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Wine Geek Speak

Commonly used wine terms and what they mean 

By Jimmy Quaile, Certified Sommelier

 

ACIDITY

Tartness. Think of what a lemon does to your mouth. Ok, not THAT much but you get the idea. Typically, wines from colder climates have higher levels of acid.

 

AROMA

The smell of the wine. (The smell of the grape is the Bouquet)

 

ANGULAR

A wine with notes that hit you in different parts of your palate. An angular wine is usually high in acid.

 

AUSTERE

Wines with less fruit and higher acidity. Not always a bad thing. Sometimes wines with less fruit are more in balance with all the other elements of the wine.

 

BALANCE

When all the elements of wine come together. Think of a band singing harmony; you don’t want that one guy singing louder than the other guys.

 

BODY

Having to do with alcohol level, it is mainly felt on the palate and is best described like milk; Light-body = Skim, Medium-body = Whole, Full = Cream.

 

BOUQUET

The smell of the grapes. (The total smell of the wine is the Aroma)

 

BUTTERY

Rich. Creamy on your tongue. Low acidity with a smooth finish.

 

CLOSED

A wine that is possibly good but isn’t showing its full potential. Like giving the wine the benefit of the doubt, but it doesn’t taste like anything at that moment.

 

COMPLEX

A well-balanced wine with layers of flavor that change with time and has length on the finish.

 

CORKED

A wine that smells like musty, wet cardboard or CORK! It can sometimes blow off, but is usually a fatal flaw.

 

CREAMY

This term is most associated with Champagne and a fermentation process called Malo-lactic, which makes that big American chardonnay feel so buttery on your palate.

 

CRISP

Stemming from acid levels, it is a term most often used to describe white or Rosé wines. A wine that makes you salivate.

 

EARTHY

Think of all elements in earth; Leaves, rocks, dirt, mushrooms, potting soil. It can be a good or bad trait depending on the level of earthy-ness you like.

 

ELEGANT

A wine that that isn’t over-the-top. Not overly fruity, overly acidic, or overly anything. It’s generally considered a good thing, depending on your preference. The term is most often used to describe French Burgundy.

 

FAT

It would be easy to just list synonyms for the word fat, but in wine it means there is a lack of acid to make the fruit taste fresh and vibrant. Like in society, It’s not a desirable term no matter what the context.

 

FLABBY

A wine having no acidity. Just Fruit. Like flat soda.

 

FORTIFIED WINE

A style of wine that’s been fortified with Brandy.

 

GREEN

The fruit seems under-ripe, or literally has a vegetal aroma and taste.

 

HERBACEOUS

Pretty much what you think it means.

 

Hot

A wine with an overly high alcohol levels.

 

JAMMY

The term is usually applied to red wines with high alcohol and low acidity. Grape Jam, get it?

 

JUICY

Silly term. Wine is grape juice. Ok…Salivating.

 

LEES

Leftover yeast particles that sink to the bottom of the fermentation vessel as the wine is being made. The winemaker will sometimes stir the lees (called Bâtonnage in French) to increase extraction and give a creamier texture.

 

LEGS

We’re still talking wine here. After swirling, the long streams running down the inside of the glass. Mainly an indicator of higher alcohol.

 

LENGTH

The length of time that a wine lingers on the palate after swallowing. A longer length typically indicates greater complexity.

 

MINERALITY

Generally an over-used term. Smells and tastes like stones, slate, wet concrete or chalk. It sounds weird but can be really good! There is considerable debate as to whether the mineral character actually comes from the soil or not.

 

OAKED

It’s amazing that the smell and taste of oak got to be ‘normal’ for wine. Although obviously coming from the barrels, where the oak comes from and the age and previous use of the barrel brings different elements to the wine.

 

OPULENT

Big, rich and bold.

 

OXIDIZED

A wine that was exposed to too much air. It is a good or bad term depending on the wine. Although most used to describe a fatal flaw, some wines, like Sherry are intentionally oxidized to give them a nutty taste.

 

pH

PH is the measure of relative acidity vs. alkalinity of any liquid, on a scale of 0 to 14, with 7 being neutral. Winemakers use pH as a way to measure ripeness in relation to acidity. The higher the pH the lower the acidity.

 

PLONK

A derogatory term for cheap wine.

 

RESERVE

Although a few countries have restrictions for its use, it is largely an American term indicating a wine of higher quality; it has no legal meaning.

 

ROUND

A wine with soft tannins and low acidity tends to have a softer, more mouth-filling texture and richness of taste.

 

STEELY

A high acid and bracing wine. A term generally used for un-oaked wine.

 

STONE FRUIT

Aromas and tastes associated with pitted fruit, such as peach, apricot, apple, and pear.

 

STRUCTURE

A wine with high tannin and acidity.

 

SUPER TUSCAN

A red wine from Tuscany that wasn’t made according to established or regulated rules; often a blend containing Cabernet and/or Merlot.

 

SUPPLE

A term used to describe smooth or balanced wines.

 

TABLE WINE

It would seem a funny term but actually means a wine made with grapes grown outside of regulated regions or by unapproved methods.

 

TANNINS

You know when you taste a very strong tea before adding any milk or sugar? That drying mouth feel? That! It comes from the skins, seeds and stems. Undesirable (to some) in young wines, but gives the wine structure and is required if the wine is going to have any age potential. Over time Tannins evolve to the silky mouth-feel prized by wine collectors.

 

TERROIR

An over-used French term that means the combination of soil, climate, and all factors that influence the character of the wine.

 

TIGHT

A wine that’s not ready to drink or needs time in a decanter to bloom.

 

TOASTY

Wine barrels are charred or “toasted”. That char is transferred to the juice. It can be a very pleasant attribute, especially with Champagne.

 

TROPICAL

Aromas and tastes associated with fruit from the tropics such as pineapple, mango, kiwi, leechee and passion fruit.

 

UNCTUOUS

Alright, to a wine geek it means oily. It’s used to make the the listener think the taster knows wine.

 

UNOAKED

A wine that wasn’t fermented in oak.

 

VARIETAL

A wine named after that grape. The opposite of a blend.

 

VINTAGE

The year the grapes were grown. A particular year in the wine business.

 

YIELD

The amount of grapes harvested in a particular year.

 

 

 

 

Wine Geek Speak
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