Can You Get Wine Without Tannins? What They Are & How to Avoid Them

When it comes to a bottle of good wine, many connoisseurs consider tannins a significant component of its success. But, the dry, mouth-tingling effects of tannins in wine are not for everyone. The good news is, if you’re looking to avoid wine with tannins, you have options.

In general, red wines have more tannins than white wines. However, white wines aged in oak casks will have more tannins than unoaked white wines. Additionally, some red variations like Pinot Noir and Grenache have lower tannins than other red wines.

What Are Tannins?

Tannins are an ironic puzzle of nature in the polyphenol family. They are bitter compounds found throughout nature in berries, tree bark, leaves, and other plant life.

What makes tannins ironic is their purpose: the bitterness makes animals avoid the plant, but we humans have decided we like the bitter flavors. Thus, plant products like coffee, tea, and, yes, wine were born.

Are Tannins from Wine Bad for You?

In most cases, tannins are not bad for you. In fact, when consumed in moderation, tannins found in wine provide several health benefits. There’s a general belief that drinking wine in moderation contributes to a longer life in many European wine countries.

If you’ve ever heard that red wine can help the heart, then you’ve heard of some of the benefits of tannins. Tannins in wine promote healthy blood pressure, reduce stress, and can improve blood clotting abilities. Plus, wine tannins are a powerful antioxidant.

However, ingesting too many tannins from wine can have unwanted side effects. Some of these side effects include nausea, headaches, and an upset stomach. Additionally, migraine sufferers can experience more migraines when ingesting tannins.

Where Do Tannins in Wine Come From?

Most wines contain a small amount of tannins, but where they come from will vary based on the wine’s contents, the aging container, and the occasional addition of tannins by the vintner.

Wine Contents

As previously mentioned, tannins occur naturally in plant life. For wine, tannins originate from the skin of grapes, seeds (also known as pips), and stems included during the fermentation process.

Red Wine

Red wine fermentation produces more tannins because the process macerates the juice of the grapes together with the seeds, skin, and pips. The extra components make more tannins, creating the mouth-coating characteristic of red wines.

White Wine

Conversely, most white wines exclude grape skins, pips, and stems from the fermentation process. Winemakers remove grape skins immediately before starting the wine process, which drastically reduces the presence of tannins in the wine.

A Note On Orange Wines

Now, all white wines have some amount of tannins in them. But, orange wines, which are white wines made with a red wine process including skins, pips, and stems, contain tannin levels similar to red wine.

The Aging Container

The ancient Romans aged their wine in clay pots. Wooden casks and barrels have served as aging vessels since 350 B.C. The type of vessel a wine ages in plays a significant role in its tannin contents.

Wooden barrels like today’s popular oak cask introduce more tannins into wine as it ferments inside the container. Concrete containers provide a smoother tannin, while stainless provide a neutral container that does not add or detract from wine tannin content.

The Addition of Tannins

Some winemakers choose to add powdered tannins to their wines. Many do this when wine ages in stainless steel containers or other neutral vessels. Vintners often decide to use powdered tannins to control the zesty qualities of the wine produced during fermentation.

What Role Do Tannins Play in Wine?

Tannins receive their name from their historical purpose of tanning hides. While that doesn’t sound particularly appetizing, the ability to tan hides comes from the astringent properties of the tannins, which coincidentally plays a significant role in the properties of wine.

Tannins Balance Flavors

Tannins in wine reduce the sweetness and prevent cloying, overpowering flavors in wine. The astringency also impacts the overall body of the wine.

Tannins Preventing Oxidation

Tannins help prevent premature oxidation of wine by linking up into larger tannin chains, thus preventing harmful oxidation processes in the wine.

Tannins Enhance Flavor and Mouthfeel

Tannins help enhance the overall aroma, flavor, and mouthfeel of wines. Many white wine producers add tannins to help introduce a balanced body and flavor to their sweeter wines.

How Do You Know If A Wine Has Tannins?

I can’t overstate that all wines have some amount of tannins present in them. However, if you want to select a wine with fewer or more tannins, there are several ways to do it.

