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How to use words to describe wine like a pro

wine lingo

So, you already know what dry and sweet mean when referring to wine. But what do AVA, terroir, and tannins mean? Help! Don’t worry. We will clear up your confusion about these words to describe wine. Just keep reading…

Use your words to describe wine

Are you ready to get started?

Here are some of the most common words used to describe wine. If you think of more, please let me know in the comments. I will definitely add them!

Acidity – Although all wines are acidic, sugars balance out the acid. So if your wine tastes tart or sour it has high acidity and low sugar level. Yea! That means it probably has less calories too. Toast to another glass!

Balance – Balance refers to the relationship between fruit flavors, acidity, sweetness, weight, and texture of wines.

Blends – Wine producers create blends by using several grape varietals. Needless to say, this sometimes occurs when they have an overproduction of certain grapes. They then mix those excess grapes together to form new combinations. Blends also provide a way for them to combine qualities such as full body with a hint of sweetness.

Body – this term refers to the heaviness of the wine. Full bodied wines are more viscous, like cream. Whereas light bodied wines are lighter, similar to the consistency of skim milk.

Buttery wine?

Buttery – Buttery wine has an oily or buttery smooth texture. This results from the aging of wine in oak barrels.

Cabernet Sauvignon – This refers to wine made from grapes which are a cross between Sauvignon Blanc vines and Cabernet Franc. These grapes create a full bodied red wine with woodsy and berry flavors.

Chardonnay – Popular green skinned grape produced in almost every wine region. Taste depends on terroir, (not terror!)

Dry – Dry is the opposite of sweet. If you feel like you might need a snack with your wine, it’s probably dry. Dry wines pair nicely with food. These include wines like Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. Dry reds include wines such as Merlot and Pinot Noir. (For a treat, try some Argentinian wines.)

Yuck! who wants their wine smelling like a barn?

Earthy – This term is used to describe natural flavors such as vegetal, woodsy, or farm smells. I think the barn smells refer to fresh hay or grass. Earthy aromas have that fresh and outdoorsy smell (not cow manure).

Fermentation – This process occurs when bacteria and yeast feed on sugar, subsequently converting compounds into acids, gases, and alcohol. Sound gross? Not really, you eat fermented foods all the time such as bread or pickles.

demonstrates words to describe wine by displaying a wine flight

Flight – Bars sometimes serve several smaller portions of wine of your choice, called a flight.

Grapes – Ridiculous! Of course you know what grapes are! But did you know that the different varieties of wine often get their names from the grape varietals used?

Harvest – This is when the grapes are picked. Then they are crushed and made into wine. Remember the old classic TV episode of I Love Lucy when she had to stomp on the grapes? Now this is done more effectively and sanitarily, with machines. In the Northern hemisphere workers harvest grapes from August through October. Whereas in the Southern Hemisphere they harvest them from October through March.

International – Originally grape vines grew naturally in the middle east and southern Europe. Since then they have been transported all over the world. Now you can find amazing wines grown and imported from almost everywhere on the globe. The U.S. is the number one country for importing worldwide wines.

Wine goes to the space station!

Legs – No! Wine can’t get up and walk around! Legs are the streaks that stay on the inside of the glass after you swirl the wine. The more wine stays on the side of the glass, the higher the alcohol content. If you are a science geek, you can read about a NASA study telling how this phenomena works in space!

Light Reds – You may wonder why I am including this as a wine description. While heavier red wines are often paired with meats, lighter reds can accompany seafoods as well. People serve them chilled, making them a refreshing summer beverage.

Minimal Intervention – This means most of the work is done in the vineyard, carefully picking grapes, paying attention to soil composition, and pruning vines. Wine producers do little in the actual winery to alter the final product. Consequently, these wines contain less additives.

New vs. old

New World Wines – Wines with this label come from countries where explorers transported the grapes. These wines have higher alcohol content as well as a more fruity flavor.

Old World Wines – Old world wines come from countries in Europe where wine making originated. These wines often have a lighter body and higher acidity.

Organic – This means no pesticides or chemical herbicides are used on the vines.

Palate – This term refers to your sense of taste.

Pinot Noir – While originally grown in France, wine growers now grow this grape worldwide, making it one of the most popular red wines.

