11 Popular Wine Terms to Make You Sound Like an Expert
Sound like a pro with these terms.
by Erin Henderson
I was hosting an online gathering for our newsletter subscribers when someone asked what people are talking about when using popular wine terms like “full bodied,” “tannic,” or “dry.”
Unfortunately, it’s a longer answer that can’t be rattled off in a minute or two. Often, entire classes are dedicated to these explanations (thankfully, there’s Wine School to help with that.)
For a quick sip, here are the most common descriptors to familiarize yourself with, so you can sound like you know what you’re doing.
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An integral part of a wine’s structure is acid. Some wines have higher amounts, some lower, but all wines must have a bit. To say a wine is acidic means it’s higher in acid, making your mouth water, like sucking on a lemon. Brut Champagne, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling are all high acid wines.
Body – Light, Medium, or Full
This refers to the weight of the wine in your mouth. Think of the weights of water, milk, and cream. Each leave a different coating and impression on your palate. The same happens with wine. Wines that have less alcohol and/or sugar are light bodied, those with more are full bodied. A Pinot Grigio is typically light bodied, a Cabernet Sauvignon is usually full bodied.
A wine that smells like wet cardboard or musty basement. This is a fault from TCA, or trichloroanisol, which is commonly called cork taint. Just because your wine is sealed with a cork, does not mean it’s corked.
Dry and Sweet
This is one of the toughest concepts for wine lovers to wrap their heads around. Sweet wines – Icewine, Sauternes, Port etc. – have lots of residual sugar in them, making them irrefutably sweet. Table wines, the common grapes you’ve heard of like Chardonnay, Shiraz, or Merlot, for example, have very little sugar left in them, which make them dry. However, wine enthusiasts can get confused because sometimes dry wines with very ripe or jammy fruit flavours, strong oak notes, or even higher alcohol can leave a sweet impression despite having very little sugar in the wine itself.
Wines that are more savoury in flavour and aroma, and less fruity. Cabernet Franc is a good example of an earthy wine.
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Quite simply finish means after taste. The taste that lingers on your palate after you spit, or most likely swallow, your wine.
Fruit-Forward or Fruity
Wines that have upfront fruit flavours and aromas as their primary descriptors. Beaujolais Nouveau is very fruity.
A tasting descriptor for wines that have lots of ripe fruit flavours that are reminiscent of jam (as opposed to fresh fruit.) Inexpensive Zinfandel is often quite jammy.
Oak barrels, depending on how many times they’ve been used and how intense they are charred on the inside, leave aromas and flavours on the wine to some extent. This can be literally notes of wood, smoky, or cedar, or it can have more spicy notes like vanilla, toffee, or butter in whites, and mocha, espresso, or clove in reds. Oak aged Chardonnay is a commonly described as oaky.
Tannins are a drying compound found in lots of food stuffs – walnut skins, black tea, dark chocolate, and grape skins. Tannins are found mostly in red wines because in order to make a red wine, the clear grape juice needs to have contact with the dark skin to colour it. While that colour dyes the juice, it also transfers the drying, astringent tannins into the liquid. Barolo is very tannic.
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The year the grapes for the wine were picked.
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