Sainfoin is a non-bloating temperate forage legume with a moderate-to-high condensed tannin (CT) content. This study investigated whether the diversity of sainfoin accessions in terms of CT structures and contents could be related to rumen in vitro gas and methane (CH4) production and fermentation characteristics. The aim was to identify promising accessions for future investigations. Accessions differed (P < 0·0001) in terms of total gas and CH4 productions. Fermentation kinetics (i.e. parameters describing the shape of the gas production curve and half-time gas production) for CH4 production were influenced by accession (P ≤ 0·038), but not by PEG. Accession, PEG and time affected (P < 0·001) CH4 production, but accession and PEG interaction showed only a tendency (P = 0·08). Increase in CH4 due to PEG addition was not related to CT content. Further analysis of the relationships among multiple traits (nutritional composition, CT structure and CH4 production) using principal component analysis (PCA) based on optimally weighted variables revealed differences among accessions. The first two principal component axes, PC1 (57·6%) and PC2 (18·4%), explained 76·0% of the total variation among accessions. Loading of biplots derived from both PCAs made it possible to establish a relationship between the ratio of prodelphinidin:procyanidin (PD:PC) tannins and CH4 production in some accessions. The PD:PC ratio seems to be an important source of variation that is negatively related to CH4 production. These results suggested that sainfoin accessions collected from across the world exhibited substantial variation in terms of their effects on rumen in vitro CH4 production, revealing some promising accessions for future investigations.