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Wine Tasting Terms That Every Wine Lover Should Know

Updated on December 16, 2016

There are many wine tasting terms that are important for a wine lover to know when it comes to choosing a wine. When you understand what these terms mean, you will be able to easily communicate what particular characteristics you personally enjoy. Besides the obvious terms like sweet or dry, oaked or unoaked, fruity or spicy, here are some of the terms that wine tasters use to describe a wine.

Vintage

The vintage on a wine label is the year that the grapes were harvested. If there is no year on the label that means the wine was made from more than one vintage. A vintage wine just means that the grapes were all harvested from the same year. The vintage can also give you an idea of the quality of the wine. Some years may have better growing conditions based on the weather, producing a better yield. For example, a hot summer, with a good amount of precipitation will produce riper and fruitier grapes, which will result in more a flavorful and full bodied wine.

Nose

Wine tasting is not just about drinking. Smelling the wine before tasting 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 create new smells in the wine like fermentation, aging and exposure to oak.

Body

The body refers to how the weight of the wine feels in your mouth. Certain factors will make the wine feel fuller bodied like a 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 wine might seem more watery and fuller bodied wine 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 the 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 a wine with the right balance of acidity with other factors like fruitiness and tannins, are often referred to as crisp or lively. The acidity will depend on the ripeness of the grapes. Grapes that are unripe will be too acidic. Have you ever tasted a grape before it was fully ripened? It’s very sour, and the same goes with many other fruits. A grape that is over ripe will be very sweet and fruity but may not have enough acidity. It’s all about the right balance of acid to sugar to make the perfect wine.

Tannins

Tannins are what create the drying sensation in the mouth. 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. They are natural compounds that come from the skins, seeds and stems of the grape. Since white wines are made without the skins and seeds, they don't usually contain tannins. Unless they are aged in an oak barrel, they 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 wines finish.

Jammy

When a wine is referred to as jammy it means the wine has a taste of cooked fruit (specifically berries), similar to the taste of jam. Jammy wines are usually low in tannins and acidity and can be on the sweeter side. While wine professionals usually consider a 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.

Earthy

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 a fruity wine and usually refers to a wine that is really dry. Some people do find earthy to be a positive element in a wine and that it adds to the wines complexity. However, too much of these flavors can cause a wine to taste corked (a wine fault that comes from contaminates in the cork). Earthy flavors tend to be found more often in red wines such as Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot.

Complex

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.

Finish

The finish is the lasting impression of the wine. It describes the flavors or 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.

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      Lena Durante 3 months ago from San Francisco Bay Area

      This is a great primer for novices. The next time someone tells me they want to get serious about wine tasting, I'll point them here! Thanks!