FAQ: What are some wines with low levels of tannin?

Posted by Tom Wall

Lots of people (myself included) prefer low tannin wines. Give us a good Pinot over a robust Cabernet Sauvignon any day. However, a lot of the problem with ‘too much tannin’ turns out to be a problem with ‘badly made wine with poorly integrated or unbalanced tannin’.

Before we get to the wine, let’s take a look at tannins in more detail.

Sources of tannins

White wines and rosés have much lower tannin than reds because they aren’t fermented with their grape skins and/or stalks and seeds.

(There a few exceptions, such as ‘orange’ wine, oak-aged and some delicate aromatic varietals, eg Riesling, where there might be a bit of skin contact or cold maceration or whatever, giving a touch more tannins.)

Interestingly, most berries, raw nuts and even beer also contain tannins according to Wikipedia. And of course tea and coffee.

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Wines with lower levels of tannins

For those whose mind is already made up:Whites and rosés. For the reasons mentioned earlier.

Old wines will have less tannin because the tannins polymerise out over time. For example, a 20–30 year old Bordeaux will have much less tannin than a new release.

Winery-aged wines. The longer a wine stays in barrel at the winery the more likely it is to have softened for the same reason. I tasted some young Barolo out of the barrel at Cascina Fontana. Oh yes, there were tannins! But they will soften with time. This is why top winemaker Quintarelli ages their Amarone for eight years before release while other winemakers only manage 3–4 years. But avoid wines that have been aged in a lot of new oak as that will likely add oak tannins to the tannins that came from the vine.

Low-tannin varietals. Try a Pinot Noir – my low-tannin tipple of choice. Or for something less ‘obvious’ how about a Barbera from Piedmont, Italy. It’s an area best known for heavyweight Barolos but their food-friendly everyday wines are very approachable. (See our article about Piedmont and Barolo: Italy’s majestic wine country. Typically Malbec and Merlot are more medium-tannin varieties and they can be a nice alternative to tannin-heavy Cabernet Sauvignons.

Let it breathe. Although it doesn’t affect the levels of tannin in a wine, decanting it (or double decanting back into the bottle) an hour or two before serving can allow a tannic wine to ‘open up’ and it will feel and taste smoother.

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