Have you ever felt that the world of wine seems to have its very own language? Maybe you’ve found yourself glazing over while someone talks about their favourite wine using evermore elaborate and flowery language? Well, then this is the guide for you.
As with most things, once they’re all broken down and explained, wine terms are actually not that complicated. Afterall, wine is meant to be fun, and that includes talking about it. Following on from part 1, here are some more key terms to get you talking about wine.
If you’ve ever wondered just what the length of a wine is all about, it’s not too complicated. It basically means how long you can still taste the wine (and we’re talking the actual flavours here, not just the alcohol or acidity) after you’ve drunk it.
If you can taste the flavours for a long time, it’s generally a sign of a good quality bottle of wine. This is particularly true if the flavours develop as they linger. Similarly, if you take a sip and the flavours disappear quickly, then it would usually indicate a more simple wine.
Minerality is one of those wine terms that seems ridiculous at first - I mean, just how can you detect minerality in a wine? It’s easy enough to taste fruit or spice or herbaceous flavours, but minerality is a little more elusive.
The best way to describe it is to imagine licking a wet pebble. Can you imagine that stony, slatey taste, maybe with a hint of salinity. Or think about the smell of the pavement after it’s rained?
If you’re intrigued, but don't happen to have a wet stone to hand, the best wines to try are a Sancerre from the Loire Valley, or a Chablis from northern Burgundy, which both have a stony, flinty quality and are a great way to get to grips with minerality.
When tasting wine, we are looking at many different things. So what makes a wine complex? In simple terms, the more we can say about these different things, the more complex it is.
For example, it may be possible to detect lots of different flavours in a wine, such as fruit flavours, hints of spice, floral or herbaceous notes and minerality. Equally, if you can only pick out one or two descriptors (often fruit characteristics) then that would point to it being a simple, more everyday type of wine. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, many wines are designed to be enjoyed when they are young and fresh.
If a wine has great complexity, it usually indicates that it is a good quality wine, with extra care and attention going into the grape growing and winemaking processes. It will probably also have the components necessary to continue developing and be enjoyed for many years to come.
When tasting and describing wine we often focus on the flavours, but the structure of the wine is another important gauge of quality.
Structure is built from a series of components (acidity, alcohol, body, sugar, tannins) and how they work together. In blends for example, each grape variety plays its part and some varietals typically add backbone to a wine. In a Right Bank Bordeaux, this role is played by Cabernet Sauvignon, while for Riojas it’s Tempranillo and Pinot Noir for Champagne.
A wine described as well-structured means it has ageing potential and can be kept in your cellar for a few years and will taste even better. On the other hand, a wine lacking structure wouldn’t benefit from further ageing so better to drink it fast!
When tasting wine and assessing quality, one of the most important elements, together with complexity and length, is the balance of the wine. We quite often look at the individual characteristics of a wine as we taste, while balance is about the big picture.
How are all the components working together? The flavour profile and intensity, together with the structure should all be in harmony. If there is one element that is more prominent than the others, for example, if the alcohol level is a little high leading to that warm feeling at the back of the throat, or if the use of oak sticks out and is a bit jarring on your tastebuds, it would indicate a lack of balance.
As with other terms we’ve looked at here, if a wine is well balanced it indicates a good quality bottle, with conscientious production.
Keen to try out your new found knowledge on some new wines?
So there you go, there’s nothing too complicated at all about wine jargon. Understanding the right terms can make it easier to assess and appreciate a good bottle and makes shopping for wine that little bit easier. So now you can talk the talk, why not put it to the test with Winebuyers world of wine?