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WINE 101: How to Speak Wine Geek

The terms that float through any in-depth discussion of wine can seem like a foreign language at times, so here are some basic definitions that will help make it all feel more accessible.

GENERAL TERMS

Aging
Holding wines for a period of time in barrels, tanks or bottles to affect the character of the finished wine.

Appellation
The official geographic origin of a wine.

Barrel
A wooden container typically made of oak (generally 60 gallons in capacity) used for fermenting and/or aging wines.

Barrel-aged
A term used for wines that matured in oak barrels for a period of time after fermentation.

Maturation
The aging period at the winery during which the wine evolves to a state of readiness for bottling. Also, the ongoing development of fine wines during a period of bottle aging.

Terroir
A French word for the particular growing conditions of a vineyard (soil, slope, climate and altitude) that give the grapes grown there their unique characteristics.

Varietal
A wine made principally from one variety of grape (e.g., Zinfandel).

Varietal character
The characteristics common to a particular grape variety or the characteristics of a wine related to the grape variety from which it is made.

 

WINE CHARACTERISTIC TERMS

Aroma
Odors in a wine that originate from the grape. Some distinguish these smells from “bouquet,” but the term is often used to describe all smells of a wine.

Balance
The relationship between a wine's alcohol, acid, fruit and tannin. A wine is considered well balanced when none of these components stand out significantly from the rest.

Body
A tactile sensation describing the viscosity or “weight” of wine in the mouth. Body is correlated with the level of alcohol and extract. Wines are described as light, medium or full bodied.

Bouquet
The odors of wine attributed to the winemaking process, such as fermentation, processing and aging, particularly those that develop after bottling.

Crisp
A term for a wine that feels clean and slightly brittle in the mouth, usually from high acidity.

Dry
A wine that is not sweet because all perceptible sugar was consumed during the fermentation process.

Finish
The final impression a wine leaves after you have swallowed or spit it out.

Length
A term describing a wine’s sustained sensory impression across the tongue.

Mature
A wine that has reached its optimum point during aging, exhibiting a pleasing combination of aromas, flavors and bouquet.

Oaky
Toasty, smoky or vanilla smells and flavors contributed by the oak during barrel aging. Coffee, chocolate and butterscotch are among many flavors that can be affected by the level of toasting done to a barrel. The origin of the oak used in a barrel can also influences flavors.

Palate
A term used as a synonym for "mouth," or to refer to the characteristics of a wine that manifest in the taster’s mouth.

Rich
Description of a wine that offers an abundance of flavor and texture.

Style
The characteristic combination of components (alcohol, acid, tannin and sugar) associated with the wines of a region, a winery or a particular winemaker.

Tannin
A substance found in the skins, seeds and stems of grapes and a principal component of red wine’s structure, extracted during fermentation while in contact with the skins and seeds. Oak barrels also impart some tannin to wine. Tannins can be detected in wine by the slight drying sensation along the gum line that they create.

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