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What Are Tannins?

Tannins. Winemakers love them, wine enthusiasts rate them, and the average wine novice has no clue what they are. Scientifically named polyphenols, this naturally occurring compound makes its way into your wine after the skins, stems, or seeds of a grape sit in the juice that will eventually become wine. The longer these grape byproducts sit in the juice, the higher the tannin level will be in the finished product. When a wine has high tannins, it is called tannic.

That’s pretty simple, right? The good thing about tannins is that you don’t need to have an in-depth understanding of them in order to enjoy wine. However, understanding what a tannin is, where it comes from, and tannin’s side effects could help you link the types of wines you gravitate towards naturally.

The easiest way to tell if you’re into high tannin wines is to take a big sip of a tannic wine and then evaluate how it feels in your mouth. Tannins have a drying effect on your mouth. The drier the wine, the greater than tannin content. If you don’t enjoy that drying sensation, chances are, you just don’t like tannins.

Tannins aren’t exclusive to grapes and wine, though. They’re also present in other food and drink sources like black tea, skinned nuts, red beans, and dark chocolate. If you’re unsure if you’re experiencing tannins in your wine, give yourself a litmus test. Get ahold of a strong black tea, and then brew it for a few minutes past “ideal.” Once it has cooled enough to drink, take a hearty mouthful. You’ll notice a drying sensation in your mouth, that’s the tannins. The same effect can be had from enjoying very dark, rich chocolate.

Red wines will almost always have more tannins than white wines, as the grapes are left to soak, mingled with their skins, stems, and seeds, for a longer period of time. Winemakers consider the length of tannins to be optimal as they climb higher because the tannins can act as a natural protectant for the wine. These natural antioxidants not only help the wine age nicely, but as we know, they can also present health advantages for people.

Wines that are high in tannins typically include Petite Sirah and Cabernet Sauvignon. Wines that typically have lower tannins include Pinot Noir, Merlot, and Zinfandel.

One downside of a tannic wine can be that, for some, it can lead to a headache. This headache sensation is rare and is not to be confused with a headache from overconsumption of wine. If you notice that black teas and dark chocolates also give you a headache, you should probably opt to avoid red wines. White wines, which contain significantly fewer tannins, are a great alternative to enjoying wine without a headache!

While the FDA has asked for more research, other studies have indicated that there may be additional tannin side effects. Some report stomach discomfort, nausea, and indigestion after drinking highly tannic wines.


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