Wine jargon: Decoding six common wine terms
Wine talk can be a tricky thing for a casual drinker. Between “aromas of the forest floor”, “robust tannins” and “modicums of juniper”, tasting notes can end up sounding more like dubious poetry than, you know, an objective description of how a drink tastes.
Thankfully you don’t have to be a wine expert to enjoy drinking it, but learning the basics of a few key terms will help you – and the person who’s selling the bottle – hone in on what you’re after.
We’ve decoded six common wine terms and what they mean, hopefully using words everyone can understand.
You know how red wine can sometimes taste, hard, dry and even a little bristly on your tongue? That’s tannins doing their job. Tannins are compounds that occur naturally in plants, and are found in the seeds, skin and stems of grapes. These compounds find their way into wine when the juice is fermented with its skins and pips. Red grapes tend to have more tannins, plus – to absorb the colour – the juice sits on its skins longer.
Tannins can also be imparted from wood (another part of a plant) when wine is stored in oak barrels. Also, tannins are antioxidants, and those are good for you, right? Fun fact: Black tea is loaded with tannins too.
In a sentence: “The age of this Nebbiolo has really allowed the tannins to soften.”
Oxidation means exposing the wine to air. Depending on where you are in the process of making/drinking the wine, this can be a good or bad thing. Good for a glass you’ve just poured out and given a swirl to allow the wine to blossom, bad for an unfinished bottle that’s been sitting on your kitchen counter for a few days slowly turning to vinegar.
In a sentence: “Hoo boy, this four-day-old bottle of Shiraz is really oxidised. Down the sink it goes.”
Decanting is the process of pouring a bottle of wine into a different vessel to let it oxidise a little (see above) and to separate the sediment. The idea is that when wine is “decanted” into a different vessel (normally a glass one), the exposure to oxygen lets the shy flavours and smells shine.
In a sentence: “Let’s decant this bottle of Cabernet now so it tastes better in an hour.”
While wines of one varietal (a Pinot Noir or a Chardonnay, for example) are made from just one type of grape, a blend is a wine that’s made from blending two or more grape types. The idea is that the proportions of the blend will result in a better, more balanced bottle of wine than one made of just the original components on their own.
In a sentence: “Blended wines are good because they help winemakers experiment, and we like that.”
Acidity is generally the ‘backbone’ of all wine – it refers to the tart, sour and fresh traits of the wine. You know when you sip a Riesling and your mouth puckers? That’s from the acidity. It makes you salivate and crave another sip. Like most things in wine, acidity is all about balance, and sweetness decreases the tart taste.
In a sentence: “The powerful acidity of this wine balances the ripeness of the fruit. Crisp!”
The ‘finish’ in wine is the gift that keeps on giving. It refers to the taste that remains on your palate after you down your sip. It’s the aftertaste, the encore, the last impression. Saying a wine has a ‘long finish’ is always a good thing, given you like the wine’s taste.
In a sentence: “This lengthy finish is delightful; I’ll be tasting it for days.”