Jennifer lives in wine country and is passionate about wine. She has also worked in the wine and restaurant industry for over 10 years.
There are many terms that wine lovers and connoisseurs use to describe wine. Understanding some of these terms will help you identify and communicate what you taste in wine. It can also be especially helpful when buying or ordering wine in a restaurant. Besides the obvious terms like sweet, dry, oaked, and fruity, here are 10 terms to know when wine tasting. Also included is a guide on how to taste like a pro so you can enjoy a more meaningful wine-tasting experience.
The vintage on a wine label is the year that the grapes were harvested. If there is no year on the label, that most likely means the wine was made from more than one vintage. A vintage wine just means that the grapes were all harvested in the same year. The vintage can also give you an idea of the quality of the wine. Some years may have had better growing conditions based on the weather, and as a result, produced better quality yields. For example, a hot summer with a good amount of precipitation will produce riper and fruitier grapes, which will result in a more flavorful and full-bodied wine.
Wine tasting is not just about drinking. Smelling wine before tasting it is also important. Our sense of smell has an effect on the way our brain processes flavor. The "nose" or the "bouquet" of a wine is the aroma it gives off. Different varietals produce different aromas (like lychee in Gewürztraminer and black cherry in Merlot). Other factors like fermentation, aging, and exposure to oak can create new aromas in the wine as well.
The body refers to how the weight of the wine feels in your mouth. Certain factors will make the wine feel fuller-bodied, like higher alcohol or sugar content. A good way to think of it is the way skim milk feels in your mouth compared to whole milk. Light-bodied wines might seem more watery, and full-bodied wines will feel heavier and fuller in your mouth. Certain varietals tend to create full-bodied wines like Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz, while others create light to medium-bodied wines, like Pinot Noir and Gamay Noir.
Acidity refers to how sour a wine tastes. You can tell that a wine is acidic when it makes your mouth water. A wine with too much acidity can be considered too tart or sharp. A wine with not enough acidity will taste flat. But wines with the right balance of acidity with other factors like fruitiness and tannins are often referred to as crisp or lively.
The amount of acidity in wine depends on the ripeness of the grapes. Grapes that are unripe will be too acidic. Have you ever tasted a grape before it has fully ripened? It’s very sour, and the same goes for many other fruits. A grape that is overripe will be very sweet and fruity, but may not have enough acidity. It’s all about finding the right balance of acid and sugar to make the perfect wine.
Tannins are what create the drying sensation in the mouth when you drink red wine. Depending on how dry your mouth feels after you take a sip of wine, you can determine how high or low the tannins are. A wine that is high in tannins is called tannic and may taste bitter or astringent. A wine with low tannins is usually referred to as "soft" or "smooth."
Tannins are natural compounds that come from the skins, seeds, and stems of grapes. Since white wines are made without skins and seeds, they don't usually contain tannins. If the wine was aged in an oak barrel, it may have absorbed some of the softer tannins from the wood. In red wines, tannins provide structure and add a bitter taste, which adds complexity and extends the wine's finish.
When a wine is described as "jammy," it has a taste of cooked fruit (usually berries) that is similar to the taste of jam. Jammy wines are usually low in tannins and acidity and can be on the sweeter side, too. While wine professionals usually consider jammy wine a negative thing, some wine lovers may consider it a positive. It depends on how you use the word, but it can be used to describe a good quality in a wine or a fault in it.
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This is what they call it when the wine has been contaminated with cork taint. Cork taint happens when microorganisms and fungi grow inside the cork, which creates a chemical compound called TCA (2,4,6-trichloroanisole). When TCA comes into contact with the wine, it contaminates the entire bottle and ruins the wine. You will be able to tell when a wine is corked because it will have an off-putting, musty, moldy-newspaper flavor and aroma, as well as a dry aftertaste.
This means that the wine has aromas or flavors of the earth, such as soil, mushrooms, fall leaves, and hay. It is the opposite of fruity wine and usually refers to a wine that is really dry. Some people do find earthiness to be a positive element in wine and that it adds to the wine’s complexity. However, too much of these flavors can cause a wine to taste corked (a wine fault that comes from contaminants in the cork). Earthy flavors tend to be found more often in red wines such as Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Baco Noir.
A complex wine is one with a lot of depth. It is rich in flavors and intensity. A complex wine has a perfect balance of acidity, tannins, and sweetness and has many different flavors and aromas.
The finish is the lasting impression of the wine. It describes the flavors and textures left in your mouth after swallowing. The length of the wine indicates the quality. A longer finish (meaning the flavors stay on your palate for more than a few seconds) indicates a good quality wine.
How to Taste Wine Like an Expert
There is a 4-step method for wine tasting that wine experts and connoisseurs use. Anyone can learn how to taste wine like an expert with a few tools and a little bit of practice. This is a great way of becoming more familiar with the different styles of wine and learning how to describe them as professionals do. Use these steps below along with the wine terms previously discussed, and you will be on your way to a more meaningful and enjoyable wine tasting experience.
First, you will need a notepad or some blank wine tasting note templates. This simple and free printable wine tasting template is all you need. Or you can check out these wine tasting placemats by Wine Folly if you want something more detailed. Now all you need is the wine you will be tasting. Just follow the steps below.
First, use your eyes to observe the wine. Just looking at the wine can tell you a lot about its quality. Identify the color of the wine and make a note of it. Check out this wine color chart for a complete list of hues.
Now you will want to smell the wine. There are hundreds of different aromas that can be found in wine. The aromas may vary from person to person, and generally, there is no wrong answer. No one can tell you what you are smelling, so just try to identify what aromas you smell and write them down. I love using the wine aroma wheel to help me identify the specific aromas. Sometimes it's hard to figure out exactly what you are smelling. The aroma wheel is very detailed and can help you narrow it down. You should also make a note of the intensity of the aroma. Is it light, medium, or intense?
Now for the fun part. You finally get to taste the wine. You will want to focus on the flavors and the mouthfeel of the wine. Make sure to swish the wine around in your mouth to allow the wine to reach every part of your tongue before you swallow. It also helps to take a second sip and allow some air into your mouth to help open up the wine. You will be trying to identify the sweetness, acidity, body, tannin, alcohol, as well as any specific flavors you can identify. Make a note of every characteristic on your tasting note.
To finish up, you will provide your opinion on the quality of the wine. Ask yourself these questions. Is the wine balanced? Does the wine have a good balance of sweetness, acidity, and tannins? Is the wine complex? As mentioned above, a complex wine will have a lot of depth and is rich in flavors and intensity. Also, give your overall opinion of the wine. Is it good, great, not so good?
Remember, these are your personal tasting notes for your own reference. There is no right or wrong. Just have fun and enjoy the journey of tasting and learning about wine. Happy tasting!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2018 Jennifer C