A Novice’s Guide To Wine Lingo

Although much of wine lingo can end up sounding like complete bullshit, there is a method to the madness.  You don’t have to sound like an effete snob when discussing wine, but it helps to be able to know the salient terms when seeking to broaden your appreciation of wine.  The following are some basic terms and exactly what they mean in plain English:



A naturally forming component of wine is Tartaric Acid, and this is the element that contributes to a wine’s level of acidity — or tartness.  A mildly tart wine is referred to as “crisp”, whereas a strongly tart wine is called “acidic”.  The degree to which one likes the acidity within wine is a matter of personal taste, and also can depend upon which food type the wine accompanies.



The word “aroma” as pertains to wine is much the same when used in common vernacular.  The aroma is obviously determined by the sense of smell, and it is a major component within the overall wine experience.  Experts can often determine a wine’s vintage by aroma alone without even tasting it.



The word astringent describes the drying effect some wines can have causing you to pucker your mouth.  This is different from being “tart”.  Whereas acidic wines take their characteristic from Tartaric Acid, astringent wines become so from tannin.  Over time, aged wines become less astringent as they once were when initially produced.



As applies to a wine, the word “balance” refers to the mix between fruitiness, acidity, alcohol level and how astringent it is.  A balanced wine is said to mix all of these components without any one standing out above the others.



A wine’s “body” refers to how heavy it sits on your palate.  Dissolved solids can lend towards a heavier body, and alcohol content can also impact the body of some wines.



You surely have heard the term “bouquet” as applied to a wine, but many of you might not actually know what it means.  The bouquet refers to the odors a wine acquires via aging and consequent fermentation.



A wine is said to be dry when it completely lacks any sense of sweetness.



A wine is classified as “off-dry” when it is slightly sweet but mostly dry.



A wine’s “finish” describes the lingering aromas, flavors and the feel of your mouth after the wine is swallowed.



The term “structure” relates to how well the various components of a wine merge together.  Being aged is a key to a wine’s structure — and because of structure fine wines get better with time.



A “varietal” is a wine named for the main grape from which it came.  One of the most popular varietal wines is a Cabernet Sauvignon.


Hopefully this brief guide to basic wine terminology allows you to better understand what is being said at that next wine tasting or trip to Napa Valley.  Although much of wine lingo can be mumbo jumbo and marketing buzzwords, these key terms give you the vocabulary to describe what you are experiencing when tasting a given wine.

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