Quality – Different countries have different ways of identifying the quality of their grapes. You will learn more about this further down. Keep reading!

Stop! You’re making me blush!

Rose or Blush – No, these wines aren’t embarrassed! Producers only allow these wines to come in contact with grape skins for a minimal amount of time. This causes the pale pink color instead of deep red. Wine makers use a variety of grapes to make these lighter wines. People often serve them chilled for summer drinking.

Skin Contact – We’re not talking about transference of a disease here! Instead, we are talking about the contact between the grape juice and the grape skins. No matter what color the grape, the juice remains clear or pale pink. Red wine gets its color from tannins in the grape skins. Red wines remain in contact with the skins longer giving them that rich dark color.

Sparkling Wine – These wines are saturated with carbon dioxide molecules, making them fizzy. The most well known is Champagne which comes from the Champagne region of France. Prosecco is from Italy. And Cava is from Spain.

Sulfites – Sulfites preserve freshness and flavor of wine from oxidation, excess bacteria and yeasts. Wines without sulfites need to be drank while young.

Moving towards eco-friendly

Sustainable – This term is used to identify wine making principles that support the environment and local communities for the future.

Tasting Notes – These words describe the tastes of the wine. You will hear people mention fruit flavors as well as things like baking spices or even cigar box! I proudly say, that I can finally identify certain fruits and spices 50% of the time. As for the rest, it’s all Greek to me!

Tannins – Grape skins and seeds contain tannins which give red wine its color. They also help break down proteins found in meats and cheeses. In addition, they help break down fats. Therefore, red wines pair with richer, heavier foods to aid in digestion. I like to describe the feel of tannins as the furry feeling left in my mouth after eating raw spinach. However, people also say the tannins in wine tastes chalky, like over steeped tea.

Terroir – Terroir refers to the climate where a grape varietal grows. This includes soil components, weather conditions, and amount of sunlight.

And I thought it was a fly!

Unfiltered – Filtering wine removes extra yeasts and other particles from the wine giving the wine a clearer appearance. However, many wineries choose not to add a filtration process to their wines to keep them more natural. You might find residual fruit sediment at the bottom.

Varietal – This term means a specific type of grape.

Vintage – The vintage tells what year the growers harvested the grapes. Each vintage will contain different qualities based on weather and growing conditions that year.

Vegan – While wineries create wine from grapes and yeast, sometimes producers use animal products during the filtration process. If the label doesn’t clearly state that the wine is vegan, it probably is not.

Weather – Weather affects how much sugar grapes contain and when the grapes mature.

Weight – This refers to the heaviness of the wine in your mouth. Wines with lower alcohol content feel lighter. Whereas full bodied heavier wines have more alcohol.

Young – No, this does not refer to wine offspring, (although it would be pretty cool if those bottles could reproduce in our homes!) Young wine means it has not been aged. Young wine has recently been bottled and tends to have more fruit flavors. Usually, white wines are not aged, although Chardonnay is at times aged in oak barrels giving it a heartier taste.

Zinfandel – This is a blush wine made from zinfandel grapes.

Words to describe wine viniculture

These abbreviations are some of the classifications used to describe wines

  • AVA- American Viticultural Area means 85% of the grapes in that wine must come from the region listed on the label. Regions are divided up based on the specific attributes of an area which make it distinct from surrounding areas.
  • VdT- Vino de Tavola, which translates to table wine. This will be your everyday wine similar to the house wine in a restaurant. However, in Italy, table wine is still exceptional.
  • IGP- Indicazione Geografica Protetta links the reputation of the wine based on the region where it is produced. This standard guarantee’s that the product, whether food or wine, is authentic with no additives from somewhere else.
  • DOC- Denominazione d’Origine Controllata means that the product was produced, processed, and packaged, in a specific region according to tradition. They regulate the quality at each phase of production.
  • DOCG – Denominazione di Origine Controllata e garantita. These wines adhere to the same high standards of DOC wines. In addition they are subjected to a blind taste test administered by the government.

And there you have it! Please comment with any words I have left out. Of course, you can comment if you learned something from the article too.

Donna Emperador is a creative blogger and copywriter. Donna believes in learning about different cultures while sharing good food and wine. She has lived in South Florida for over 20 years and enjoys spending time traveling and making wine culture easier to understand for readers.

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