20 Wine Terms True Wine Lovers Should Know How to Use
If you're over the age of 21, it's time to start trading up from terms like kegger and beer pong. Here's a bit of vocab to get you started.
According to wine geeks, Moscato is a summer wine. But people who love Moscato love it all year round—not just when the weather gets warm. Truth be told, your favorite wine is “not dictated by the solstice; it’s actually dictated by personal preferences,” according to Tim Hanni, MW (master of wine) and author of Why You Like the Wines You Like. These preferences are called your “vinotype.” Much like a personality trait, your vinotype combines your own personal sensory sensitivities with your culture, tradition, and life experiences to dictate your wine preferences. “We just have this insane premise that wine’s supposed to match to the season, or the food, or some other greater glory,” says Hanni. Instead, he says, “match the wine to the diner, not to the dinner.” Check out the best wines for every health and lifestyle need.
This is the single most important word in the world of wine, according to Hanni. But it can be a confusing one too. For one person, a smooth wine can be rich and flavorful, but for another, it can be almost painfully bitter and unpleasant. “This is why wine language is such a mess, because it’s so important to learn about your vinotype to understand which of these sensory worlds you live in and how that correlates to the wines you’re going to like,” says Hanni. You can find out your vinotype at myvinotype.com.
The minute the wine hits the tip of your tongue, the first thing you often taste is its sweetness. But there are different levels of a wine’s sugary flavor, according to Hanni. “It can be just a tiny little bit or a moderate amount, all the way up to really, really sweet in some exceptional cases, depending on how the grapes were grown,” he says. When wine is fermented, the fermentation process converts sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide. The sweeter the wine, the less fermentation and the more sugar.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, the term “dry” essentially means anything that is not sweet. Yet even this characteristic is actually relative, dictated by your tastes and preferences rather than some hard and fast rules, says Hanni. Because dryness and sweetness are indicated by the presence or the absence of natural sugars, a dry wine’s sugars are completely fermented. Ready to drink up? Check out these easy ways to open a wine bottle without a corkscrew.
If you’re sipping a varietal wine, your boozy beverage was named after the type of grape that was used to produce it. Think Chardonnay, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon, all of which get their monikers from specific grape varieties. And rest assured that you’re drinking the wine in its purest form—in the United States, the wine has to be made up of at least 75 percent of that variety to bear the name.
It’s no coincidence that wines like Champagne, Burgundy, and Bordeaux have counterparts as French cities; in fact, they’re named after the regions where they are produced. “Tradition and laws determine what styles of wines are allowable and what grape varieties are allowed to be planted,” Hanni says, creating a one-of-a-kind alcohol. But beware of Harvey burgundy or California champagne: The wine isn’t genuine if it’s not from the region it’s named after.
Toss out everything you thought you knew about wine aromas—according to Hanni, the experts have it wrong. “Think of an aroma as something singular that you can pick out when you smell the wine,” Hanni says. Fruits, flowers, spices, oak, and smoke are all common wine aromas, a byproduct of the fermenting process.
Like a bouquet of flowers, a bouquet in the wine world means a collection of aromas. “If you consider the word aroma sort of analogous to a single flower, then a bouquet is a collection of all the smells,” Hanni says. A bouquet of honey, chocolate truffles, and subtle oak fragrances, for example, indicates that the wine is aging, releasing a wide array of mouthwatering smells.
When entering into the world of wine weights, metaphors abound. “A heavy wine, metaphorically, means that it’s strongly flavored, that it’s darkly colored, and it’s typically high in alcohol,” Hanni explains. Cabernet Sauvignon and other strong, red blends are great examples of “heavy” wines. But don’t be fooled: What are traditionally deemed heavy wines are actually lighter in real weight than “light” wines like Moscato.
The astringency of a wine is a touch sensation that occurs in your mouth, making your tongue feel dry the moment you take a swig. It’s usually associated with stronger, more intense red wines, which have more compounds that act as preservatives, called tannins. It’s the tannins that turn your mouth into leather. “Some people are oblivious to it, and people who are drinking the sweet wines find it this horrible, disgusting drying of the mouth,” Hanni says. Plus, the wine will taste very bitter, a side effect also associated with tannin (which naturally occurs in leaves and sticks), but even sweet wines, such as port, can be astringent.
Wine lovers, beware: Wine that has been exposed to air for too long begins to oxidize, resulting in a brownish color and a loss of freshness. But don’t throw out a perfectly good bottle!
An aperitif is a wine typically served before a meal to stimulate the appetite and is therefore dry instead of sweet. A digestif, on the other hand, is served after a meal to aid digestion. Common aperitifs include champagne or any other dry, white wine, while digestifs include fortified wines like sweet sherry and port.
Take time to notice how long a wine’s texture or flavor remains in your mouth after you’ve swallowed it. Is it a short or long period? The length of a particular wine depends how quickly it leaves your tongue or lingers on your taste buds. Here’s how to chill a white wine quickly so you can drink it ASAP.
When wines have reached their peak complexity, they have “matured” and are ready to drink. Salut! Aging them any longer in the bottle will cause them to go past their prime. If a wine is not yet mature—or perhaps of a lesser quality—you can use gadgets like The Wand by PureWine to rapidly aerate wine, maximizing its full flavor potential.
Ever wondered what those purple flakes were at the bottom of your wine glass? That sediment consists of tannins and color pigments that “fall out” of a wine that has been aging for several years. You’ll typically find sediment in darker red wines, which tend to have more preservatives.
Contrary to popular belief, the body of a wine refers not to its quality, but rather the impression of weight that a wine leaves behind in your mouth. For example, a full-bodied wine feels “big” and heavy with many flavors and sensations occurring at once, while a light-bodied wine has a more delicate taste and aftertaste.
A blended wine is made from more than one grape varietal. They are often made to create a more complex wine or combine the attributes of the individual grapes for a fuller, richer taste.
The appellation of a wine refers to the particular area the grapes used in the wine were grown. Most wine-producing countries have specific guidelines for this. In the United States, for instance, 85 percent of the grapes used to produce the wine must have been grown in the area used as the appellation (such as Napa Valley).
All grapes contain acid, and acid helps preserve wine. Thankfully, the acidity is often rounded out with softer wine elements like alcohol and sugar. A wine with higher acidity tends to taste crisp and sharp.
Forget swirling your glass. The best way to determine a wine’s quality is through its finish. The finish of a wine is a measurement that describes the type of flavor that lingers in your mouth after you swallow. It is also known as the “aftertaste” (although “finish” sounds classier).