Have you ever read a wine label in a shop or at a tasting and felt none the wiser about what it’s going to taste like? The wine world can seem a little intimidating at times with a lot of talk about ‘tannins’ and ‘terroir’. The truth is, you don’t really need to know any of the lingo to be able to enjoy a delicious glass of wine, however it’s useful to know a handful of basic terms to be able to steer your friendly sommelier or wine shop assistant towards your preferences when choosing a bottle. Here goes!
Tannins basically refer to the drying sensation left in your mouth after drinking. Mainly found in red wine, tannins are naturally occurring compounds found inside grape skins, seeds and stems. Too much tannin in a wine might make you feel like your cheeks are stuffed with cotton wool! Tannins aren’t necessarily good or bad though, in fact they are largely responsible for giving red wines their structure or ‘body’ (we’ll come onto that next!).
The body of a wine is a reference to how thick or thin the wine feels in your mouth. Weirdly, it might be useful to think of it in terms of low fat milk and whole milk. The lower the fat percentage in milk, the thinner it feels in your mouth and the same can be applied to wine according to its proportion to alcohol content. Usually, the higher the alcohol content, the fuller bodied it is.
Terroir is a French term which translates (loosely) to a ‘sense of place’. Put simply, it refers to how a particular region’s natural conditions like its climate, soils and terrain affect the taste of the wine.
The first step when tasting wine is to smell it – the word ‘nose’ is just the fancy (but commonly used) way of describing the scents and aromas of the wine. Top tip: using the word ‘bouquet’ to describe a combination of aromas in the wine will really impress your audience!
Acidity is the mouth-watering effect of wine. If a wine is too acidic it can taste harsh (almost like a threat to your teeth enamel!) but if it’s not acidic enough it can feel flabby – like a deflated balloon in your mouth.
While many wines are described as ‘fruit-forward’, an earthy wine will have aromas of wild mushrooms, forest floor and autumn leaves. Typically, “earthy” wines include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Pinot Noir.
A balanced wine is one where all its different elements blend seamlessly, i.e. when no particular flavour or quality sticks out over another. You know you’ve got a balanced wine when its alcohol, acids, tannins and sugars come together harmoniously in the glass.
This is the amount of time that the textures and flavours of a wine stick around on your palate after you’ve swallowed. The length of a wine can be short, medium or long, and the length is usually a good indicator of the quality.
Looking for some books to help you in your wine journey? We have put together the below to help you get your wine knowledge from Enthusiast to Expert Level in no time.
Wine Folly – A Visual Guide to the world of wine
Those first steps into wine feel daunting. Red or white? Cabernet or Merlot? Light or bold? What to pair with food? Learn the basics while you explore new wines with this user-friendly guide. Created by the wonderful Madeline Puckette, who’s ability to distil information into helpful infographics is second to none, and her relaxed presenting style is highly engaging. Pick up this book now and start discovering the wonderful world of wines.
Which Wine When – What to drink with the food you love
An absolute must have book in every household! This wonderful little book is for anyone who knows their sourdough from their sliced white but still finds themselves making panicked decisions about what to drink based on special offers, a vague memory or a nice-looking label. What’s more? We have limited signed copies by author’s Bert & Claire for you.