How to Deal with Highly Tannic Wines


Last time we learned that some red wines can make your mouth feel dry due to the natural tannin in the wine that comes from the grape’s skin, seeds and stems. But, if you don’t care for highly tannic wines, there are some things you can do.

The tannins in a red wine will ‘soften’ with age. A young wine may be highly tannic but after several years of aging, the tannins will naturally become less harsh. So, aging is one option.

But, a lot of people don’t buy wines to stick away. They want to drink them now. So, there are other options if you pull the cork and realize the wine is a bit too tannic.

One option is to expose the wine to air. And, just pulling the cork and letting the opened bottle sit for a while isn’t sufficient. You’ll need to decant the wine. And you don’t need to have a fancy crystal decanter to do this. Really, any vessel will work. But, the key is to allow the wine to get as much exposure to air as possible. That’s why decanters, such as the one shown in the image, are large and have wide bottoms. Once an entire bottle of wine is poured into this type of decanter, it only fills the base. This gives the wine a large surface area that is exposed to air. For really tannic wines, they may need one to two hours in the decanter before they begin to soften. But remember, a decanter won’t turn a bad wine into a good one. It will just take a good wine and soften it up a bit.

Another method of helping soften harsh tannins is by aerating the wine. And this starts by just pouring the wine from the bottle to a decanter. Or, there are plenty of aerators that can be purchased that immediately mix air with the wine as it is poured whether directly into the wine glass or into a decanter.

Finally, if you are dealing with a highly tannic wine, pairing it with fatty or creamy foods will really help. That’s why wine and cheese work so well together. Just as pairing a nice steak is a natural with red wine.

So, don’t let that dry-mouth, astringent sensation scare you away from red wines. They can be some of the best there are. Cheers!

Tips on Letting a Wine Breathe

Years ago, I was visiting a friend who knew I enjoyed wines and wanted to share a bottle with me.  They opened the bottle and took a sip.  With a look of disappointment on their face, they proclaimed that the wine need some time “to breathe.” So, with the cork extracted, the bottle sat for an hour. At the end of the hour, the wine was proclaimed to be ready.

Decanter - Narrow Neck.jpg

I've also encountered those who use a decanter to allow their wine to breathe.  But, all too often, the decanter ends up looking like the one pictured here. It's a beautiful carafe and it's a great addition to a bar or table for serving wine. Unfortunately, it's a bit too narrow. It doesn't give the wine enough room to truly breathe. But, compared to leaving the wine cooped-up in its bottle, this type of decanter is a definite improvement. Not only does it give the wine a bit more space, it also allows the wine to catch a bit of a breath as it's being poured from the bottle to the decanter. And, after an hour or two, the wine should begin to show signs of opening up and settling down a bit.

Decanter - Wide Base.jpg

But to really give a bottle of wine a chance to breathe, you'll need some type of decanter that allows the wine to spread out and have a lot of surface area in contact with air.  The wide-base decanter pictured here is a great example. And, it's designed such that a single bottle of wine just fills the bottom and allows for the maximum amount of the wine's surface area to be exposed to air.

This whole discussion may leave you asking "Why do you want to intentionally expose wine to air? Doesn't that make the wine go bad?"  And, those are great questions. For answers, see my past blogs on "Why Decant Wine?" and "When to Not Decant a Wine."

Here's to enjoying whatever you drink! Cheers!