What Are Tannins In Wine?

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Wine is a feast for the senses and a source of interest and delight for many. For others, it’s splitting headache in a glass due to tannin sensitivity. Tannins are healthy antioxidants known as polyphenols and are good for nearly all of us.

Tannins are found in all products tied to grapes because grapes are loaded with polyphenols. However, red wine has a much higher level of tannins because red wine is fermented after crushing but before the skins are removed.

Tannin concentrations are highest in the skins, twigs and stems of grapes, and can be leached from the walls of oak aging barrels.​

If wine tannins are a concern, white wine may be a better beverage for you. White wine is fermented after the juice is pressed from the grapes and the skins have been discarded.

While tannins are still found in low concentrations in light white wines like Pinot Grigio and Dry Riesling, they may be more tolerable. Avoid Chardonnays aged in oak barrels.​

Tannins Definition

Tannins are naturally occurring antioxidants that are commonly found in the twigs, stems, and bark of plants, and in the skin of grapes. Per wine experts at Wine Folly, about 50% of the weight of plant leaves are tannins; they are a very common antioxidant.

Tannins are found in high concentrations in teas of all colors. They are also found in red beans, dark chocolate, many berries, and nuts with skin. Tannic acid is one variety of tannin.

Tannic Acid

When tannic acid is reduced it can be used as a dye, and was commonly used to tan leather. While some may find this worrisome, it’s is not dangerous in the low amounts of concentration found in wine.

Many naturally occurring chemicals can be reduced or concentrated and used as dye, including the juice of beets, berries, and onion skins.

Why Does Wine Give Me A Headache?

The number one source of wine “flu” is dehydration. If you’re drinking wine, balance it with water, glass for glass, and you’ll be less likely to suffer the next day. Eating something with protein before you drink any alcohol is also a good way to protect your head.

Another source of wine pain is sugar. Sweet wines, including dessert wines like port and plum wine (often served in sushi restaurants) can cause terrible discomfort the next day. Stay hydrated and don’t save your calories for wine.

types of wine

True tannin allergy is not common. According to experts, tannin allergy is caused by a sensitivity to sulfites.

Sulfites are found in tannin-rich foods, including grapes, dried fruits, persimmons and wine. Sulfite sensitivity is only found in 1% of the population, but the reaction can be painful and severe.​

To determine if you’re tannin sensitive, brew a strong cup of black tea and let it steep for five minutes longer than recommended. Once you’ve drunk it away, monitor yourself.

Black tea has a high concentration of tannins, and over-steeping it will make sure you’re getting a heavy dose.

Per wine authorities at VinePair.com, if you get a headache from the tea, it’s probably the tannins. If not, check your water and food intake when drinking wine.

Tannins In Water​

Tannins occur in naturally high concentrations in the bark and leaves of plants. If your water source flows through any dead plant material such as leaves on the bottom of a stream, it’s probably high in tannins.

Water high in tannins will have a yellow cast and may taste tart or tangy. Per groundwater authorities at the Water Systems Council, tannins are an aesthetic problem, not a health issue.

To determine if the discoloration of your water is caused by tannins or minerals, fill a clear glass and let it sit overnight. If the discoloration settles to the bottom, it’s most likely caused by manganese or iron. Tannins don’t settle out, but remain in suspension.

Filtration is available, but before tackling the tannin concentration in your drinking water you’ll need to test for iron, as iron in the water can alter the tests done for tannin levels.

Tannin sensitivities can go from a headache to full-blown respiratory distress so consider an allergy test if your response is severe. However, for most of us, eating sensibly and drinking plenty of water can free us from the dreaded pain of wine.

Written By Tara Williams

Tara is a food writer that has been editing and authoring articles for KitchenSanity since its founding. Her writing offers personal experience from experimentation with food and recipe creation. If you’re looking for simple tips, she will make your journey in the kitchen straightforward with a dash of fun.