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Snooth User: lingprof

which varietals are most tannic?

Posted by lingprof, Jul 1, 2012.

I posted this question because someone on another thread referred to Merlots as "tannic" and I don't think of them that way.  But I also realize I am less sensitive to tannins than to, for example, acidity.  I have to stop and think about whether tannins are high or medium, although I can kind of quantify them if I stop and think.

I think of tannic varietals as Bordeaux, Cab Sauv...  Well of course Bordeaux can be based on Merlot, so there's that!

I think of less tannic as: Malbec, Grenache, Pinot Noir.

But what about Syrah?  Chianti?  Rioja?  etc.

Can someone higher on the food chain help us out?  I feel like there was an article on this topic a while back but I wasn't able to find it....  Help?


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Reply by outthere, Jul 1, 2012.

Food chain aside, Petite Sirah is up there for me as one of the more tannic wines. Usually wines with small berries produce higher tannin wines. I think that's one of the reasons most winemakers de-stem their Pinot Noir grapes.

Reply by VegasOenophile, Jul 1, 2012.

I have had some super tannic Malbec wines more often than they're not.  High tannin wines can be any varietal depending on a wine by wine basis I have found.  Ones I consider to be consistently higher in tannin are cab sauv, cab franc, syrah, petit sirah, petit verdot, carignan, montepulciano, monastrell, mouvedre, nebbiolo (sometimes), touriga nacional and zinfandel.

Reply by cgplayer9, Jul 1, 2012.

And don't forget Tempranillo.

Reply by GregT, Jul 1, 2012.

Ling - there are several ways to answer that question so if you bear with me, I'll try.

First, Rioja and Chianti are not grape varieties. I assume you know that but if not, the majority of the red wine made in Chianti is based on Sangiovese, as the majority of the red wine made in Rioja is based on Tempranillo. There's no requirement in either place that the wine be 100% monovarietal.

Second, the most tannic red grape is probably Sagrantino, although I'm not completely sure of that.

But neither of those things really answer your question, or at least what I think you're asking.

The reason is that I assume you are asking the question insofar as it relates to the wine, not the grape variety.

There's a difference, so the answer to your question may not be particularly meaningful unless we clarify the difference.

Tannins are one type of compound in grapes, and they're found in the skins, seeds, and stalks. There are several types of tannins and they'll make a difference in your wine if you try to include them or exclude them. I'm not sure why you don't think Merlot is a "tannic" grape but I can assure you it is.

Tannins also come from wood barrels and some people in fact use the wood to add some tannins. You can also buy powdered tannins that are made from grapes like Rubired, another high-tannin grape.

Why do tannins matter?  Because they give the wine an astringency that makes your mouth feel dry and puckered.  And that's where things get more complicated than your question.

The existence ot tannins in the grape, by itself, will not make your wine astringent or not.  A grape like Monastrell for example, has a really high concentration of tannins in the skin - more than Cab or Merlot for example.  However, the tannins from Monastrell aren't easily extracted, whereas those of Merlot or Cab or Syrah are easily extracted. So although you start with more tannins in the grape, you end up with less in the wine.

Second, the winemaking process adds or subtracts from the tannic concentration in the finished wine. If you were to take a teabag and make tea, then leave it in the glass and then really press it with a spoon, you'd extract a lot more color and more tannins from that tea. And it would be bitter and awful, like most tea from tea bags anyway.

Same with wine.  If you really press the hell out of your grapes, you extract all the bitter and drying components.  If you handle them roughly while they're macerating, you extract more.  So one "modern" innovation was simply treating the grapes gently.  Another innovation was not macerating the skins in the juice for a long time.  Another was controlling the temperature of fermentation and maceration - cooler is generally gentler.

So you can have 2 winemakers using the exact same grapes harvested at the exact same time, and you'll get one wine that's really tannic and another that's less so, all because of the treatment of the tannins.

But there's more.

Tannins from seeds and from stalks tend to be "tougher" than those from skins.  People who do whole-cluster fermentation do that because they want to get some of the tannins from the stalks. Their neighbor, who doesn't do that, will have a "softer" wine. If you have a grape like Pinot Noir, maybe you want to add tannins. 

Finally, ripeness of the tannins matter.  You can have a grape that's perfectly ripe, with a fine sugar and acidity balance, but the seed tannins and stalk tannins are still a little green. Letting those ripen will change the final wine.

And there's still more.

