Wine Advice: Wine Terms

Whether reading what others have written about wine or listening to comments made by professional tasters, you have, no doubt, noticed that certain terms are commonly used as wine descriptors.

An understanding of the following basic terms will help you to fully appreciate, understand and interpret “wine talk”. Developing a wine vocabulary will make you more confident and knowledgeable about wine and able to express what you detect in certain wines, like or dislike,
and make comprehensive notes. Additionally, wine terms allow you to communicate well with others immersed in the wine world, and they with you.

Acidity: Acidity, detected on the front and sides of the tongue, adds crispness and vitality and is a critical component in aging. All wines contain acid.

Aerate: exposing wine to air to allow it to ‘open up”. This is accomplished by pouring wine into a glass or decanter or simply by swirling it.

Aroma: The smell of a wine.

Balance: the level of harmony between sweetness, acidity, tannins and alcohol.

Blend: wine made using two or more grape varieties.

Body: the weight and texture of wine. It may be light-medium or full-bodied. Weight is best understood by comparing the weight of a wine to that of milk. Light-bodied wines are similar in weight to skim milk, medium-bodied to 2% and full-bodied to half and half.

Bouquet: aromas derived from aging and wine-making techniques.

Corked: wine affected by “cork taint”, a wine fault. These wines have aromas of damp basement, wet dog, or moldy newspaper.

Decant: to separate wine from sediment.

Delicate: light-bodied with delicate fragrances.

Dry: wine with less than 0.2% residual sugar.

Finish: the final impression of a wine after it is swallowed.

Flavour: taste.

Legs: the “tears” or rivulets that run down the inside of a wine glass after wine is swirled. An indicator of alcohol, glycerin and sweetness levels. Not a quality indicator.

Mature: wine that has reached its full potential and is ready to be consumed.

Mouth-feel: the combination of texture and weight

Oaky: the influence of oak on wine. Such wines may have vanilla, butterscotch, toffee and caramel-like aromas and flavours and are often smoother and softer that their non oak- influenced counterparts.

Off-dry: wine that is slightly sweet.

Oxidized: the influence of air on wine that eventually results in a flat wine lacking fruit. This is normal and desirable in Sherry.

Palate: the taste-buds, tongue and inside of the mouth. Sparkling: wine with bubbles of carbon dioxide gas.

Sweetness: most often related to the presence of unfermented sugar but may be used to describe ripe, fresh or candied fruit.

Tannin: a natural substance found in grape skins, seeds and stems, and wood barrels. Tannins are most prominent in red wines and are largely responsible for structure and age-ability. Tannins are detected as drying and astringent sensations.

Typicity: wine tastes as it should. It represents the grape variety used in production, the area where the grapes are grown and the local wine-making traditions.

Varietal: a grape variety: for example, Chardonnay

Kate Wagner Zeke, Sommelier(ISG)
Certified Specialist of Wine, Certified Wine Educator(SWE)