How do you tell the difference between tannins and acidity in wine?

Ask Dr Vinny

Hello there! I'm Dr. Vinifera, but you can call me Vinny. Ask me your toughest wine questions, from the fine points of etiquette to the science of winemaking. And don't worry, I'm no wine snob—you can also ask me those "dumb questions" you're too embarrased to ask your wine geek friends! I hope you find my answers educational, empowering and even amusing. And don't forget to check out my most asked questions and my full archives for all my Q&A classics.

Dear Dr. Vinny,

I have trouble distinguishing between acidity and tannins in wine. How do you tell the difference?

—Hann, Malaysia

Dear Hann,

Acidity and tannins are present (to some degree) in all wines, and are two of the primary elements of a wine’s structure. Understandably, it can be tricky to sort out what’s behind the way a wine feels in your mouth.

Tannins come from wine grapes, primarily the skins and seeds, as well as oak barrels (and because red wines typically spend a lot more time macerating on the skins and seeds, as well as in barrels, they have a lot more tannins than white wines). Tannins are prominent in other things we consume as well, like tea and chocolate. Their presence is often indicated by a drying or tugging sensation, especially on the inside of your cheeks. Even though tannins are something you primarily feel more than you taste, a wine with a lot of tannins can lean toward bitterness or astringency.

Acidity is also naturally occurring in grapes. If you’re not sure about the sensation of acidity, just bite into a lemon wedge—the taste is sour, but the acidity causes a mouthwatering rush of juiciness. Acidity adds freshness and crispness, but too much acidity in a wine causes sour or tart notes. White wines tend to have more acidity than reds, and if you really want to dig into the science of winemaking, part of the reason for that is that most reds (and some whites) go through malolactic conversion.

You may not always know which structural element you’re picking up on in a glass of wine, but it’s a good chance that you’ll more likely notice the acidity in whites and the tannins in reds.

—Dr. Vinny

Ask Dr. Vinny Tasting Descriptors Winemaking Techniques Explained

More In Dr. Vinny

What’s the best way to pour wine without any drops spilling or running down the side of the bottle?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny offers guidance for pouring wine like a pro.

May 30, 2023

If my friends bring an expensive bottle of wine to dinner, should I pay the corkage fee?

Wine Spectator's resident wine expert Dr. Vinny weighs in on a dinner etiquette question …

May 22, 2023

Is it OK to recommend a wine that I don't like?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny shares advice for a wine professional who doesn't always …

May 15, 2023

Is it appropriate to hold my wineglass while a sommelier fills it?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny offers guidance for navigating restaurant wine service.

May 8, 2023

Can I prematurely age a wine without damaging it?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny offers advice to an eager wine lover concerned about …

May 1, 2023

Is it true that wine gets better as it gets older?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains how wine evolves over time

Apr 24, 2023