New to the world of wine? It can seem like a daunting task to learn what everything means. Our guide to the basic wine terminology will help get you started!
Wine: There are so many different varieties of the alcoholic grape juice. Whether it’s a 2-buck chuck or a $50 bottle, you should be familiar with what makes each type of wine different.
You’ve probably sat down at a fancy restaurant and when you look at the Wine and Cocktail menu, you’re completely overwhelmed. What do all the names mean?
Of course, you could ask the waiter for a recommendation only to be told one wine has more body than the other, and one is drier than the one below it. How can a wine have a “body” or be dry?
Save yourself the embarrassment the next time you go out and study some wine terminology. Keep reading for your guide to wine basics.
Different Types of Wine
First, we need to establish the basics. Wines can be divided up into the following categories.
Red wines are (obviously) red in color. They get their color from the red and purple skins of the grape. Some common red wines you’ll encounter include:
- Cabernet Sauvignon
- Pinot Noir
Though all of the above are red wines, a glass of merlot is very different than a glass of zinfandel. This is because zinfandel is more acidic than merlot.
White wines come from white grapes. While red wines are typically aged in an oak barrel, white wines age in a stainless-steel vat. Here are some white wines you’ll usually see on a wine menu:
- Sauvignon Blanc
- Pinot Grigio
Again, like red wines, all white wines are different. Some are drier than others and some have a light body.
Everyone loves a good rosé! Rosé gets its pink color from the red skins of grapes, like red wine. To get the pink color, winemakers only let the skins of the grape soak with the juice for a few days.
Sparkling and Fortified Wines
Sparkling wine is just wine that has been carbonated. Popular examples include Champagne and Prosecco.
Fortified wine is wine that has an extra boost of alcohol, either by the addition of brandy or extra fermentation. Port and sherry are two examples of fortified wines.
Wine Terminology For Describing Taste
When people are sipping wine, they like to throw around words like “earthy” or say phrases like “this wine has legs.” How can a wine have legs? What makes a wine earthy? Below are other words you’ll hear when describing wines.
Acidity is one of the 4 main characteristics used to describe the taste of wine. Acidity is what makes your mouth pucker when you eat sour candy and the like. While wine may not be sour, more acidic wines have a bite.
Example: “This pinot grigio is much more acidic than the merlot.”
When we talk about a wine’s “body,” we are referencing the heaviness of the wine. A wine with more “body” has a mouthfeel more similar to a glass of milk than a glass of water.
Example: “The wine we had with the steak was full-bodied.”
When you pour or swirl your glass of wine and some residual wine trails down the inside of the glass, those streaks are called legs or tears.
Example: “The full-bodied wine had long legs after we swirled the glass.”
If you have sipped a glass of wine that left a dry feeling in your mouth, then you have the first-hand experience of Tannins. Tannins are a result of the polyphenol that comes from the skin of the grapes.
Example: “The dry white wine was very tannic.”
Simple enough, the nose refers to the aroma of the wine.
Example: “The nose of the pinot noir was sweet.”
The term, jammy, will come in handy when describing sweet, fruit wines that remind you of a luscious fruit jam.
Example: “The Moscato was delightfully jammy.”
Earthy, on the other hand, is useful for describing less sweet wines. Merlot and Gamay are usually described as earthy.
Example: “The merlot had a medium body and an earthy taste.”
Complex is a great word to throw around when you don’t know exactly what the wine tastes like, but it’s flavorful.
Example: “The white wine we had at dinner was very…complex.”
Remember tannins? When a wine has more tannins, its wine finish is described as a dry wine.
Example: “I prefer the dry white wine over the juicy merlot.”
Wine-Making and Additional Lingo
When the wine is overexposed to oxygen, it loses color and flavor.
Now that you know how to describe the qualities of a wine and how it’s made, you should probably know some of the other terms that wine drinkers like to throw around when drinking and talking about wine. Below is even more terminology used to describe wine and its different states:
When you decant a bottle of wine, you are transferring it from the original bottle to another container. This does two things: it introduces a little bit of oxygen to the wine (but not too much) and removes any additional sediment from the wine.
Natural Wine refers to wine that has no additional additives, like sugar or sulfite.
Organic wine is made from organically grown grapes.
Varietal refers to the variety of grapes that the wine is made of. Some wines are made up mainly of one type of grape, while others are blends of a few different grapes.
If you really want to impress your wine-loving friends, talk about the terroir of wine. The terroir is a French term that describes the climate and geography of where the grapes were grown. The soil and the climate have a big impact on the flavor of the wine.
Drink Wine Like A Sommelier
Don’t be intimidated by wine. Learn a little bit about the different types of wine and what makes them different.
For more practice, go to your local wine store and pick up a few different varieties and (responsibly) try them out from the comfort of your own home. This will help you determine what kind of wine you like, so the next time you are at a fancy dinner, you can order confidently.
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