Tannins: what they are, chemistry and tasting

Tannicity: a unique characteristic to learn to recognize immediately, to the touch. From chemistry to tasting, a comprehensive journey to discover tannins and their role in making a wine.

Barbara Fassio
Barbara Fassio

Who has not heard of tannins at least once in their life? And not just talking about wine because, as we will discover, they are present in other products as well.

However, let’s start from the beginning: what exactly are they? And how do they affect our perception of wine?

Let’s take a brief chemistry lesson: Tannin is a natural polyphenol found in plants (in seeds, bark and leaves) and in the skin of fruits. Polyphenols are macromolecules consisting of phenols, which are complex bonds of oxygen and hydrogen molecules. 

The term “tannin” has no connection to food production; in fact, it is derived from an ancient Latin word meaning “tanner” and refers to the extract of gall nuts, rich in tannic acid, used to turn animal hides into leather.

Tannins in wine bring bitterness and astringency, as well as complexity. They are found mainly in red wines, although some white wines contain tannins due to aging in wooden barrels or fermentation on the skins. If you want to find out how to taste them best, you should learn how to serve them in the right way: don’t miss our article to find out that a lot of tannin, means a lot of decanting. In the meantime, to give you a better understanding of the tactile sensation that allows you to recognize tannins we will resort to an evergreen example: place a wet tea bag on your tongue and the sensation of dryness and roughness perceived will be exactly the work of tannins. Is a wine as lappant as an unripe persimmon? Then it is strongly tannic.

Although wines with pronounced tannins may seem harsh and astringent in themselves, they are sometimes the best possible partner for certain foods and are a key ingredient in a wine’s ability to age well.

Tannins, in fact, are more harsh in particularly young wines, but they can be controlled during the production of the wine itself. As the wine ages, they give it a unique structure, making it complex and enveloping on the palate for an unforgettable tasting experience. Try a vertical tasting of one of the most unequivocally tannin-rich grapes, Nebbiolo (link to https://www.vinhood.com/magazine/recensioni-prodotti/nebbiolo-un-solo-vitigno-per-molteplici-eccellenze/ ), and you will taste the differences!

tannini e degustazione


As we said, red wines have more tannins than white wines, but not all reds are the same. Here are some examples of red varietals with high tannin content:

  • Sagrantino: a rare treasure from central Italy, Sagrantino rivals great international tannic wines (such as Uruguay’s Tannat) for its extreme tannin content.
  • Petite Sirah: of French origin, it is often aged for more than ten years given its high tannin content, rounded and made velvety on the palate by the extreme density of this wine.
  • Tazzelenghe: if they called it “taglialingue” (meaning ‘cut the tongue’) there will be a reason, or will there?
  • Cabernet Sauvignon: the most popular grape in the world is known precisely for its velvety tannins and, therefore, high aging potential.

Although the degree of tannicity of a wine is determined by the intrinsic characteristics of the grape variety in question, it is certainly important to remember that the style of winemaking greatly influences the amount of tannin present. In fact, maceration of the musts in contact with skins and seeds is a first choice made in the winery to enhance the polyphenols in the grapes. The greatest contribution, however, is made by the wooden containers used during wine aging.

botti in legno

Tannins are not only present in wine, but they characterize many products we consume on a daily basis. You can exploit this peculiarity to create interesting combinations by pairing wines and recipes; walnuts, almonds, dark chocolate and cinnamon, but also cloves, grapes and Açaí berries are just some of the ingredients that contain tannins. Not to mention tea, especially some of the incredible, yet little-known, Vietnamese traditions.


The key to defining a good wine lies in balance: simply put, the main qualities of a wine complement each other seamlessly. Tannin determines one of these key characteristics, with acidity, sweetness and alcohol.

Tannins help wines age well: wines with high tannin content can age for decades. In fact, over time, powerful and bitter tannins polymerize, creating long chains between them, making them softer and less pungent. This is why, for example, a young, intense wine like Brunello di Montalcino is aged for up to 10 years before it is opened.

decanter e vino rosso

Tannins therefore form the basis of the structure of red wines and are the main factor determining their longevity. Whites also contain tannins, but in considerably lower concentrations; their longevity is mainly determined by acid and sugar levels. In whites, in fact, tannicity comes mostly from the choice of particular winemaking styles, with long maceration times in contact with skins, stems or seeds.

To best control the tannicity of a wine, an experienced winemaker therefore well knows the subtle distinction between:

  • Tannins Catechins: present in young wines, originating naturally from the plant, especially in skins and seeds. They decrease their astringency with the passing of time; in fact, they are often found in wines intended for aging.
  • Gallic tannins: they derive from the wood of the barrels in which the wine is stored, so they are found in wines that have undergone aging processes. They are therefore the tannins that we can also find in a white wine.


The astringency of tannin is a perfect companion for rich, fatty foods. In fact, tannic wines need a dish to counteract their dryness and astringency: juicy, succulent dishes are ideal. Tannin has precisely a degreasing power in the mouth: this is why its pairing with fatty foods is often recommended. 

Tannin breaks up the intense proteins of the meat by bringing out the finer hints of the food and the wine itself: pair it with braised meats, stews, roasts and creamy sauces and your diners will thank you. If you want to be daring and go beyond the cliché of exclusive pairing with meats, try the typical pairing of Chianti Classico and Caciucco alla Livornese (an Italian seafood dish A/N), you will be amazed!

Since, in fact, tannins do not have a specific flavor, but rather produce a tactile effect on our palate, pairing them is much easier than you think. Try your hand at it and let us know how you do!

abbinamento vini rossi