different wine varietals in glasses

Uncorking the Language: An Introduction to Common Wine Tasting Terms

The world of wine is as rich in language as it is in flavors and aromas. As you embark on your wine tasting journey, understanding common wine tasting terms can enhance your appreciation and allow you to converse with fellow wine enthusiasts. At Triangle Wine Company, we believe in enriching your wine experience by unraveling the eloquence of wine terminology.

ABV: The abbreviation of alcohol by volume, listed by percent on a wine's label. The alcohol in wine comes from the yeast converting grape sugar into ethanol. Fortified wines are made from adding alcohol to wine.
<10% ABV: Low
10 - 11.5% ABV: Medium-Low
11.5 - 13.5% ABV: Medium
13.5 - 15% ABV: Medium-High
>15% ABV: High
ACIDITY: A key component in wine, acidity adds sharpness and can make a wine feel more fresh and crisp. Generally higher in white wine and lower in red wines. Balanced acidity is critical in a good wine.
ALCOHOL: Alcohol augments the flavors of wine. Too much alcohol flavor is a lack of balance.
APPELLATION: A legally defined geographical location used to identify where the grapes in a wine are grown. Examples:
United States: AVA- American Viticultural Areas (ex. Paso Robles AVA)
France : AOC (AOP), IGP
Italy : DOC, DOCG, IGT
Spain : DO, DOCa
AROMA: The fragrance released by the wine process.
ATTACK: The immediate impression of the taste of a wine; the initial flavors that can be detected.
BALANCE: The relationship between acidity, tannins, alcohol, and flavors. In harmonious, well-balanced wines, no single attribute overwhelms others.
BODY: Refers to the weight or thickness of the wine on your palate, often described as light, medium, or full-bodied. Differences in body are due to the level of alcohol, residual sugar, extract, and glycerol.
BOUQUET: The array of aromas in wine, often developing with age and revealing the complexity of flavors.
CLARITY: Refers to a wine's quality of clearness. The clarity of a wine can range from clear to slight haze to cloudy. Lack of clarity used to indicate spoilage--but many wines are unfiltered and may have a slight haze due to sediment.
COLOR DEPTH: The intensity of a wine's color depth varies widely (watery, pale, medium, deep, to dark). Red wines get lighter with age while whites tend to get darker.
White- greenish, yellow, straw yellow, gold, amber
Red- purplish, ruby, red, garnet, brick, brown
Rosé- pink, salmon, orange, copper
The hue of a young wine can give some indication of the grape variety it came from (ex. Riesling- pale green; Chenin Blanc: yellow).
CORKED: Cork Taint or TCA gives a moldy odor (wet cardboard) and dulls the overall flavors of the wine. A serious wine fault.
CRU: A French term meaning "growth" which signifies a vineyard area of recognized quality.
DRY: Indicates a lack of sweetness in wine, often appreciated in wines with higher tannin levels. Generally, sweeter wines are less dry, though there are exceptions.
EARTHY: Consisting of flavors and aromas such as soil, chocolate, and mushrooms.
FINISH: The impression left on the palate after swallowing, often described by its length and flavor. A long finish can be a sign of a good wine.
FLORAL: Consisting of mainly flowery, perfume-y flavors and aromas such as lavender, rose, jasmine, and lilac.
FORTIFIED WINE: A wine that has been preserved by the addition of spirits, typically made of neutral-tasting grape brandy. Example: Port.
FRUITY: Consisting of mainly fruit flavors and aromas such as tropical fruits, berries and other vine fruits, orchard fruits, and citrus.
HERBAL / SPICY: Consisting of flavors and aromas such as Allspice, Anise, Fennel, Licorice, Basil, Black pepper, Cinnamon, Clove, Dill, Eucalyptus, Ginger, Horseradish, Mint, Peppermint, Spearmint, Nutmeg, Saffron, Thyme, Vanilla, White pepper.
LEGS: The streaks running down the inside of the glass after swirling, often related to the alcohol or glycerol content of the wine.
MID PALATE: The sensations and flavors on the palate between the attack and the finish.
MINERALITY: The presence of sulfur compounds in wines that taste like minerals and chemicals like tar, candle wax, granite, rubber, diesel/petrol, slate, wet rocks, chalk, or flint.
