Common Wine Tasting Terms Explained
Wine terminology can be an intimidating thing, especially for novice wine drinker – when dinner company start throwing around terms like tannins, acidity and oak, it can all get a bit overwhelming – isn’t it enough to know that you simply do or don’t like the wine you’re served?
On the one hand yes – the most important thing to recognise in a wine is whether or not you like it! On the other hand, it’s quite useful to know a few common wine terms so that you can describe why you like something – not just for partaking in wine chats around the dinner table, but so that you can identify and make note of bottles and producers you like, and talk to sommeliers and bottle shop staff about what you want in your wine selections.
Below is a list of common wine tasting terms – some are literally elements found in the wine (i.e. tannins), and some are more terms used to describe a flavour profile (i.e. minerality). Either way, these wine terms are a few you’re likely to come across (and taste!).
From bone dry, to sweet, getting to know common wine tasting terms will help you identify exactly what and why you like certain wines
Levels of acidity will range wines. As you might expect, acid comes across as lemony, citrusy and tart. It is also often described as tart, austere or sour. Well-made wines should have acidity, though balanced with other elements like sweetness, tannin and body (see below).
Sweetness in wine is reflective of sugar and is contrasted to dryness – this makes sense as a very dry wine is produced from low-sugar grapes or grapes picked early, and sweet wines come from juicy, ripe, high-sugar grapes (with sugar sometimes added to very sweet wines). Note, sweetness does not equate to fruity (fruit refers to the taste of berries, apricot or other fruits).
Oak in wine can come across as spice, smoke, leather or tobacco in red wine, or buttery, caramel, vanilla and spice in white wines. Oak is present when wines have been aged in oak (some whites, most reds), and will range depending on time spend in oak and the type of oak use (American versus French, which is usually bold or subtle, respectively).
You’ve heard wines described as light, medium or full bodied. This can also be thought of as weight. Body is reflective of alcohol content; fuller bodied wines are usually higher in alcohol, and lighter bodied lower in alcohol. For example, lighter bodied Pinot Noirs from France might sit around 12% ABV, and big, full bodied Malbecs or Zinfandel are often upwards of 14%.
This term is used pretty loosely, but represents a certain presence in wine that can be hard to pinpoint – it refers to anything that tates like well… … minerals! Stones, chalk, metals… I often think of minerality with crispness, though it is more that these work well together, not that they are the same thing.
Another important and often used wine term – tannins in wine come from grape skins and seeds, and have the effect of leaving your mouth and cheeks feel dry and sandpaper-like. Tannins range from soft to hard; very tannic wines do well with rich foods, as they help cut through the fat and the food helps mellow those tannins. Tannins are also found in black tea, which you can taste when you get that slight astringency and bitterness.
During maceration, the skin and seeds of red wine grapes impart tannins on wine
There are many, many more wine tasting terms than this, but these are some good ones to begin with. Once you start discovering if you like, say, light-bodied fruity wines, or that you definitely hate oaked wines, you can start better understanding what wines you’ll love!
If you want to know more about storing and serving vino, here’s our guide on what temperature is best for different wines. If you find yourself drinking wine one glass at a time, you might also want to check out what we have to say about goon bags.
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