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Wine Talk: Demystifying Wine Terms

Oaky, spicey, raw … if you’re new to the wine-making world, you may be wondering what some of these descriptive terms actually mean. We’re here to help. Below you’ll find some simple descriptions to go along with common wine terms.

Describes a wine’s tart, slightly acerbic taste and a harsh feeling in the mouth. This is an undesirable characteristic caused by excess acid in the wine.

Bitterness in wine can be caused by tannins, chemical salts and bacteria. Some grapes, such as Gewurztraminer, have bitterness in their flavor as well. Although a hint of bitterness can contribute balance to a wine, an overtly bitter characteristic unfavourable when it dominates the pallet.

This refers to a wine with distinct, obvious features, either pertaining to its style or its variety. Character has nothing to do with a wine’s quality, but without it, a wine can be considered dull.

Describes a wine without any cloudiness or haziness, which can otherwise suggest a flaw in the wine. A clear wine will sometimes have some sediment in the bottom of the bottle, which is OK, especially in older wines.

This term is used to describe a wine that has been negatively affected by a faulty cork. Many compare the odor and flavor to that of moldy, wet cardboard. Wine professionals estimate that 3 to 5 percent of wines are ruined because of bad corks—which is why today we see more synthetic and screw cap bottles.

Describes wine that is not sweet. In very dry wines, all the sugar has been converted to alcohol during fermentation. A medium-dry wine has a small amount of residual sugar. A wine with the slightest hint of sweetness is referred to as off-dry.

When wine-tasting, this is a positive description for a wine’s impression on the palate. This type of wine is relatively high in tannin and acidity, but remains well balanced.

The finish is part of a wine’s overall balance. It refers to the final flavour and texture impression that remains on the palate after a wine is swallowed.

This describes wines that is heavy on the palate. The flavor and character are dull due to a lack of acidity and structure.

This refers to a wine that has an aroma of flowers, such as violets, citrus blossoms or roses. This impression can also be sensed on the palate. Floral characteristics are more likely to be found in white wines such as Johannesburg Riesling and Gewurztraminer, rather than in reds.

A term used to describes wine that has a flavour and aroma of fresh fruit. In addition to grapes, this fruity characteristic can be reminiscent of apples, blackberries and even raspberries. Wines that are high in fruit generally have a fresh quality and distinctive character.

This describes a wine that lacks character, flavour, body and most other positive attributes.

After a glass of wine has been swirled, it often leaves a coating on the inside of the glass that separates into rivulets, called legs. These legs slowly slide down the glass indicating a wine that is rich and full-bodied.

A wine that has fresh, youthful, fruity characteristics, usually resulting from good acidity, is referred to as lively. Although this term sometimes applies to red wines, it is more apt for whites.

This describes an appealing mint-like characteristic found in some California Cabernets and Zinfandels. As long as it is not predominant, this is considered a desirable trait.

A term used for some wines, such as Sherry or Tawny Port, that have a crisp, nutty characteristic. Full-bodied Chardonnays sometimes also have a very subtle nutty flavour.

This is a term used to describe a toasty, vanilla flavour and fragrance in wines that have been aged in oak barrels. An oaky characteristic is wonderful in the proper balance. Too much oakiness, however, can overwhelm a wine’s other components.

A raw wine is typically young and undeveloped. It is often harsh because of unbalanced alcohol, tannins and acidity. With time, raw wines can age to become balanced and quite drinkable.

A wine-tasting term describing wine that is full-bodied, round and full of fruit. This term is more apt for red wines than for white.

Another wine-tasting term for a wine that has a biting sensation due to excess acidity. Some sharp wines will mellow with age.

Describes a smoky character found in some wines, usually resulting from the soil in which the grapes were grown, or the barrels in which the wine was aged.

This wine-tasting term describes the lively, fragrant aroma and flavour. It is a term that may cover many spices including allspice, cinnamon, cloves, mace, nutmeg, and pepper. This spicy characteristic is generally related to the grape, but can also come from the wine’s contact with oak barrels.

A group of astringent substances found in the seeds, skins, and stems of grapes, as well as in oak barrels make up tannins. Tannins are important in the production of good red wines because they provide flavour, structure and texture. Also, because of their antioxidant traits, tannins contribute to long and graceful aging. Tannins are detectable by a dry, sometimes puckery sensation in the mouth and back of the throat.

Do you have any wine terms you’d like to know more about? Tell us about them!

Categories: Wine Facts

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 2-292 Stone Road West, Guelph, ON N1G 3C4      519-836-6700