How to Talk About Wine: Wine Terms to Know

From tannin to terroir, here's how to talk about wine and the top wine terms to know for your next dinner party. (Trust us, your guests will be impressed.)

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We’ve all flubbed a wine term or two. Perhaps you couldn’t quite remember the difference between body and mouthfeel, or you didn’t want to admit out loud that you don’t get the whole ‘acidity’ thing. From tannin to terroir, here are the top wine terms to know for your next dinner party. (Trust us, your guests will be impressed.)

Basic Wine Terms for Beginners

ABV: Alcohol By Volume or the alcohol content of wine. Still wines range from 11%-15% ABV, while fortified wines range from 15%-22%.

Acidity: The mouth watering sensation you experience after taking a sip of wine. Acidity is naturally found in grape pulp and varies based on variety and climate.

Appellation (pronounced /ap- puh - lay - shuhn/): The region where the wine grapes are grown. Appellations are legally protected, and each country or region has different standards for consideration. For example, in the United States, a wine must be at least 85% from an appellation in order to be considered part of that American Viticultural Area (also known as AVA.)

Balance: Balance is a consideration of flavor intensity, concentration, length of the finish, etc.

Blend: A blend is made of more than one grape variety.

Body: The weight of a wine or how it feels in your mouth. Body is affected by tannin, alcohol, and sugar.

Cabernet Sauvignon (pronounced /kab - er - nay saw - vin - yawn/): A full-bodied, high acid red wine with high tannins and notes of blackfruit and black currant.

Chardonnay (pronounced /shar - dunn - ay/): The most widely planted white grape. In cooler climates, Chardonnay is known to be light-to-medium-bodied with high acidity and notes of apple, citrus, and minerality. In warm climates, Chardonnay is full-bodied with medium acidity and notes of tropical, stonefruits. Chardonnay is typically aged in oak barrels.

Crossing: A crossing is two Vitis vinifera grapes. Examples include Pinotage which is a crossing of Pinot Noir & Cinsault, and Zweigelt which is a crossing of Blaufränkisch & St. Laurent. Crossings are not the same as hybrids.

Dry: A wine that has low residual sugar. Of all the wine terms, this is one of most frequently misused. The term ‘dry’ is often mistaken for the presence of tannins, which give the mouth a drying sensation. However, the term ‘dry’ should be used to describe a wine that is not sweet. In fact, the majority of wines are considered ‘dry’ regardless of fruit flavors. Only sweet wines like Moscato or ice wine really have any residual sugar at all.

Fortified wine: A wine that has added spirits such as grape brandy. Examples include Port and Sherry.

Legs: When you swirl your glass, ‘legs’ or ‘wine tears’ are the liquid streaks that run down the glass. Legs can tell you about the sugar and alcohol content of a wine.

Merlot: A medium-bodied red wine with medium acidity and moderate tannins. Merlot is predominantly known for red fruit flavors and a chocolatey finish.

Mouthfeel: The sensation of the wine in your mouth. Can help determine body, tannins, alcohol, sweetness, and acidity levels.

New World: A wine is considered New World if it’s made in North or South America, Africa, Australia, or New Zealand.

Old World: An area where modern winemaking practices originated, such as Italy, France, Spain, Portugal, Germany, and Hungary, and Croatia.

Residual sugar: Grape sugar left after the fermentation process is complete. Sweet wines would have a higher residual sugar than dry wines. This can be done through methods in the vineyard and winery.

Riesling (pronounced /reese - ling/): An extremely aromatic white wine with high acidity that can be produced in a range of styles from bone dry to sweet. Riesling’s fruit notes depend on ripeness and can range from green apple or pear to peach, apricot, or mango.

Sauvignon Blanc (pronounced /saw - vin - yawn blonk/): A high acid white wine known for herbaceous notes of grass or green pepper.

Sommelier (pronounced /suh - muhl - yei/): A wine professional trained in all aspects of wine service and food pairings

Syrah (pronounced /sear - ah/): A full-bodied red wine with high tannins and notes of black fruits and black pepper. In Australia, Syrah is known as Shiraz. They are the same variety.

Tannins: Naturally occurring in the skins of grapes, stems, and seeds. Causes a drying sensation. Tannins can be described as smooth, velvety, silky, and plush or chewy, aggressive, or grippy.

Terroir (pronounced /ter - wahr/): Describes how a particular region's climate, soils, terrain, environmental conditions, and winemaking practices affect the taste of the wine.

Variety: Variety is a noun and refers to either the grape itself (Chardonnay, Merlot) or the wine. Ex: Chardonnay is a variety.

Varietal: While variety is a noun, varietal is an adjective and is used to describe a wine made of one variety of grape. Ex: it is a varietal wine of Chardonnay.

Vintage: The year the wine’s grapes were harvested. Some blends will not have a vintage because the goal is consistency across different years or harvests.

In Vino Finito

What other wine terms are you curious about? Drop them in the comments, and we’ll give you an official wine word definition.

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