MOUTHFEEL: The tactile sensation of wine in the mouth (thick, thin, smooth, harsh, active, flabby, creamy, watery, etc.).
NEW WORLD: Wine from non-European countries with generally hotter climates (ex. U.S., Australia, Argentina, South Africa, Chile, etc.). The typical style of non-European wines is generally fruitier, fuller, and higher in alcohol.
NOSE: The overall impression of the aromas of a poured glass of wine.
NUTTY/ROASTED: Wine descriptors used on their own or that refer to Almond, Brazil nut, Coconut, Coffee, Hazelnut, Peanut, Popcorn, Toast, Roasted Almond, and Walnut.
OAKINESS: A term to describe flavors and aromas imparted from aging wine in oak barrels. It often adds a hint of vanilla, spice, or smoky character.
OLD WORLD: Wine from the traditional winegrowing regions of Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East. Can also refer to style (less fruity, lower in alcohol). Old World wines typically named after location (ex. Burgundy, Chianti) rather than grape.
OXIDATION: When wine is exposed to too much oxygen, a chain of chemical reactions occurs that alters the compounds in the wine. Signs of oxidation include smells similar to bruised apples in white wines and artificial raspberry flavor and nail polish remover in red wines.
PALATE: A combination of senses that are stimulated when you drink. It refers to the mouth (tongue, taste buds, and overall interior of the mouth) and the nose.
PHENOLS: A group of several hundred chemical compounds found in wine that affect the taste, color, and mouthfeel. Tannin is a type of phenol called a polyphenol.
REDUCTION: Nearly the opposite of oxidation. Modern winemaking techniques prevent oxygen from reaching the wine, thereby enhancing fruit flavors. But this process can produce sulfur compounds (at low levels = minerality; high levels = overpowering sulfurous aromas).
SULFITES: A preservative that is either added to wine or present on grapes before fermentation (ppm = parts per million).
Wine: 10ppm to 350ppm
Bacon: 700ppm
French fries: 2,000ppm
STRUCTURE: The framework or backbone of acid and/or tannins that supports the wine's body; necessary for aging.
SWEET: Describing a wine where sweetness is prominently featured in its flavor.
TANNINS: Often described as astringent, tannins are natural compounds found in grape skins, seeds, and stems. They contribute to the structure and longevity of the wine. Tannic wines are dryer, sucking the moisture from your mouth. Red wines (and a few white wines) get their color and tannins from contact with grape skins during fermentation. Tannins can also come from oak barrels and are sensed at the top of the tongue.
TERROIR: A French term embodying the unique characteristics imparted to the wine by its geographical environment including soil, climate, and topography.
VARIETY/VARIETAL: Refers to a subgroup of a grape species and is distinguished from other varieties by hereditary traits like color, how it grows in a certain climate, whether or not it's suitable for making wine, etc. (ex. the Cabernet Sauvignon grape variety). Some were cultivated long ago and subdivided into clones (ex. the Pinot Noir grape variety). Varietal wines are wines named after the main (at least 75% in most cases) grape variety that the wine was made from.
VEGETAL: A wine descriptor used on its own or can refer to Asparagus, Beet, Beetroot, Black olive, Bramble, Green pepper, Cucumber, Grass, Green olive, Green pea, and Lentil. Desirable in some grape varieties, but can be considered faults due to under-ripe grapes in others.
VINTAGE: Refers to the year the grapes were harvested, often indicated on the bottle.
VOLATILE ACIDITY (VA): Acetic acid is the volatile acid in wine that turns wine to vinegar. In small levels it adds to the complexity of flavor and in high levels it causes the wine to spoil.
WOODY: A wine descriptor used on its own or can refer to Cedar, Cigar box, Oak, Pencil shavings, Pine, and Resinous.

Armed with a newfound understanding of common wine tasting terms, you're well on your way to deepening your appreciation and conversation around the enigmatic world of wine.

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