in excess is known to cause headaches. The other possible reason would be an allergic reaction to sulfites present in wines.

Defining tannin

Tannin is mostly defined on the basis of the mouth feel and how your palate reacts when you sip on red wines.

Harsh –

Tannin tends to be harsh in a young wine, they are aggressive and leave definitive dryness on your tongue with hints of unsavory bitterness.

Soft –

When tannin in a wine doesn’t leave the stark drying sensation on your tongue and when the fruit elements of the wine are more dominant in the wine.

Well rounded –

When the balance between the fruitiness and tannin in the wine is just perfect, allowing you to appreciate the structure and depth of the wine along with the fruitiness.


By Sayoni Bhaduri, Hipcask