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Wine tasting terms to know

Learning the Lingo: 10 Wine Tasting Terms to Know for Your Next Tasting

According to Statistics Canada, wine sales grew by 4.6% during the fiscal year of 2017/2018. Red wine accounted for half the sales in Canada. White wine came in second with a 32.2% share in sales.

Which do you prefer? 

Whether your personal favourite is red, white, sparkling, or ice wine, there are always times when another type may fit the meal or celebration better.

But how do you figure out which ones you might like?

There is no better way to learn about new varietals of wine and expand your wine palette than by going on a wine tour. 

You’ll learn about pairings and you can speak directly to a sommelier about your likes and dislikes to help them point you towards selections you will enjoy.

Keep reading to learn some wine tasting terms that will help you sound like a pro at your first (or next) wine tasting tour.

Wine Tasting Terms

Anyone listening to a sommelier giving a wine description is bound to be a little intimidated. That’s because there are so many wine adjectives used to describe all aspects of the wine tasting experience. 

Thankfully, we do not need to know every description under the sun to enjoy a good glass of wine.

But learning about wines and how they are described can help you find wines you might enjoy quicker and easier.  

By associating terms with how we perceive wine with all five of our senses, we can give a much more detailed description of a particular wine.

Below is a primer on these terms and how and when they are used.

1. Aroma

When tasting wine, using your olfactory senses is an important part of the process. Similar to when we eat, our noses can give us hints at what the wine will taste like based on our prior experiences.

Smelling the wine in your glass is the first thing you should do after looking at it. What your nose tells you about the way the wine smells is the wine’s aroma.

Many aroma descriptions you will hear at a wine tasting mean they smell like what they say. Terms like cedary, buttery, earthy, floral, fruity, oaky (smoky), meaty, and perfumed. 

Other terms are a little less obvious.

The smell of a complex, fully developed wine is called its bouquet. A young wine may have a closed or dense aroma since the aromatics have not fully developed.  

An alcoholic aroma is normally considered a negative trait because it means that there is too much alcohol in the wine in comparison with its body and weight, which likely predicts the wine will have an unpleasant aftertaste.

2. Legs

Have you ever wondered what people are doing when you see them swirling their wine in their glass, then looking at it, prior to drinking it? 

After a wine has been swirled, you can study the way the wine settles back into the glass. It will leave “legs” along the side of the glass. Some people call the legs “tears” instead.

The faster a wine settles and how thick the legs are can give us an indication of the wine’s alcohol content. The slower and fatter legs indicate higher alcohol content.

The main purpose of swirling wine is aeration (to bring oxygen into it). This is called opening up the wine and helps bring out the wine’s aromas.

So after swirling your wine, take a moment to smell your wine again so you can note any new aromatics that may have been released. 

3. Body

Body refers to the weight and fullness of the wine. The viscosity of the wine will be determined by its alcohol content. The higher the alcohol content, the heavier and fuller the wine will feel in your mouth.

A full-bodied wine (over 13.5% alcohol) will feel heavy or full. This is why some refer to full-bodied wine with lots of tannins as chewy.  

Some wines are light-bodied (under 12.5% alcohol) or medium-bodied (12.5% – 13.5% alcohol). The lighter-bodied wines are often called light, crisp, and refreshing.   

4. Texture

The texture is another one of the ways to describe wine, but it is more elusive than some of the others.

Texture also refers to how the wine feels in your mouth. Here are some of the terms people used to describe texture: harsh, coarse, fleshy, grip, round, supple, velvety, and aggressive.

Velvety, round, fleshy, grip, and supple are all positive terms implying the wine is smooth, balanced and has good flavour.

Harsh, coarse, or aggressive indicates the wine’s content is too high in tannin, oak or alcohol content.

5. Tannins

Tannins can be found in many of the things we love to eat and drink, such as cocoa, grapes, tea, cranberries, and wine.

Tannins consist of compounds which have a bitter and astringent taste. Bitterness is what we taste, but the astringency refers to what we feel. Tannins help give wine texture and mouthfeel.

As wines age, the tannins begin to lose the astringency and the wine’s taste begins to smooth out and soften.

6. Sweet

During the fermentation process, the sugar from the grapes is normally converted into alcohol. But this is not true for what is referred to as sweet-tasting wine.

This is because sweet wines still have some of the grape’s sugar remaining after the fermentation process is complete. 

Sweet wines contain 21-72 sugar calories per glass. Very sweet wines can include up to 130 sugar calories per glass.

No wonder sweet wines are also called dessert wines and are some of the most popular in the world.

7. Dry

When a wine has no perceptible taste of sugar it is called dry. But don’t let that fool you. A dry wine can smell like fruit which may make you think the wine will be sweeter than it really is.

When you can begin to taste some sweetness in a wine (at about 3% sweetness), it will begin to taste semi-sweet. These types of wines are called off-dry. 

8. Finish

Whether you drink, sip or taste wine, the finish is what you sense once the wine has left your mouth. The finish is also called the aftertaste.

The length of time its flavours linger on your tongue determines whether the finish is long or short.

Finishes can taste smooth, tart, smoky, spicy, sweet or fruity.

Generally, wines with a long finish are rated higher than those with a short finish.

9. Vertical or Horizontal Tasting

Vineyards and wineries offer many different ways to sample and compare their wines.

However, on your next tour, consider these two methods.

For a vertical tasting, you would try multiple vintages of the same type of varietal produced by the same producer over a series of years. By doing this, you can get an appreciation for how the varietal has changed over time due to weather or other events.

For a horizontal tasting, you can plan ahead to taste the same varietal and year produced at each stop on your tour of vineyards. This type of tasting will allow you to really get a feel for how different vineyards bring out different flavours in the same varietal of wine.

For example, if one uses oak barrels and one uses steel during the fermentation process, you would be able to taste to see how this affects the wine.

10. Terroir

While not specifically a “wine tasting” description, you will likely hear the term discussed at a wine tasting. So it’s best to understand what it means.

Terroir refers to many factors and conditions that can affect the taste of wine. These are the climate, soil, and terrain in which the wine’s grapes are grown.

Climates that are hotter tend to produce grapes with higher sugar content. 

Soils vary dramatically depending on where a vineyard is located. Soil contents differ and in others, the water passes through rock and mineral deposits.

This is why a Chardonnay from Ontario, Canada or California or France can all be called Chardonnays but each will have their own unique flavours. 

Book a Wine Tasting Tour Today 

Learning about wines and all their subtleties in their taste and varieties is a wonderful lifelong experience. 

Put these wine tasting terms to use on your next wine tasting tour and at parties with your friends. 

Both are great opportunities to learn which wines pair well with different types of food and provide you with a time to share your love of wine with others.

Contact us today so we can help you book your first class wine tasting tour so you can enjoy the world-class wines produced in the Niagara, Canada region. 

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