Wine-speak can sometimes feel like a foreign language. How do you figure out the difference between tannins and terroir, and how in the world do they matter in the wine glass? But, like learning a foreign language, starting with the basics can help. These 12 tasting terms give you the building blocks of vino vocab.
1. Acidity: Acid is one of the key components of wine structure, providing a framework to hold flavors in place and preserve them through the aging process. Higher-acid wines are often called crisp, lively, or refreshing. While too much acidity leads to a sour impression (think biting into a lemon wedge), too little leaves a wine feeling soft or flabby.
2. Appellation: The term for a wine’s legally defined growing region. The term may be attributed to France’s Appellation d’Origine Controlée system. Areas of land are delineated based on the geographical characteristics and resulting flavors of the region.
3. Aroma: Aromas refer to the scents that waft from a wine. They range from fragrant floral notes to crisp fruit flavors and even spices.
4. Balance: A wine is balanced when its key components—fruitiness, sweetness, acidity, tannin, and alcohol—interact without a single component outshining the rest.
5. Body: Imagine sipping a glass of nonfat milk, then a glass of whole milk, then a glass of heavy whipping cream. This is the concept of “body,” or the weight a wine has on the palate. A full-bodied wine will feel heftier on the palate; a light-bodied wine, much less so.
6. Dry: Dry means that a wine is devoid of all sugars—in other words, all the juice’s sugar has been converted into alcohol. (Note: A wine can be dry and still taste sweet due to the levels of fruitiness.)
7. Hot: It doesn’t refer to serving temperature—“hot” is a negative tasting descriptor that means a wine’s alcohol is showing more than any other flavor component.
8. Finish: The final taste left by a wine after you swallow (or, if you are participating in a wine tasting event, after you spit). Wines can have a short, medium, or long finish. A delicious, lingering finish is a reliable indicator of high quality.
9. Legs: Sometimes known as “tears,” legs refer to the drops of liquid that stream down the sides of a wine glass after the wine is swirled. Legs drip more slowly when a wine is higher in alcohol and/or sugar.
10. Palate: Refers to both your mouth itself and the way a wine tastes therein, from body and acidity to specific flavors.
11. Tannin: A compound that comes from a grape’s skins, seeds, and stems, tannin contributes to a wine’s texture, sometimes to the point of astringency (think strong black tea). Tannin is more potent in big young reds, such as zinfandel, and softens over time.
12. Variety: The type of grape; for example, Chardonnay, Pinot noir, or Cabernet Sauvignon.
Enophile? Meritage? What do all those wine terms mean? Learn more in our wine glossary.
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