Listen to any self-proclaimed wine expert, and you’d be mistaken for thinking that wine terminology is about as clear as mud. There are so many varieties, so many ways to taste it, and so many terms that, on the surface, sound downright bizarre that it’s easy to feel flummoxed. No worries, we’ve got your back with our bluffer’s guide to wine terms that mean you can chat wine while drinking without getting egg on your face.
So how do you explain the difference between a medium-bodied red wine and a full-bodied one without dropping a clanger? Want to know what makes a top drop a good vintage or how to use the term fruit-forward correctly?
Our bluffer’s guide to wine is a sure-fire way to convince everyone you’re a fair dinkum expert in the joy of grapes and take your wine-buying expertise to the next level.
Keen to learn more? Read our guide to organic wine (and why you need it in your life).
The RedHead’s bluffer’s guide to wine terms
The aroma of wine is comprised of scents unique to the grape variety. A wine’s aroma differs from its bouquet, which forms as the wine ages.
Blend is the term used to describe a wine made of at least two grape varieties. White, red and rosé wines can be blends, and blends are often more complex than wines made with a single grape variety. We’ve created many blended wines, such as our delicious Esulé ‘Woman with a Gun’ Cabernet blend and our oh-so-tasty Coco Rôtie Syrah Voignier.
Body (light, medium or full)
A wine’s body refers to how it feels in your mouth – how heavy or viscous it feels. Body can be described in three ways – light, medium or full. The result of many factors, including alcohol volume and vintage, the term is used to describe all wine types (red, white or rosé). For example, Night of the Living Red is one of our full-bodied red wine, while our Harmonie Rox Chardonnay is a full-bodied white wine.
A complex wine has a variety of flavours and aromas, which will change throughout the drinking process. This means that the taste you notice when the wine makes its debut in your mouth from your first sip will differ from how the taste develops as you swallow.
A dry wine is a wine with little to no sugar. All RedHeads wines are dry as we never add sugar. During the fermentation process, the natural sugars in the grapes are converted into alcohol. But if little or no residual sugar is left in the wine at the end of that process, the wine produced will leave a drying taste in the mouth. Tannins in the wine will also contribute to this effect.
A wine’s finish is the texture and flavours that linger in the mouth after you’ve tasted it. Is the finish smooth? Crisp? Smokey? It’s also one way to judge the wine’s quality.
Fruit-forward is not some Vegas slot machine term – instead, it’s commonly used to describe wines loaded with intense, sweet fruity flavours, like strawberry, plum or peach. This doesn’t mean that the wine is sweet, only that it has fruity tasting notes that can satisfy your sweet tooth.
When you swirl the wine in your glass, you might notice that some of the wine sticks to the sides longer than other wines. As the wine falls back into the bowl of your glass, it can leave streaks – these are known as the wine’s legs, and are part of the alcohol evaporation process. A good rule of thumb is that the more legs the wine has, the higher the alcohol percentage.
The length of a wine refers to how long its flavours last in the mouth after you’ve swallowed. A way of measuring the wine’s flavour and quality, a wine can have a short, moderate or long length.
Different varieties of wines have different lengths. Younger wines such as rosés and Chiantis have a shorter length (gone in 20 seconds or less). Sauvignon Blancs and some Rieslings are considered to have moderate lengths (20 – 40 seconds). In contrast, wines with robust flavours like Bordeauxs, Zinfandels and Cabernet Sauvignons can have lengths lasting 45 seconds to a minute.
A key descriptor that refers to the dryness, bitterness, and astringency of a wine. Tannic or astringent wines may leave your tongue feeling a little dry or fuzzy after a sip. This is due to tannins in the wine, which are chemical compounds in grapes’ skin, seeds and stems. Tannins may also come from the barrel the wine was aged in. Tannins help wines age well and create a backbone for the flavours.
Wines can have different levels of tannins, with red wines tending to have higher levels. White wines can have tannins, too, usually at lower levels though.
The French word for land, terroir is one of the wine terms to know.
Terroir refers to the particular characteristics given to the grapes by the location they were grown. The climate, soil type, topography and geographical location where the grapes were grown, as well as any other plants growing in the area, can affect the flavour of grapes.
When choosing a wine to pair with food, it’s worth considering where the wine is from. For example, if it’s an Italian wine, pair it with an Italian dish, like spaghetti bolognese. If it’s Australian, you can’t go wrong with BBQ / grilled meat. If the grapes are grown near the sea, pair with fish.
The last term in our bluffer’s guide to wine is vintage. A wine’s vintage refers to the year the grapes were harvested. For example, our Red Sedan Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz blend is a 2020 vintage, meaning the grapes used were harvested in 2020.
The time of year the grapes were harvested can seriously impact the wine’s quality and flavours due to the weather the vines were exposed to. While some wines get better with age, an older vintage doesn’t necessarily mean you’re drinking a better wine than a younger vintage – it all depends on personal preference.
Find out more about what makes Australian wine truly great.
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