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Snooth User: lingprof

which varietals are most tannic?

Original post 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 Richard Foxall, Apr 23, 2013.

And he can be really intimidating, but Jennifer seems to be made of sterner stuff. 

Reply by JenniferT, Apr 30, 2013.

Just seeing this now. Yes, there are a lot of us T's! 

Lol, I certainly wouldn't bet on that, Foxall!

I came across Tannat some time ago, having read that it is often used to provide tannin and structure in blends. I'd like to get a varietal wine (100%) Tannat and see how it feels. I guess Tannin is really mostly perception. Silkier/riper/well integrated tannins don't jump out and register as "tannic" quite as much as this point - in a good way. 

So far the most tannic wine I've ever had was earlier this week - a Barolo (2007). I purchased it on a work trip after seeking advice...I bought the oldest vintage I could get that held promise to be earlier drinking. (Apparently there is a spectrum of barolo now...not all of them are mean to be laid down as long). Regardless I wanted to have a barolo sometime before summer, so I purchased it.

I decanted it and served it with braised oxtail (super rich and fatty) and really loved it. HOWEVER, the following day I had it with prime rib. The tannin in the wine overpowered was all you could notice with the leaner prime rib (hey, it's all relative). I swear I'm going to need more stuff with elasticized waistbands now that I'm doing more of this wine and food pairing stuff. 

It's too bad there's none of that Barolo left, because I would go out and look for a Tannat to compare it to. I am thinking that a reasonably well made Tannat would probably "seem" less tannic to me...even though Tannat is more tannic than Nebbiolo. 

Note that I'm only going as far to talk about what wines SEEM more tannic. It's easier for me to think of tannins in specific parts (skins, stems, etc) of different grape varities at specific ripnesses....but there's a big gap between that and perceptible tannin in wine.

Defining what we mean by tannin seems to be useful in this regard. But it also seems to be a bit of a rabbit hole (welcome to the wine world, where this seems to be the case for a lot of things!). 

In support of Greg T's answer grape variety is only the starting point. A better bet for me would have probably been a Barbaresco (often referred to as "baby barolo", and also made from Nebbiolo). The tannins tend softer and the wines tend to be easier to drink younger. 

So...defining what we mean by "tannin" seems to be useful in this regard. It seems to be a bit of a rabbit hole, as you may have already guessed. Welcome to the wine world, where that seems to be the case for a lot of things! :)

For me right now, tannin is a largely unsupportable/ unquantifiable feeling..a perception. As a relative beginner, I think there's an even larger gap between this and actual tannin in the wine because the softer tannins are easier for me to miss. My palate just isn't as well honed yet.

For the very same reason, I - incorrectly - never thought of Merlot as very tannic not too long ago. It didn't take long for GregT to weigh on on that and straighten me out!  In retrospect, I think it is because these tannins are often softer. Its also because I had not had the experience of drinking many lighter reds that tend to be less tannic, so I lacked a reference point. 

Here's a link to an interesting article about tannins I found earlier, if you are interested...




Reply by JonDerry, Apr 30, 2013.

Jennifer, it's true that '07 is known as an earlier drinking vintage for Piedmont wines (Barolo, Barbaresco mainly), due to the warmer weather that year. Usually the wines are quite Austere in their youth, especially the Barolo. It could have been the particular Barolo you tried needed more time in bottle, or more air before serving.

For 100% (or close) varietal Tannat, Tablas Creek makes a good one out of Paso Robles. The French Tannat is usually quite reasonable in price, called Madiran from Southwest France, and is usually blended with a bit of Cabernet, though some 100% Tannat wines are made.

Reply by JenniferT, May 3, 2013.

OK, so I went out to our local wine store yesterday (which has the best selection of any of the stores I have access to from home), and purchased one of the only tannats they had available - an NW Argentine wine from Michel Tornio (Don David Reserve). I'll have to wait until I take my next trip to purchase tannat from Paso Robles or a Madrian wine. I am trying to get close to 100% varietal for now, just so it will help me get a better feel for what tannat is like. 

Thanks for letting me know about Madrian, in particular, as I wasn't previously aware it existed!

Reply by EMark, May 3, 2013.

Jennifer, you may be aware of this.  If so, please pardon the intrusion.

