What exactly does 'tannin' taste like?

If I had a nickel for every time someone has said “good tannin structure” when referring to a wine, I’d be a millionaire!

In all honesty, I THINK tannin refers to the tart taste you get with certain wines, as opposed to a sweet or even a smooth taste / mouth feel. Very similar to when you eat a Sweet Tart candy. But I’ve heard so many people call a wine ‘tannic’ when I’ve thought it just the opposite, I honestly have questioned what tannic wines taste like.

Can someone recommend 2-3 bottles of wine that show strong tannins and 2-3 bottles that don’t? Preferably wines that are widely accessible and don’t break the bank. I’d like to simply do a side-by-side comparison so that I can learn once and for all what is meant by tannin.


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No, it’s the astringency you get with overbrewed black tea or even cranberries. Not a flavor so much as a feeling: mouth drying, slightly bitter. Sweet tarts are about Acidity, another matter entirely.

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You just need two bottles:

One of any Yellow Tail Red (NO tannins to speak of)

One of a current release entry level Aglianico or Nebbiolo.

Awesome, thank you. I’m off to buy a bottle of each. Any other tannic vs. non-tannic suggestions are welcome.

Suck on a teabag or peel a grape and chew on the skin. Much cheaper

Walnut skins?

Tannic is a sensation like what you might imagine from sucking on a piece of chalk.

Chocolate has tannin, walnuts, grape skins.

In balance, tannin can be pleasurable, but when the tannin is dominant, it can be astringent and mouth drying.

Tannic wine can be somewhat mitigated by the food with which you pair the wine.

Gave these two wines a shot:

2013 Yellow Tail Shiraz Cabernet
2010 Donnaluna Aglianico

The aglianico almost felt like it had some kind of additive, almost like CHALK! I felt myself wiping the front of my teeth with my tongue 'cause it felt like there was some kind of chalky residue. Not sure if I liked it, but the contrast was huge between this wine and the Aussie.

The Yellow Tail was tough to drink. Quite frankly, it may have been one of the worst wines I’ve ever had. It had a funny, almost plastic flavor that tasted engineered but it definitely did not have any sort of chalky consistency to it. In all fairness to this wine, it only cost me ~ $5.

I still can’t believe Roberto talked you into buying Yellowtail :slight_smile:

Don’t you know…it’s the “Go to”…



For extremes… get a banana, peel it, and then chew on the stringy part in between the peel and fruit. That is terrible, chalky astringency.

On the other side of the coin try M&M’s. Don’t chew, but melt the outer coating in your mouth and wait until you get to the milk chocolate interior. That, at least for me, is a very nice quality of tannin - enough to have some grip, but yielding smoothness.

I think of “good tannin structure,” or “sweet tannins” to be a red with enough presence in your mouth that your attention is directed to the wine’s texture, yet that texture is smooth and pleasing. A big red, such as Cab or one of the Italian jobbies mentioned by Roberto might be more likened to felt than to silk.


Tannin perception is much more about the texture, the roughness you get. The younger the wine the less resolved the tannins are and will appear rougher. Acidity creates the salivation sensation. When people describe wine as “smooth” they usually refer to its lack of tannins (I think).

Tasting side by side a big tannic cab next to a merlot might illustrate the difference well.


After reading the replies, I’m interested to know what “good tannin structure” means. From what I’ve read above, tannin is something to be avoided. Is that correct?

Pablo -

Great question. The subject of tannins in wine can get complex and confusing, as the descriptions often attributed to them are incorrect.

According to the Oxford Companion To Wine page 680, “tannins cannot be smelt or tasted; they cause tactile sensations. Tannins may be variously described as hard, bitter (if accompanied by bitterness) green, ripe (if perceptible but only after the impactor fruit that has reached physiological ripeness has been felt on the palate), coarse, grainy, wood (if obviously the effect of cask aging), long chain, (an American expression for polymerized), short chain and polymerized.”

What tannins are:

"Diverse and complex group of din the barf many trees and in fruits, including the grape (particularly in the skins, seeds and stems). Strictly speaking, a tannin is a compound that is capable of interacting with proteins and precipitating them; this is the basis of the process of tanning animal hides (hence the name tannin) and is also a process that is believed to be responsible for the sensation of astringency. Tannins in wine come predominantly from the grapes and, to a much lesser extent, from the wood in which the wine is aged.

Tannins play an important role in the aging of wine, particularly red wines, where pigmented tannins are crucial to the color and sensory properties… They produce the tastes sensation of bitterness and the physical ‘drying’ sensation of astringency."

I think the easiest way to detect tannin in wine is through palate feel, particularly as it relates to the drying effect on one’s tongue. However, as has been pointed out by Jancis Robinson above, tannins can also provide other sensations related to bitterness and texture. You may read the “long and short chain” reference above and wonder what they heck she’s talking about. ‘Chain’ actually refers to the tannin molecules. Over time the tannin molecules begin to align, which reduces their sensation profile - less dryness and more integrated wine.

Hope this helps.

Tannins are essential, particularly in red wines. They help the aging process and give the wine structure and texture and therefore they should not be avoided. If you don’t like wines that overly dry the palate or are highly acidic, then seeks wines where those two elements are more balanced.

Supreme Court justice Potter Stewart said about porn: “I know it when I see it.”

I guess the same could be said about tannin. All the above definitions make sense, but I really need to taste taste it in order to know what it is. I tried an Aglianico and it felt like someone scratched dry chalk all over my teeth. I guess this is tannin?

Any other wines out there worth trying that are considered tannic?

Watch the documentary ‘Somm’. Ian Cauble talks about one of the wines in the tasting “ripping his face off with tannins”. Bone dry!

Cabernet Sauvignon (particularly those that spend a lot of time in new oak, ie Napa Valley)
Nebbiolo (lots of acid there too to balance the high tannins)
Sangiovese (especially Rosso & Brunello di Montalcino)
Rioja (Reserva level and above)
Bordeaux blends

Seek out young versions of any of these wines, and the tannins will be more pronounced than they will as the wine ages.

If you really want to get a good taste of grape tannin, open up a bunch of grapes and then munch down on the seeds. That’s grape tannin.

Eat chokecherries straight from the bush. That is my point of reference, albeit a very strong one.

But I like the grasp seed approach too.