Usually, you’ll want to take a look at the wine’s color, variety or type, and description. But, of course, you can always discover tannins with a single sip of the wine, too. From these clues, you’ll have a good guess if a wine has higher levels of tannins.

The Wine’s Coloring

As a general rule of thumb, red wines will contain more tannins than white wines. Additionally, younger red wines tend to have a darker coloring and more tannins, while lighter reds usually have aged, and thus the tannins have softened.

Furthermore, varieties of wine commonly aged in barrels tend to have a darker color. For example, in white wine, oak varieties have a golden coloring.

The Wine Variety

The type of wine usually indicates different levels of tannins. Reds with more tannins include:

  • Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Bordeaux
  • Syrah
  • Merlot
  • Nebbiolo

Reds with fewer tannins usually include:

  • Pinot Noir
  • Grenache
  • Gamay
  • Dolcetto

White wines with more tannins include:

  • Viognier
  • Sherry
  • Chardonnay

White wines with fewer tannins include:

  • Vinho Verde
  • Riesling
  • Sauvignon Blanc
  • Pinot Gris

The Wine’s Description

Wines with more tannins have words describing the qualities assigned to them. Terms indicative of tannins include: polished, elegant, silky, plush.

The First Sip

You can quickly guess if a wine has higher levels of tannins based on a single sip. If the tongue feels dry and coated after a sip, especially near the middle of the tongue, the wine likely has a higher tannin content.

What Wines Have No Tannins?

In simple terms, all wines will have some level of tannins. It is a natural product of all berries and grapes used in the winemaking process.

Which Red Wine Has the Least Amount of Tannins?

When looking for a red wine with significantly lower amounts of tannins compared to other reds, pinot noir is an exemplar choice. Pinot noir grapes have thinner skins; thus, they naturally produce fewer tannins.

Alternatively, rosé varieties, while made of red grapes, have fewer tannins due to less exposure to the skins. A rosé consisting of pinot grapes will have a delicious flavor with fewer tannins than other red varietals.

Do Cheaper Wines Have More Tannins?

Surprisingly enough, cheaper wines tend to have fewer tannins than more expensive varieties. The lower tannins occur partly because cheaper wines usually do not age in oak barrels and because the higher production reduces the polyphenol content in grapes that produce tannins.

Do Tannins Cause Hangovers?

If you’ve ever had a wine hangover, you know how much they suck. Many people point to tannins as the cause of wine hangovers, but that isn’t necessarily the case.

Generally, tannins reduce the chance of hangovers because of the mouth-drying effects of tannins. In addition, red wines make you thirsty, so as long as you heed that need, you won’t have a hangover tomorrow.

So, when it comes to wine hangovers, white wines are the prime suspect. Their reduced tannin content makes them easier to over-indulge and forget about drinking water.

However, it is more than possible to have a sensitivity to tannins, and if you do have the sensitivity, drinking wine can produce a hangover-like headache.

How Do You Test Tannin Sensitivity?

Tannin sensitivity, also known as wine intolerance, is a condition resulting from chemical reactions within the body when exposed to tannins. Note, it is not the same as an allergy, which produces an immune response.

Tannin Sensitivity Symptoms

  • Stomach upset
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Body aches
  • Low blood pressure

Testing Tannin Sensitivity

You can test tannin sensitivity by paying attention to your body after consuming wine. If you notice the above-mentioned symptoms regularly after drinking wine, you probably have a sensitivity.

Additionally, you can try consuming other tannin-heavy foods like grape juice, chocolate, and tea. If you have an intolerance, similar symptoms will occur.

Can You Reduce Tannins in A Glass of Wine?

You may have heard of fancy wands and tools that help reduce sulfites from a glass of wine. But, these products do not remove tannins from wine.

Master winemakers have a process called fining that removes excess tannins from wine, but winemakers use this process solely for taste, texture, and color control in wine. In general, winemakers avoid removing tannins when possible.

As far as “at home” solutions go, there is no way to remove tannins from wine. Therefore, you are better off finding a low-tannin wine to enjoy instead.

Experiment with a few Pinot Noirs or a Sauvignon Blancs—you might even discover a new favorite in the low-tannin category.