Tannins bind with each other, forming big huge compounds. In part that's what happens when wine ages and they fall to the bottom of your bottle or glass as sediment. In any event, tannins by themselves can seem rough, particularly if they're kind of green. They're active little molecules and they like to bind with things.  They bind with the saliva in your mouth and you perceive them as bitter and drying.

But grapes have many compounds, including things called anthocyanins, which give berries their blue color.  Those also bind with tannins and form polymers. Those chains are much smaller because the anthocyanin essentially "ends" the polymerization.  Tannins keep stacking up to make larger and larger molecules, but the tannin/anthocyanin chain is finished once they're bound up.

The more anthocyanins we start with, the shorter the polymers we end up with. Smaller polymers lead to smaller colloids. Not only do these feel softer and finer

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Why does that matter?  Because the larger tannin chains can seem rougher and scouring, like Ajax, in your mouth, but you perceive the smaller molecules as "fine" tannins.  They don't seem so rough. So if you have a grape with a high concentration of anthocyanins to bind to the tannins, you'll have a wine with a finer mouthfeel.  You'll have more and smaller molecules and they'll also be more aromatic.

So you need to think of the interplay between tannins and other things, as well as the ripeness of everything.

Now back to your question and the real factor.  Merlot actually has a high concentration of tannins in the grape skins.  It also has a lower anthocyanin concentration than say, Monastrell or Sagrantino.  But, unlike those grapes, the tannins are easily extracted.  So if you're making Merlot-based wine, you don't need to macerate the grapes as long as you might for something else because if you do, you'll extract more of those rough tannins.

So you need to consider the amount of tannins and anthocyanins but just as important, the extractability of them.  It's the latter that makes something like Syrah seem so much more tannic than Monastrell.

In addition to all of the above, you have one other thing to consider - age. Over time, those tannins and other things fall out and your wine becomes softer. So it's really hard to make too many generalizations. You can't really say that Tempranillo for example, makes really tannic wines unless you specify who you're talking about, where you're growing the grapes, and the age at which you're drinking the wine. Same for Merlot, Nebbiolo, Syrah, etc.

Finally you have to consider where the wine is made, or rather where the grapes are grown. One reason Malbec is do different in Mendoza than in the Loire is the altitude at which it's grown. The tannins formed are actually different in the grapes because of the sun, the elevation, and the soil. Same with any other grape.

What you can say is that certain grapes often start out with higher concentrations of tannins. Whether those tannins find their way into the finished wine in your glass is a different story.  And don't forget - most people don't drink monovarietal wine. Most wine is blended and the purpose of the blending is to moderate the characteristics of the "base" grape. So you add something like Syrah to Grenache because you want to add some tannin and color.  OTOH, Barbera has color but not a lot of tannin, whereas Nebbiolo typically has tannin but lighter color. So you can add a bit of Barbera to the Nebbiolo.

Same with many grapes. People add Petite Sirah to Zinfandel to add color and tannins.  Malbec is actually a pretty tannic grape. The reason you don't think of it as tannic is probably that you've only had them from Mendoza in Argentina and those are intentionally made to be rather soft. Malbec from the Loire or Cahors is a different story.

Anyhow, sorry for the long digression. Grapes that typically have high tannin concentrations would probably include at least Sagrantino, Tannat, Cabernet Sauvignon, Bobal, Aglianico, Petite Sirah and Monastrell, and probably a lot more that I'm just blanking on right now.


Reply by lingprof, Jul 2, 2012.

Thank you everyone!  Greg T, wow!!  THat was like a whole mini wine course!  Thanks so much for taking the time to lay all that out for me...

So in light of your explanation I am curious about "Ripasso" wines where there is added contact with the grape skins....  would those be more tannic?  In general I like them very much, but just haven't thought to evaluate them specifically in terms of tannic content....

Reply by Hanabikiki, Jul 2, 2012.

As Greg said, the wine-making process makes a lot of difference, but yeah, averagely a "Ripasso" would probably be more tannic than a Valpolicella, especially considering that the pomace leftover from either Amarone or Recioto would have been pressed gently, therefore leaving a good amount of tannins. 

Still, the amount of tannins which are extracted depends on the many factors explained above, so you can have "gentler" and "harder" Ripasso.

Again, the aging process of the wine counts a lot: tannins have been proved to develop up to 15 years, slowly becoming less astringent and smoother. So, ceteris paribus, the same wine aged for 3, 5 or 10 years may taste very different. 


Reply by duncan 906, Jul 2, 2012.

