20 WINE TERMS A WINE LOVER SHOULD KNOW
1. Tannins: When you feel that chalky or mouth-puckering feeling in wine, you are probably feeling the tannins in the wine. Tannins come from the skin, stems and seeds of the grape. Tannins are a preservative in wine and help wine age.
2. Acidity: Acidity is what gives the wine a fresh, tart and sour taste—like a glass of lemonade does. Although white wines usually have the most pronounced acidic tastes, all wines have acidity.
Wine without acidity is dull because often it’s the acidity itself that acts like a frame for the pictures of other flavors. For example, acidity and sweetness balance and offset each other. Like they do in food. Think of a really good apple pie—it tastes so great because there is a balance between the sweetness of the sugars in the pie and the tartness from the apples.
3. Dry/Sweet: If you hear someone describe wine as being “bone-dry,” what they are describing in the wine is a total lack of sweetness. Sweetness and dryness are opposite descriptions of wine. Glycerin, or sugar alcohol, is what gives wine its sweetness.
4. Body: A wine’s body is commonly expressed as full-bodied, medium-bodied, or light-bodied. The heaviness or weight of wine in your mouth, caused from glycerin and alcohol, is what gives wine body.
By the way, the wine’s body should not be confused with another human part—the wine’s legs, which are droplets that form and ease down the sides of the glass when the wine is tipped.
5. Balanced: Balanced wine has all the different flavor profiles working harmoniously together—in other words, no one element is too dominant. A few of the flavor profiles and elements of wine that you’ll encounter most often are acidity, tannins, sweetness (or dryness), body, and spice.
6. Structure: While balance is the degree to which the elements in wine interact harmoniously or how these elements complement each other, structure is the interaction of certain elements e.g. acidity, tannins, alcohol and glycerin, or sweetness. Balance and structure are overlapping terms, but balance also includes aromatics and flavor that structure does not.
Another way to think of structure is how the different elements of acidity, tannins, alcohol and glycerin feel in your mouth. If they are strong and present, the wine is described as having a firm structure, the lack of these elements are often described as lacking in structure. When wine lacks in structure it tends to be flabby and fruit-forward.
Wines with good structure are more likely to age well, while wines lacking in structure are unlikely to improve with time.
7. Bold: Bold wine is a way of describing wine that has a very strong and distinctive aroma and flavor. Bold wines have very distinctive flavor profiles.
8. AVA: AVA is an acronym for American Viticulture Area. Each AVA represents a distinct and recognized wine region in the United States. Geography is designated by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau.
9. New World vs. Old World: A good way to think about the terms Old and New World Wines is in terms of who was the colonizer, and who was the colonized. The countries that set-off across the seas to find new land, such as Spain, Portugal, France, and Italy, would be considered Old World. In fact, not only does the Old World label apply to these countries, but all wine-producing regions in Europe and the Mediterranean basin. Using our “colonizer” analogy again, Old World wines would be considered those from colonizing countries, more or less, while New World wines come from places that were colonized by the Old World: the United States, South Africa, Australia, Argentina, and so on.
For more about Old World and New World Wine, you can read HERE.
10. Premier Cru, Grand Cru, First Growth, Classico (Chianti), Super Tuscan, Meritage, Bordeaux: France and Italy have distinct ways of not only classifying their types of wine and their regions, but also the quality of the wine produced in that region.
Cru in French means “growth” and is related to the wine term Terroir. Although the definition of terroir has changed through the years, it has come to describe a wine region that produces similar types of wine. Cru is a group of wine regions that grow similar type wine based on the soil and terrain of that geography. So each Cru region for wine has their own distinct wine style and quality.
The word preceding Cru with respect to wine, defines the wine further. There are five classifications for Cru wine under the Grand Cru Classe.
Premier Cru, which means “first growth” in French, is considered the highest level (for the Bordeaux region) of the five “Grand Cru Classe” designations. In the Burgundy region of France, they are considered the second highest designation. Grand Cru is actually considered the highest designation in Burgundy.
Bordeaux is wine produced in the Bordeaux region of France, like Burgundy wine is of the Burgundy Region of France. There are 54 appellations in the Bordeaux region. Bordeaux wines tend to be blends of wine with Cabernet Sauvignon being the primary varietal, while Burgundy wine tends to be Pinot Noir.
Meritage is a name for red and white Bordeaux-style wines without infringing on the Bordeaux (France) region’s legally protected designation of origin. Winemakers must license the Meritage trademark from its owner, the California-based Meritage Alliance. 2
Chianti is a region in the central area of Tuscany, Italy. The primary grape varietal from the Chianti is Sangiovese, but there are other wines typically blended in to a lesser extent. These wines are commonly known as Chianti wines.
Chianti Classico refers to the central region or original area of Chianti. Because the wine is made in smaller quantities, they often are of higher quality. Wines from this area are the only ones to be allowed to have a black rooster located on the neck of the bottle of wine.
Super Tuscans are an unofficial category of Tuscan wines, not recognized within the Italian wine classification system (DOC Regulations) and located outside the Chianti region. Super Tuscans may use more Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah than is allowed by the DOC. Many people prefer Super Tuscans based on their liberation from DOC rules—and the belief that diverging from the rules can create better wine.
11. Estate Wine: Today Estate refers to the wine produced from the winery’s estate rather than bought and brought from outside a winery’s estate, i.e. buying grapes from other wineries to make one’s own label.
12. Reserva is a Spanish term for a red wine that has spent at least 3 years in barrels and bottles before release.
Reserve is a more of an American term usually indicating the best wines of a particular wine maker.
13. Blends are wines made of different varietals of grape, while Varietals are wines belonging to a single specified variety of grape.
14. Corked: “Corked” wine tastes like damp or rotten cardboard or even a smelly dog; has to do with having TCA (a chemical compound derived from fungi in the cork) in the wine.
Oxidized: Oxidize wine tastes like vinegar or flat. It is a wine that has been excessively exposed to air during either its making or aging, the wine loses freshness and takes on a stale, old smell and taste.
The two maladies of Corked and Oxidized wine have completely different taste and smell profiles.
15. Nose/ Bouquet/Aroma: The smell that a wine develops after it has been bottled and aged. Mature wines in particular develop complex flavors beyond basic young fruit and oak aromas.
16. Backward: Backward wine is a wine that tastes younger than other wine of its type and age.
17. Finish: Finish is the wine’s after-taste or the taste left in your mouth after a sip. One of the most important factors in determining the quality of wine is its after-taste or finish. Great wines have rich, complex but smooth finishes.
18. Fortified: Fortified wine is wine that has had its alcohol content increased by adding brandy or neutral spirits.
19. Tight: Tight wine is wine that the flavors are so tightly bundled together that each unique flavor is indiscernible. Tight wine is not ready to drink and generally tastes unpleasant.
20. Drunk: That feeling you get when you drink too much wine and you start slurring yuurrr wwodssss!