16 Wine terms for beginners
The world of wine comes with its own vocabulary. There’s a whole collection of words which are used to describe the wine making journey, from vineyard to glass and everything that happens to your senses before and after you take a sip.
You don’t need to be a wine expert to understand the jargon, perhaps you just want to impress at your next dinner party or join in conversations about wine with your friends. If you’re a wine novice, looking to sharpen up on your knowledge, these 16 wine terms for beginners will help get you started.
Wine terms for beginners
Generally speaking, all wines sit on the acidic side of the pH spectrum, most will range from 2.9 to about 4.0 pH (7 is neutral). Acidity gives a wine its tart and sour taste and it’s what makes your mouth water. There are several different types of acids found in wine, which will affect how acidic a wine tastes and there’s an art to creating wine with well balanced acidity. If there’s not enough, the wine will taste flat, if there’s too much, the wine will taste too sharp.
This is the act of letting the wine ‘breathe’ before pouring a glass, to achieve the best taste. You can do this by decanting the wine or using an aerator. As a rule of thumb, young white wines don’t benefit from aeration, but earthy-flavoured red wines do.
Wine body refers to how heavy or rich a wine feels inside your mouth and it can be influenced by alcohol level, sweetness level and grape variety. You’ll hear the term used in three ways: light body, medium body and full body.
- Wine with a higher alcohol content of over 13.5%, are generally more full-bodied and feel heavier in the mouth.
- Light-bodied wines usually feel lighter in the mouth because of their lower alcohol content, which is typically under 12.5%.
- Medium-bodied wines lie on the scale in the middle of the full and light bodied varieties and generally have an alcohol content of between 12.5% and 13.5%.
This term is used to encompass all of a wine’s aromas, that it acquires whilst maturing in the barrel or bottle. It is not usually a word used for young wines and is instead used to refer to older, more mature wines.
A wine that is described as ‘complex’ will exhibit layers of flavours that develop from initial taste to the finish and show character from the ageing process. You’ll also be able to pick these flavours out on the nose.
‘Corked’ is a negative term, which refers to a wine that has traces of TCA – a compound which creates an unpleasant smell and taste. When a wine is corked, it will taste and smell musty or mouldy and is considered spoiled.
Decanting involves transferring the wine from its bottle, into a decanter. The process helps aeration and separates the wine from any formed sediment in the bottle.
One of the more common terms you’ve likely heard, a dry wine has less sugars left in it after the fermentation process, compared to sweet wine. As a result, these wines feel ‘dry’ in the mouth.
This is the act of removing unwanted elements from the wine, to improve its clarity or flavour. Fining agents are added to the wine after fermentation, before fermentation or before bottling, to achieve the desired outcome.
The ‘finish’ is essentially the aftertaste, texture and feeling that is left in your mouth, once you have swallowed the wine. Wine experts will assess the finish of a wine as part of determining the quality.
You may hear the term ‘on the lees’ (or, sur lie in French) in reference to wine. Lees are essentially dead yeast cells which, unless they’re filtered out, are found at the bottom of wine vessels. Often, the winemaker chooses to keep the lees in the wine, as it creates enhancing flavours for particular types of wine.
Mouthfeel is the word used to describe the sensations felt in the mouth after taking a sip of a wine. This can be influenced by acidity, alcohol level, tannins and sugar quantities, as well as elements of the winemaking process.
‘On the nose’ is a phrase you’ll hear when experts discuss the aroma and bouquet of a wine. ‘Nose’ is also another word used for a wine’s aroma.
These little compounds are found throughout nature, in plants, fruit and in wood bark. Their purpose in the wild is to ward off animals from eating a plant’s fruit before it is ripe. When red wine is made the whole grape is used and tannins in the seeds, skin and stems leach into the wine during the fermentation process. They provide texture and mouthfeel to red wine as well as a sense of weight and structure.
‘Terroir’ is a French term which essentially means ‘a sense of place.’ In the world of wine, ‘terroir’ refers to the belief that the climate, land and traditions where a grape is grown is embodied by the taste of the wine it produces. You might hear someone say something like ‘this wine retains the terroir of the region.’
This is a term that refers to the year that a particular wine’s grapes were harvested. Historically, there have been years that have produced particularly excellent grapes and these vintages will be associated with higher quality wines. If there is no vintage on the bottle’s label, then the wine has most probably been made with a blend of vintages.
We hope you enjoy using these new additions to your wine vocabulary. If these wine terms for beginners have whet your whistle and you’re eager to learn more, our Vineyard Tours, led by wine experts Nick and America, are a fun way to delve deeper into the world of wine.