Knowing as much about wine as possible can only help in social circles. Say your company’s CEO asks you to attend a wine tasting to represent him or you’re meeting your partner’s parents for the first time. Whatever the reason, you could find yourself needing some wine basics.
Some of the following words will help you read wine bottles, while others will help with knowing the differences between one wine and another. With these, you should be able to wander into a store and choose a wine based on more than just the eye-pleasing design of the label.
Words to help you read wine labels
This says in which particular area the grapes used in the wine were grown. Most wine-producing countries have their own guidelines for this.n the United States, for example, 85% of the grapes used to produce the wine must have been grown in the wine’s appellation.
A blend refers to wine made from more than one grape variety. Blends are often made to create a more complex wine or marry the attributes of the individual grapes.
The person or company responsible for bringing a foreign wine into a country for distribution is the importer. Importers often deal with similar types of wine because of their personal taste preferences, so if you like a particular brand of wine, you might also like other wines brought to you by the same importer.
They are a natural by-product of the wine fermentation process. Contrary to popular belief, red wines don’t contain higher levels of sulfites than white wines. Sometimes, they may actually have fewer sulfites.
This refers to a wine made predominately from one single grape variety, although it sounds like it should contain many varieties of grapes. To be designated a varietal, a wine needs to be made of at least 75% of one grape variety, and that’s the one listed on the wine label. Well-known varietals include Chenin Blanc, Zinfandel, and Merlot.
The year in which the grapes were grown and harvested. This is not necessarily the same as the year that the wine was produced and bottled.
The wine producer or proprietor of a particular vineyard.
Words used to describe wines
Acid or Acidity
All grapes contain acid, and acid helps preserve wine. When a wine has a higher acidity, it tends to taste crisper and sharper. A wine’s acidity is often rounded out with softer wine elements like alcohol and sugar.
This refers to the smell of the grapes in a wine, before the fermentation process. A wine’s aroma is determined by the nose when you sniff the wine in your glass, and not by what you smell when actually tasting the wine.
The particular smell that a wine develops after it has been fermented and aged in the bottle. A wine’s bouquet takes years to develop.
A wine’s balance is all of its individual elements–alcohol, acidity, fruitiness, sweetness, and tannins–in harmony with one another.
This is not the quality of a wine, but the impression of weight that a wine leaves in your mouth. A full-bodied wine feels heavy with many different flavours and sensations going on at once, while a light-bodied wine is more delicate. A good comparison can be made with cream, whole milk, and skim milk, which are full-bodied, medium-bodied, and light-bodied respectively.
Just as you may find complex people to be intriguing, complexity in a wine is highly valued. A wine that is complex features a depth of flavour, a harmony of tastes, and subtle nuances in every mouthful. There’s a lot going on in a wine that’s considered complex.
A measurement to describe the flavour that lingers in your mouth after you taste a wine is the finish. It’s also sometimes called the “aftertaste,” although “finish” sounds a tad classier. A wine’s finish is considered the most important way to determine its quality.
A term referring to the amount of time that a wine’s finish remains in your mouth after you’ve swallowed it. The length might be short or long, quick or lingering.
A mature wine is one that’s ready for drinking. When wine is mature, it has reached its peak of complexity. Aging it any longer in the bottle will cause it to go past its prime.
This is another word that describes the feel of wine in your mouth. Full-bodied, denser wines tend to have more texture, and you decide what type of wine texture you prefer: smooth, chewy, and so on.
Young wines are usually bottled and sold within a year of their vintage. They aren’t meant to be kept in a wine cellar for further maturation, but to be uncorked and enjoyed right away. Young wines tend to be light and crisp, and are lower in tannins.
Other wine terms
Aeration is the process of allowing a wine to breathe. This is often done with younger wines, allowing them to open up. Aeration is accomplished by simply pouring a glass of the wine, or by transferring the entire bottle to a decanter.
Some wines are even better and more complex when they’re kept for a longer period of time in the bottle before being uncorked and enjoyed. Only a small number of all wines would benefit from aging, so be sure to ask somebody knowledgeable whether a particular wine should be aged or opened and enjoyed.
While a wine that has been uncorked is ready to drink, a wine that has been corked is not a good thing. “Corked” means that the cork of the wine bottle has been tainted, by such things as a moldy basement. A tainted cork often translates to a wine with a smell and flavour that is less than desirable and far from optimal.
Wine that has been exposed to air too long begins to oxidize, resulting in a brownish colour and a loss of freshness.
Sediment is comprised of tannins and colour pigments that “fall out” of a wine, settling on the bottom or side of the bottle depending on how its stored. This occurs in wine that’s been aging for years. Sediment is mostly found in darker red wines because they contain more tannins and more colour pigments.
Tannins are phenolic compounds derived from all different parts of a plant; in wine they come from the grape stems, skins, and seeds, and also from the barrel in which the wine is aged. Wines that are high in tannins are considered “dry”, although aging a wine high in tannins does soften it a bit.
So, you’ve got your veritable Cliff’s Notes of wine terms. You might not be ready to apply for a sommelier position, but you should definitely feel more comfortable ordering wine from a daunting wine list or purchasing a bottle from the aisles and aisles of offerings at your local liquor store.