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Wine 101

 

Wine tasting can be intimidating sometimes, but it doesn’t have to be. Knowing the lingo can go a long way to making you feel more comfortable diving into the delicious world of wine. 

  • acidity — the liveliness and crispness in wine that activates salivary glands
  • aeration — the deliberate addition of oxygen to round out and soften a wine (see also breathing)
  • appellation — a delineated wine producing region, in the US they are called American Viticulture Areas (AVAs) and Missouri boasts the very first one named in the country. (Note: You’ll often find the appellation or AVA listed on a wine’s label, more about that here.)
  • aroma — the smell of wine, derived from the grapes (different than bouquet)
  • balance — when the elements of wine – acids, sugars, tannins, and alcohol – come together in a harmonious way
  • barrel — the oak container used for fermenting and aging wine (Click here to learn more about barrels.)
  • blend —  a wine made from more than one grape varietal
  • body — a tactile sensation describing the weight and fullness of wine.  A wine can be light, medium, or full bodied. (Note: A good way to think about this is the difference between skim, 2% and whole milk.)
  • bouquet — refers to the complex smells derived from the aging of wine 
  • breathing — exposing wine to oxygen to improve its flavors  (see “aeration”)
  • brilliant — a tasting note for wines that appear sparkling clear
  • brut — a French term denoting dry champagnes or sparkling wines
  • complex — a wine exhibiting numerous aromas, nuances, and flavors
  • cork taint — undesirable odors and flavors in wine often associated with wet cardboard or moldy basements caused by the wine being exposed to TCA (Trichloroanisole), most likely through the cork itself
  • corked — a term that denotes a wine that has suffered cork taint 
  • dry —  describes a wine that doesn’t contain significant grape sugar; the opposite of sweet (Note: A wine can be dry and still taste fruity.) Wines range in sweetness levels.
  • earthy — an odor or flavor reminiscent of soil or things that grow in it such as moss or truffles
  • enology — the science of wine and winemaking (sometimes spelled “oenology”)
  • fermentation — the conversion of grape sugars to alcohol by yeast
  • finish  — the impression of textures and flavors lingering in the mouth after swallowing wine
  • fruity — a tasting term for wines that exhibit strong smells and flavors of fruit
  • fruit wine —  wine made from fruit other than grapes. Fruit wines found at Missouri wineries include peach, raspberry, strawberry, cherry and many more.
  • herbaceous — denotes smells and flavors of fresh herbs (e.g., oregano, basil, rosemary, etc.)
  • hot — a description for wine that is high in alcohol
  • lees — sediment consisting of dead yeast cells, grape pulp, seed, and other grape matter that accumulates during fermentation
  • jammy — denotes wines with intense, concentrated fruit flavors
  • malolactic fermentation — a secondary fermentation in which the tartness of malic acid in wine is changed into a smooth, lactic sensation.  Wines described as “buttery” or “creamy” have gone through malolactic fermentation
  • mead —  wine made by fermenting honey
  • minerality — this is a fairly ambiguous term used to describe smells and flavors that remind you of the sea (think crunchy sea salt or oysters), the sidewalk after it rains, or even chalk
  • mouth-feel — how a wine feels on the palate; for example: rough, smooth, velvety, or furry
  • must — unfermented grape juice including seeds, skins, and stems
  • nose — describes the combination of the aromas and bouquet of a wine
  • oak/oaky — denotes smells and flavors of vanilla, baking spices, coconut, mocha or dill caused by barrel-aging
  • oxidation — wine exposed to air that has undergone a chemical change, often described as vinegary 
  • spicy — used to describe smells and flavors reminiscent of baking spices, black pepper, bay leaf, curry powder, saffron, etc. found in certain wines
  • tannins — the phenolic compounds in wines that leave a bitter, dry, and puckery feeling in the mouth. Tannins can be beneficial, giving red wines a firmer structure and allowing for longer aging.  
  • terroir — French for geographical characteristics unique to a given viticulture area (Note: If you’d like a more in depth understanding of what terroir is and why it matter, read this blog post.)
  • varietal — a particular type of grape. There are hundreds, maybe even thousands of different grape varietals grown around the world. Missouri vintners primarily grow hybrid and Native American varietals that can handle the demanding weather of our region. (Note: You can learn more about Missouri grape varietals here.)
  • vegetal — tasting term describing characteristics of fresh or cooked vegetables detected on the nose and in the flavors of the wine.  Bell peppers, grass, and asparagus are common “vegetal” descriptors.
  • vintage — the year a wine is bottled.  Also, vintage is used to describe the yield of wine from a vineyard during a single season.
  • weight — similar to “body”, the sensation when a wine feels thick or rich on the palate
  • yield — the productivity of a vineyard
  • young — a wine that is usually bottled and sold within a year of its vintage.  Wines meant to be drunk “young” are noted for their fresh and crisp flavors. 90% of wines are made to be consumed within a year of bottling.