Which wines have the most tannins? How can you tell?

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,

Which wines have the most tannins? How can you tell?

—Debi, Fort Worth, Texas

Dear Debi,

All wines have tannins, which are naturally occurring polyphenols. There are a lot of foods that have tannins, including berries, beans, chocolate and berries. The tannins in wine are absorbed from grape skins, stems and seeds (and a small amount can be absorbed from oak barrels).

Tannins aren’t something you taste, but they are something you feel, and are an important part of a wine’s structure (that said, a wine with a lot of tannins can taste bitter). Tannins create that sensation of tugging on your cheeks, and can make a wine seem chewy or drying. For those not familiar, it’s similar to the mouth-puckering sensation of drinking strong black tea (which also has tannins). But tannins can also be velvety and supple.

You won’t know by looking at a wine how tannic it is. But red wines tend to have more tannins than white wines. That’s because red wines go through maceration, a process of steeping the grape skins in the wine to extract color and tannins—like a strong cup of tea—while white wines have limited tannins because the juice is typically separated from the grape skins and seeds soon after the grapes are crushed.

Lots of winemaking decisions can impact how tannic a wine is, starting with the grape variety (some varieties have more tannins than others). Harvest conditions, the temperature and duration of fermentations and macerations and other winemaking choices will also affect how tannic a wine is. Winemakers can even add powdered tannins if they feel a wine lacks structure.

The wines that tend to be most tannic are big, dense reds like Nebbiolo, Petite Sirah, Syrah and Cabernet.

—Dr. Vinny

Ask Dr. Vinny

More In Dr. Vinny

What kind of grape is Pouilly-Fumé?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains the wines from this Loire Valley region.

Jun 19, 2019

Is it true that you can clean a red wine stain with white wine? What's the best way to clean a wine stain?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny offers some tried and true methods and advice for …

Jun 17, 2019

How long will an unopened bottle of Champagne stay good?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains how sparkling wine ages.

Jun 14, 2019

Are sulfites added to wines for shipping?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains where sulfites come from, and why wines often …

Jun 12, 2019

When is the best time to drink Port?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains which types of Ports are best served after a …

Jun 10, 2019

Is a 93-point wine from a good vintage the same quality as a 93-point wine from a poor vintage?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains how vintage is and is not considered when rating …

Jun 7, 2019
WineRatings+

WineRatings+

Xvalues

Xvalues

Restaurant Search

Restaurant Search