Tannins in White Wine

Can white wines be tannic, like red wine?

Wines that are characterized as tannic are high in tannins, polyphenols—or a group of chemical compounds—that occur naturally in wood, plant leaves, and the skins, stems, and seeds of fruits like grapes, plums, pomegranates, and cranberries. Tannins have a bitter flavor and astringent quality that has a drying effect on your tongue. One of the challenges of wine making is striking a favorable balance between tannins and sweetness, and wines are manipulated to enhance or suppress either characteristic depending on the varietal. Intense, full-bodied red wines like Malbec or Cabernet Sauvignon are often high in tannins, since the pressed grape juice spends a good deal of time in contact with the grape skins, stems, and seeds before being aged in wood barrels (another source of tannins).

White wines are seldom described as tannic in the same way. They tend to be significantly lower in tannins than red wines since the juice spends so little time exposed to the grape skins. Any tannic characteristics they do exhibit are more likely the effect of oak aging.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Call them crisp, call them fruity, but don’t call white wines tannic. While white wines may contain tannins, their levels are too low to produce the bitterness and astringency that we would characterize as tannic.

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