The most tannic wine I ever had was Madiran from South-west France which is made from the tannant grape.Interestingly there was a study into why such a large proportion of the men in this area were living well into their nineties in spite of a high fat diet [duck,pork foie gras] concluded that Madiran wine was the best wine for inhibiting the deposit of fat in their blood vessels

Reply by GregT, Jul 2, 2012.

Ling - partly.  For Amarone, they partly dry the grapes before making the wine. Once that wine is made, there' still a lot of material left in the leftovers - the pomace.  Remember, those grapes were pretty concentrated. So the winemakers figured they shouldn't "waste" that stuff. 

Also, the same grapes - usually mostly Corvina, are used for the Amarone, so sometimes the stuff that hasn't been used is maybe not the same first-class quality. So by doing the ripasso, they extract a little more and amp up the resulting wine.

But you don't really want to extract only tannins so much as you want the sugars and flavorings and color and glycerin and whatever else is going to give the wine a fuller body. Tannins come along too tho.

So that wine is more tannic than it would be w/out the extra maceration. On its own, it's generally kind of light.


Reply by Donn Rutkoff, Jul 2, 2012.

Tannat (Madiran), Cab. Sauv, Petite Sirah/Durif/ Syrah, Nebbish, I mean Nebbiolo, and I think, the hot weather grapes in Southern Italy, Sicily, Sardinia like Aglianico, Nero  d' Avola, Negro d Amaro, are the tannin kings.  Pinot noir and Gamay are light, as are other cool weather red varietals from say Austria or Germany.  Most of the tannin in the wine comes from the skins, and longer macerations or cold soaks cause the leaching of more tannin out of the skin and into the juice.  Tannin is actually tasteless, it is a texture, you feel the coarse particles, it sticks to the surface of your tongue and teeth.  Unripe flavors from unripe acids accompany some wine that some people call unripe tannins, but the length of the molecular chain is what we feel.  Tempranillo is somewhat tannic, Merlot and Sangio I think kind of middle of the pack, Grenache is lower middle, Barbera and Zinfandel I think are middle high.

Reply by Craig Bilodeau, Jul 3, 2012.

Great post above, GregT.  Learned quite a bit.  Thanks!

Reply by GregT, Jul 3, 2012.

Thanks Craig - I should check to see if any of it is actually correct!

BTW - besides Sagrantino and Tannat, I should have included Petite Verdot as another grape that potentially, can produce super-tannic juice.

Reply by JonDerry, Jul 4, 2012.

Petit Verdot, who woulda thunk...

Reply by cgplayer9, Jul 4, 2012.

Petit Verdot can be a gorgeous wine when well done. I bought a variety of Moon Mountain wines that were making the rounds on the flash sale sites recently, including several bottles of Petit Verdot, which I enjoyed tremendously. Very complex fruit profile with firm, dusty tannins - this was a 2006 and could stand to age a few more years yet. I am very sorry I didn't buy a truck load!

Reply by steve16046, Jul 4, 2012.

For me, Tannat and Petit Verdot are the most tannic, as mentioned before.  I love to drink wines made from these grapes.  I guess it is my excuse to fire up the grill and have a big juicy steak!

Reply by Bsm hsn, Nov 20, 2012.

I guess.. TANNAT is the most tannic grapes the best of my knowledge. It is known mainly in south-west France and Urguay.( ex: MADIRAN wine)

Reply by Lucha Vino, Nov 21, 2012.

I bought some of the Moon Mountain stuff too.  I just opened a 2006 PV / Cab Sauv blend last week and it had to be one of the most tannic wines I have ever tasted! 

I was wondering if it was the grapes, the vineyard or the wine making? 

Reply by FernanGabs, Nov 21, 2012.

Tannic acid is found in the nutgalls formed by insects on twigs of certain oak trees and other . It is removed and used as medicine... Varietals? mostly are red wines.

Zinfandel:  Versatile grape that can produce powerhouse to medium-weight reds, rosés and blush wines. Characterized by a blackberry flavour and intense fruit. Also late harvest with port-like sweetness.

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Reply by CheloSpahn, Nov 24, 2012.

Have you guys tried this one?


Awesome wine.. but you kind of need flight intructions to understand it.. a really tannic and powerfull wine!

Reply by JenniferT, Apr 21, 2013.

Wow, I just joined SNOOTH after seeing how great some of these answers are, especially Greg T - super informative! 


Reply by EMark, Apr 22, 2013.

Jennifer, You are right about Greg.  He is incredibly well-informed and has an excellent easy to understand expository writing style.

I have to ask, though, do you like hime because you are related?  I notice that you have the last same name -- T.  ;-)

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