When Matt and I were in Rome last year, we had one rainy afternoon where we decided to forgo sightseeing and found a last minute wine tasting led by a Master Sommelier. It was one of my favorite experiences from the entire trip. We learned so many interesting things that made wine tasting more approachable and started a journey to be able to speak about wine more intelligently.
Since then, we’ve bought resources and books about wine & pairings, we just got back from an amazing trip to Napa, we order new types of wine while we’re out, and we’re continuing our commitment to learn more about wine.
When you’re first starting to learn about wine, talking about what you’re tasting can be overwhelming and intimidating but by learning some easy wine lingo, you’ll be a tasting pro in no time.
Dry is by far one of the most confusing words when discussing wine. Customers use the word dry in a completely different way than wine professionals. It’s almost like how millennials & Gen Z have started using the word “literally” when they really mean the exact opposite “figuratively” (seriously, Merriam Webster has updated the definition). Now, back to the wine.
To a wine professional, dry means a wine without residual sugar. Most of the wine you’ll encounter on a day to day basis is actually dry. Dry is the opposite of sweet which takes us to our next word…
Again like dry, most average wine drinkers are using this word incorrectly. If you’re trying to choose between two Pinot Noirs, you wouldn’t ask the server which is more sweet. The answer would be neither. What you really are trying to get to is which is more fruit forward?
We already know sweet is the opposite of dry, so a sweet wine is simply a wine with residual sugar. Sweet wines are going to be your dessert wines or ports.
If you’re just beginning your wine journey, when you taste a wine and your first instinct is to describe it as sweet, instead think and see if fruit forward is really what you’re trying to communicate.
*Bonus term – There’s also an “off-dry” which you can use to describe wines that are technically sweet and have some residual sugar but not as much as you would expect. You could describe most proseccos or moscatos as off-dry.
Tannins are a naturally occurring compound found in the skins of grapes. A wine can have strong or weak tannins depending on how long the juice is in contact with the grape skins. The longer the juice sits, the more tannins will impact the wine. Example – Red wine “juice” is in contact with grape skins longer than white wines which explains why red wines have stronger tannins than white wines.
If a wine is high in tannins, it will leave your mouth dry (not the dry we discussed before but actually dry, without saliva, think puckering). Wines with less tannins don’t have such a drying sensation (think Pinot Noir).
*Bonus fact – Tannins are also a natural antioxidant that help protect the wine during the aging process.
Acids act like the opposite of tannins. If a wine is highly acidic, you can expect your mouth to start salivating after a sip. Rieslings are highly acidic wines while Chardonnays contain less acidity.
Body is the mouthfeel of a wine. Full bodied wines can be creamy and heavy in the mouth while light bodies wines can have the consistency and feel like drinking water. If you’ve ever tried a buttery Chardonnay, you’ve had a full bodied wine. When I first started drinking wine, I enjoyed light bodied Pinot Noirs that were fruit forward (not sweet) but now as I’ve expanded my palette, I prefer fuller bodied wines.
Now that you’ve learned a little bit more about basic wine characteristics and terminology, I feel like it’s only appropriate to celebrate with a nice glass (or two!) of vino, Cheers!