Talking about wine can be intimidating. Especially if you’re not “in the biz” but still want to contribute to the conversation around the shrimp platter about what’s in everyone’s glass at the party. Not to worry– we’ve got you covered with some basic terminology to make you feel like a wine expert at any social gathering or your next wine outing.
Nose: What you can smell immediately upon putting your nose into the glass. The aroma of a wine. Once you’re done tasting a particular wine, try emptying the glass (into a dump bucket of course) and then smell again. The aromas will be even more concentrated.
Palate: How it’s received by your taste buds. The landing pad for the varietal’s flavor and textural profiles. And most importantly, what you find pleasurable to taste. What YOU like to drink, is the right wine for you. Don’t let the “experts” convince you otherwise.
Finish: The final flavor that lingers on your palate (what you can taste) after a sip or a swallow of wine. A long finish lingers on the palate (your taste buds) for a while whereas a short finish is gone almost as soon as you swallow.
Fruit Forward: A wine that has a burst of fruit on the front of the palate (towards the tip of the tongue). You will perceive more “fruit” (berry, apple, stone fruit, herbal) flavors versus tannins.
Tannins: The drying, puckering or cotton-mouth sensation you experience when drinking a wine higher in tannins. Remember when you left a tea bag in a cup of tea too long and a bitter, dry and flavorless feeling hit the back of your front teeth? That’s tannins. They’re not a bad thing at all, just as long as they’re in balance with all the other components of the wine such as acidity, fruit and oak influence.
Acidity: The level of inherent lactic acid in the finished wine. How the wine is structured. Think about when you bite into a Granny Smith apple and the bottom sides of your tongue and cheeks pucker up and you start to salivate. That’s the acidity of the fruit making itself known. Lighter white varieties like Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc tend to be much higher in acidity then other wines.
Balanced: Are all the flavors and components of the wine harmonious on the palate? One doesn’t stick out over the other. Is the wine reflective of the varietal’s true characteristics (meaning the Merlot tastes like Merlot)? Are the tannins, fruit, acidity, and oak nuances all in unison? If yes to all of the above, then it’s considered a balanced wine.
Full-Bodied: Generally a weightier or heavier feeling on the palate indicates a more full-bodied wine. Perhaps the more noticeable presence of tannins as well. Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Petite Sirah, many Italian reds tend to fall into this category.
Thin: These wines are usually lighter on the palate- not as viscose or as heavy. The flavor of the varietal is not as pronounced when you swish it around your palate. Tends to be more linear upon entry onto the tip of the tongue and to the back of the throat. A wine is ‘thin’ if it feels like it’s missing a full expression of itself on the palate.
Dry: The technical winemaking term for when all the residual sugar leftover from the fermentation process has been eliminated. When there is no perceived sweetness to the wine.
Complex: A wine that continues to express its hidden layers each time you take a sip. A complex wine may have notes and flavors of fruit, earth, tannin, acidity, oak, floral or herbs all in one sip. A French Burgundy or Oregon Pinot Noir is a good example of a complex wine. But there are many whites such as traditional old-school California Chardonnays that fall into this category as well.
Crisp: A technical wine tasting term used to describe a lighter style of white wine. One that is higher in acidity and more tart fruit flavors like lemon, lime, grapefruit, green apple, pear, etc. Crisp wines often have a slight minerality note to them and a straightforward or ‘clean’ (simple, no barriers) finish.