This journal entry is for those of us who really fancy a glass of red without the effects of too much tannin. Low-tannin reds are generally lighter and more refreshing than other reds (some are even served chilled) which makes them ideal for summer drinking, so even if you are OK with tannins you may simply be seeking a lighter drink to accompany your barbecue or sunny evenings sitting in the garden.
Why do some people avoid tannins? This can be for a variety of reasons. You may simply dislike the taste – around 25% of the population has a high sensitivity to bitter things - so if you already avoid black coffee and kale it could simply be that you don’t enjoy that feeling of dryness rolling around your tongue when you try a tannin-heavy glass of red.
Others have tannin sensitivity - which may affect the way that your body metabolises energy or digests proteins - and drinking tannin can cause you to feel ill. Some people also claim that tannins cause headaches - although this could simply be from consuming too much wine and not enough water (particularly in hot weather). To find out if it’s the tannin giving you your headache (rather than over consumption),examine whether you get the same effect from other things that contain tannin, including strong tea and dark chocolate – and try drinking more water with your wine as you may simply be dehydrated.
Whether you are sensitive to tannin or you dislike the taste, there may be times when you just want a glass of red for a change – perhaps you want to pair it with a particular dish or you’re craving something more full-bodied than a sauvignon blanc. We’ve created this useful guide to help you find some low-tannin wines which you should find more palatable.
What is a tannin?
Before we get started, let’s talk about tannins. A tannin is a naturally occurring compound found in plants and in every part of a wine grape - in the seeds, skins and stems. Tannins are essentially a water-soluble polyphenol which seeps into the wine from the grapes – so the more contact that the grapes have with the wine during production – a common factor when producing red wine – the more you will be able to taste the tannins.
What do tannins taste like?
Whenever you drink a wine that leaves that drying sensation in your mouth and bitterness in the middle of your tongue – you are tasting the tannin. Some people love the flavour - whilst others prefer a cleaner, crisper sensation from their tipple. The tannins give your wine it’s level of dryness or astringency. The dryer your mouth – the higher the tannin levels. Tannins are also found in tea so you may also recognise the sensation from drinking tea that has been brewed for too long, leaving an arid feeling in your mouth.
Winemakers love tannins because they work as a natural antioxidant which protects the wine and makes it last longer. Tannins also have great health benefits too – unless you are sensitive to them.
It’s not just the contact with grapes that cause a particular wine to contain more tannins. It can also be affected by the method in which it has been stored. Oak barrels contain tannin, which seeps into the wine – so that even if you buy white wine, if it has been stored in wooden barrels it may contain some tannin. The newer the oak, the more likely it is going to increase the tannin levels.
Sometimes it’s better to have a thin skin
Fortunately, if you still have a hankering for a glass of red - despite the headache or dry mouth - there are quite a few reds that don’t contain as much tannin. In most cases the wine gets the majority of its tannins (and colour) from the grape skin. So if you choose a red wine that has been produced using delicate, thinner-skinned varieties of grape – and ideally without the use of oak barrels - then you should be able to find something that is more likely to suit your palette.
Our pick of low-tannin red wines
As you probably know, Pinot Noir grapes are very versatile and are used to create white, rosé and sparkling wines, so it comes as no surprise that this delightfully delicate grape makes a lovely refreshing and easy to drink red, with hints of cherry and raspberry. It goes well with many different dishes including salmon, roast chicken and pasta dishes.
Another popular group of grape varieties, some Lambrusco grapes such as Lambrusco Grasparossa do have high tannin levels – but others including Lambrusco di Sorbara have very low levels and we recommend wines made from this variety, such as our sparkling Cavicchioli Lambrusco Emilia Rosso Secco Emiliana.
Also known as Garnacha, reds made from these grapes may contain tannins but Spanish Grenache or blends from Roussillon tend to contain less tannin and are very palatable, so it is worth doing some research to find the right bottle for you.
Often used as a blend with other types of wine, Bobal is a Spanish grape that can be used on its own to produce a tasty low tannin red with a velvety finish and hints of blackberry and liquorice. Bobal pairs well with roasted and grilled red meats, barbecues and fruity meat dishes such as Duck a l’Orange or Morrocan tagine.
Wine made from Schiava grapes is some of the sweetest and lightest red you can get. Grown in Italy, it is also used to produce wine in other countries which are also known as Black Hamburg, Vernatch and Trollinger.
A couple of delicious wines grown in the region of Mount Etna in Sicily are also very low in tannins. Produced using Nerello Mascalese grapes, Etna Rosso has a similar sweetness, acidity and taste as Pinot Noir but is generally a little more affordable. We recommend Planeta Etna Rosso 2018
Also produced in this region, with a pinot-style flavour, Frappato wine is created by blending Frappato grapes with other grapes including Nero D’Avola to produce a light wine with hints of pomegranate and strawberry. Both Frappato and Etna Rosso taste good served slightly chilled. If you want to try serving your wine the Sicilian way, COS Frappato 2018 is wonderful served chilled.
Another Italian wine grape, which is starting to emerge in California too, Barbera is more acidic than other red wines, with a juicy cherry and strawberry flavour. Although it is low in tannins, it is often aged in oak, so you need to check to see how it has been produced if you want to ensure you have chosen a low-tannin variety.
A North Italian wine grape with a dark skin, Dolcetto wine is aged in stainless steel vats to produce a light, soft wine that should be drunk whilst it is still young. We recommend G.D. Vajra Dolcetto d'Alba 2019 - a delicate variety with favours of violet, red fruits and berries.
Gamay isn’t as popular as some low-tannin varieties – possibly because it is slightly dryer and has higher levels of acidity. It tastes of pomegranate and blackberry rather than the juicy cherry and raspberry of many other low-tannin wines. However, it is worth trying simply because it pairs so well with different types of food. It’s a great wine to bring to a dinner party. Wine made from Gamay grapes is often names after the region it is produced in – for example Beaujolais in France – a bright and refreshing wine with flavours of red berries. Try a bottle of our Chateau de Poncie Fleurie La Salomine 2016 for a great Gamay experience!
If it’s just the tannin flavour that has been putting you off drinking reds, there are a couple of things you can do to make your wine taste smoother. Open the bottle and let it breathe for a little while before you serve it or decant it an hour or so before you pour. You could even double decant it back into the bottle. This will allow the wine to ‘open up’ and will make it feel less dry and tannic on the tongue, for an easier drinking experience.