In the United States, a wine can be labeled as a varietal if it is made from at least 75% of a given grape variety.  I mention this because you say you are seeking "100% varietal" wines.  A Zinfandel from California may be made from Zinfandel grapes alone, or it may actually be a blend.  Often on the back label there might be an indication that it is "100% Zinfandel."  Under that circumstance, you can be confident that it is what you are seeking.  Similarly, if it is a blend, the front label may say "Zinfandel," and the back label (front for Ridge) may indicate the components, e.g., 94% Zinfandel, 6% Petite Sirah.  However, in either case the producer is not required to make this disclosure, and the wine can be legally described as "Zinfandel."

Reply by JenniferT, May 3, 2013.

No, I actually didn't know the intrusion is quite welcome. I did think that there were small amounts of other grapes permitted in varietal wines but I didn't know the bar was as low as 75%!

 I have had wines from outside the US labelled with 15, 10, even 5% of a different grape variety. I assume the same wines would be labelled differently in the US. I guess it must be different for different countries.

Now I'm going to look up the contents of my wines, and maybe weight my preference towards wines that disclose the percentages right now (as I am focused on learning what a specific variety tastes and smells like.) 25% "Other" doesn't seem to conducive in that regard.



Reply by vino in love, May 3, 2013.

Nebbiolo is very tannic. Try some Barolo DOCG and Barbaresco DOCG.

Reply by GregT, May 3, 2013.

Jennifert - the wines labeled with those percentages would list the same in the US. In some regions they're not allowed to indicate the percentages or the grapes. Bordeaux for example. In other regions it's up to the producer.

In the US, Mondavi realized that Americans like competitions and winners and losers. So he started pushing grape names and Americans became accustomed to buying Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, whereas Gallo used to sell Pink Chablis. Eventually the people in Chablis got PO'd but by then Americans were happy with the Mondavi approach. Now American winemaking has become monocultural so you don't get field blends or any of the other interesting things that used to happen.

Also, because there's a hierarchy in the customer mind, some people proudly proclaim their wine is 100% Cab Sauv or 100% Pinot Noir or 100% Syrah, as if that's somehow more "pure" than a blend but it's only been recently that we have DNA analysis available to tell what's really in the vineyard. In the US, Cab beats Merlot beats Cab Franc, whereas in Bordeaux, you have whatever the producer thinks works best, but he can't put that on the label.

The rule about 75 percent is a federal rule. States are free to require something more restrictive. In Oregon therefore, they require 90%, but they make exceptions for pretty much any variety that an American customer would know, including Tannat, so one has to wonder what the purpose of the 90% is. I suppose people would be irate if they bought an Oregon Fiano and found out that it was only 88 percent pure.

Again, regarding your plan - you'll find out what those varieties taste like when grown in the regions you're purchasing from. There's no reason to imagine that a Fiano grown in Oregon will taste like one grown in Italy or South Africa, so I wouldn't dismiss a wine out of hand if it isn't 100% pure. Most wines from most places don't indicate the blend. Since most people really can't tell the dif between a lot of grapes anyway, that's probably a good thing. 


Reply by JenniferT, May 3, 2013.

I did just read that anything exported to Canada 85%. But that doesn't really apply since I try to buy a lot of wine in the US as well these days.

GregT, I especially like your use of the word "monocultural". I have been reading and thinking a lot about the globalization of wine lately, the reduced separation between old and new worlds. It is a sad idea for me to envision a world where everyone wants to make wines that are alike, where indigenous grape varieties are lost, etc. 

Sorry, I'm a rambler....I don't think there's anything undesirable with blended wines and unique blends at all, but lately I've been buying and tasting for the purpose of exam preparation. In the exam, you are asked to identify varietal (or blend) AND region.So, for now, I've been limiting my blends to wines that are usually blended, e.g. Grenache dominant Rhone blends, etc. 

That said, exam notwithstanding, I am also trying to get a feel for the different varieties (and different regions). For example, I really enjoyed the Petite Petit we had for the virtual tasting. However I have never had a Petite S or a PV before. I was intrigued by several snoothers commenting that they could appreciate how PV contributed to the blend. It left me wanting to get a varietal P. Verdot, to gain such an understanding.

Similarly, I am hoping to appreciate how Tannat contributes tannin and structure to blends better by getting a varietal Tannat. 

So, in this sense...I think it is natural to want to get a feel for how different varieties taste....AND to understand how region and climate can impact the spectrum of wines made from said varieties. 

That said, I do feel like I would make different choices (purchase more unknown grape varieties and unique blends, etc) if I weren't so focused on exam preparation right now. However I think I've already started to do this, just to satisfy my own curiosity. (e.g. P.V and Tannat, my newly found love of Falanghina, etc). It can't ALL be about exam prep, after all. :)

Reply by EMark, May 4, 2013.

