Tannins: What Are They and What Do They Taste Like?

Sooner or later, you’re going to hear someone mention tannins when drinking wine. What are tannins, and why do they matter? And how can I tell what a tannin is?

Tannins are naturally-occurring compounds that exist inside grape skins, seeds, and stems. Anytime you experience a drying, bitter, or astringent sensation in your mouth when drinking wine, that is the effect of tannins. The drier your mouth feels, the higher the tannins in the wine – or what is known as the wine being ‘tannic’. 

After the grapes are pressed, the winemaker allows the juice to sit with the skins, seeds, and stems, allowing them to macerate. The longer this mix sits together, the stronger the tannins will get. This adds more complexity to the wine, and provides texture and ‘mouthfeel.’ Tannins can feel silky, velvety, or slightly grainy. Tannins also act as a natural antioxidant to protect the wine, adds a deeper color, and allows a wine to age better.

Some people can get occasional headaches when drinking red wine, which is caused by strong tannins. Drinking white wine can resolve this problem, since it’s much lower in tannins.