by Gordon and Jean Leidner
To the beginner, wine can be an intimidating subject. There are thousands of wines to choose from, and wine reviews can be full of puzzling terms. But don’t be put off by wine terminology. By learning a little wine lingo, you will enrich your experience.
The following basic terms can help you expand your wine vocabulary. They all have to do with “tasting” the wine. After all, isn’t that what it’s all about?
A wine’s color is important. Depending on the grape type (variety), a young white wine can vary in color from a pale yellow-green, which is typical of Chenin Blanc, to the deep golden hue of a good Chardonnay. A brownish tint is typical of full bodied whites that are sweeter and have less acidity.
Reds can vary from a pink Rose` to a light-bodied Pinot Noir to a deep, nearly opaque full-bodied wine like Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine’s red hue depends on the variety used in the process and the length of time the skin’s pigmentation is in contact with juice.
Oh, and here’s a bit of trivia to impress your friends with: Typically, white wines become darker with age, whereas red wines become lighter!
Hold your glass up to the light and look for clarity, or clearness, in the wine. A cloudy wine can be a sign of bacteria, yeast, or incomplete “fining” of the wine, and is usually not a good sign.
Lift the glass to the light, hold it at a slight angle, and rotate the glass, causing the wine to coat the sides of the glass. Take a close look. You should see little rivulets of wine slowly running down the side of the glass. These are “legs,” (also called wine “tears”) and the thicker they are, the higher the alcohol content. Now you can proclaim: “Nice legs!”
Put the glass on the table and quickly swirl it around. Lift the glass and put your nose in it! Well, not all the way down into the wine, but make sure you get your nose deep into the glass. Take a deep whiff. What do you smell? For whites it might be some sort of fruit or oak. For reds it can be a lot of different things, such as licorice, blackberries, or smoke. This is a big part of the wine experience, so try several whiffs.
Aroma and Bouquet
Some people just talk about the wine’s “nose,” but as you learn more, you may be able to tell the difference between the wine’s aroma, primarily derived from the grape variety and secondarily from the fermentation process, and its bouquet, which is developed in the bottle. But for us beginners—just see what you can smell! Compare notes with your friends.
Finally, it’s time to taste the wine. Take a small sip and swirl it around in your mouth so that every taste-bud gets involved. Take a second sip. Do you detect citrus fruit? Black cherry? Spice? Is there a sweetness to the wine? Is there are tartness or pucker factor? Does the flavor remain in your mouth after you swallow, or quickly go away? Here are descriptions of some of the things you’re experiencing:
Sweetness and dryness is typically a function of the sugar and alcohol content. Usually the sweeter wines have more residual sugar and less alcohol. This is because that the sugars in the grapes convert into alcohol during the fermentation process.
Tannins give a “pucker” factor to wine. They result froma naturally occurring substance in the skins and seeds of grapes. Red wine, because it is made with grape skins that are kept longer in the fermentation process, have higher tannins that white wine. Typically, as wine ages, its tannins mellow.
Gordon and Jean Leidner have been wine enthusiasts for years. They enjoy visiting wineries, hosting wine parties, and have even dabbled in making wine from kits. Gordon has been a history buff for most of his life, and blogs at his website Great American History.