I love it when Gregt jumps in.  I did not know that Bordeaux producers were prohibited from printing the grape component percentages on their labels.  In hindsight, I, of course, now realize that I'd never seen it on a Bordeaux.  I do know that I have seen such descriptions on some Rhone wines, although it might be that individual sub-regions have restrictions.

Jennifer, Petit Verdot varietal bottlings are pretty hard to find.  There are some on this board who feel it really does not make a memorable wine.  I think I've had one California example, and while I did not think it was great, it really did not snap my carrot.  So, good luck.  I think you would have more success trying different Petite Sirahs for your comparison.  Did you see the Snooth article on PS, recently?

On the other hand, I thought it would be hard for you to find a Tannat, and, as I recall, you reported that your local purveyor had two examples.  So, what the heck do I know? ;-)

Reply by GregT, May 4, 2013.

Emark - thanks but I need to clarify. The Bordelais realized about five or six years ago that they were shooting themselves in their feet. 

There's an ocean of inexpensive Bordeaux produced each year and nobody wants it. For years the US has been the main market for European wine exports and I always thought that since Americans had been trained to think in terms of varieties, the Bordelais should market their wines to Americans by variety, not by region. Most Americans can't even point to the general vicinity of their state on a map unless the states are designated, so how would they know the dif between Pomerol and Margaux? But the wine drinkers do know that they're supposed to prefer Cab to Merlot.

People had been fined in the past and the French had a non unreasonable rationale for it. They figured that there's only one Bordeaux in the world but anyone could make a Merlot, and that labeling their wine as Merlot just lowered it to the cheap imitations from anywhere. But at the bottom of the market, nobody was buying Bordeaux, they were buying Merlot, Pinot Noir, etc. 

So a few years ago some people figured they'd just call the front label the back label, and then they put the grapes on that label, which back in the day would still cause problems but sometime around 2006 or so, they changed the rules in Bordeaux to allow the low end guys to compete with the Americans in the American market.

And just as the new rules came into effect the Chinese market exploded. Would the change have been made had the rapid growth of the Chinese market been a few years earlier? Who knows.

The classified growth producers aren't about to put the varieties anywhere on the bottle, but at the low end, some people are taking advantage of the regs that now allow it. Still won't help IMHO because if you've had much $15 Bordeaux Merlot, you'll run for the Sonoma Merlot every time.

I will say however, that when I've talked to producers in Bordeaux, they always marvel at the desire of Americans to know what the varietal blends are because it seems to be something pretty unique to Americans. 

It is interesting to know about varieties and I don't see anything wrong with it because as Jennifert says, that way you understand what Cab Fran contributes to the blend vs what Cab Sauv contributes, but those contributions are specific to that particular area. In other words, you're getting a very different contribution to your blend from the Garnacha in Sonoma than in CdP, and from the Malbec in Mendoza than from any Malbec in Bordeaux. Cab Franc is a good example - I've never had any in CA that's remotely like that in Bordeaux.

Reply by Djack'o Altrades, Jan 12, 2014.

Thank you all!  As a wine inafficianado, this has been an excellent crash course!



Reply by JenniferT, Jan 12, 2014.

Wow, I really enjoyed re-reading this one after seeing it be resurrected on the forum! 

I still haven't had much cab franc....but I am inclined to agree with Greg T. in the context of my relatively limited tasting experience. Do you think, then, that Cab Franc tends to generally create wine that is more place/terroir specific than other varieties?


Reply by napagirl68, Jan 15, 2014.

Agree, JenniferT.. good resurrection here!  I must've missed this thread in the past.

GregT provided so much great information.  Personally, the most tannic wines I have tasted are Malbec and Petit Verdot (this one was so astringent, it was intolerable. It was a single variety PV). Petite sirah comes in third for me.

On that note, I find these tannic wines to also immediately stain my teeth purple.  That is prolly the result of the anthocyanins, the purple pigment found in grapes, blueberries, etc, that is a powerful antioxidant.  I found the discussion of the binding of anthocyanins to tannins of interest. At any rate, I assume that purple teeth result from the presence of more pigment due to more skin exposure (thus more tannins), as it is only these astringent wines that seem to stain my teeth dark purple.  I don't have that problem now that I primarily drink whites and Pinot ;-)

Reply by JenniferT, Jan 15, 2014.

Super interesting, NG - Thanks for that! I like how your theory of tooth-staining power being correlated to anthrocyanins and, by possible extension, tannin! I've had the same experience as you, to be honest.

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