Every time we learn a new word we add a new color to our palette. Not only can we better depict the world for others, but we can also better understand it on a deeper level ourselves. This is especially true when it comes to wine. What follows are the ten wine words that you need in your palette. Here are a few specifics about wine that you should know.
Body: Ever noticed how whole milk tastes thicker than skim milk? That’s body — the wine’s mouth-feel in terms of weight and thickness. There are three categories here: light-bodied (e.g., skim milk), medium-bodied (e.g., whole milk), and full-bodied (e.g., heavy cream). Of course a full-bodied wine will not be as thick as heavy cream, but the relative differences are similar.
Tannins: If you’ve ever had over-steeped black tea, you know exactly what tannins feel like. Tannin is a compound in the wine that causes your mouth to feel dry and can taste slightly bitter and/or astringent.
Acidity: Ever notice that raw lemon makes you pucker up and intensely salivate? That’s attributed to acid. Wines high in acid can be quite refreshing and will keep you yearning for another sip. In large doses, acid can make the wine taste tart and/or sour and will cause you to salivate.
Alcohol: Have you ever tasted a really strong, alcoholic drink? Of course you have. Why is alcohol important in wine? It contributes to the wine’s viscosity and body, as evidenced in the thick tears running down the side of the glass in wines that are particularly high in alcohol.
Balance: Unfortunately, at some point in our lives most of us have encountered a cocktail with too much sweetness or alcohol, or not enough of either. It was lacking balance. Balance simply implies that there’s harmony between the different sensations.
Sweet vs Dry (yes, they’re opposites): Have you tasted the difference between black coffee vs. coffee with cream and a heap of sugar? The former would be considered ‘dry’, and the latter ‘sweet’. It’s important to note that sweet doesn’t equate to our normal interpretation of the word when it comes to wine. Sweet technically refers to wines with residual sugar (e.g., dessert wine), but dry (very low in sugar) wines can sometimes taste sweet due to a depth of ripe fruit flavors. In other words, it’s possible to have a wine that’s entirely dry but tastes fruity, which you may interpret as sweet.
Oaky: Have you ever had the pleasure of eating grilled ribs? The smoke penetrates the meat and adds a new dimension of delicious flavor. The phenomenon of imparting flavor applies to wine as well, where ‘oaky’ refers to flavors diffused into the wine by the oak barrel it was vinified and/or aged in. Oaky flavor profiles vary depending on the type and age of oak used. Common aromas for ‘oaky’ wines are vanilla, toast, nutty, cedar, coconut, cinnamon, clove, dill and smoke.
Earthy: Ever smelled fresh soil? It’s ‘earthy’ — equal parts freshness, moisture, mustiness and ferment. This can be considered a negative when the earthy flavors/aromas are overly pronounced, but in moderation earthiness can add tremendous complexity to a wine.
Structure: We can all appreciate the difference between a 2D image vs. a 3D image. The former is flat, like a wine that lacks structure, while the latter has shape and depth — a wine with excellent structure. Structure is the texture and mouthfeel, or lack thereof, of the wine on your palate.
Finish: Ever tasted the difference between milk chocolate and dark chocolate? While they’re both divine, the concentrated flavors of the dark chocolate linger on your taste buds longer, well after you’ve swallowed.
Being mindful of these ten elements will give you deeper insight into your likes and dislikes when it comes to the many wine varietals and styles out there, and allow you to better evaluate the quality of wine. Next time you open a bottle, try drawing upon the concepts discussed above as you enjoy the wine. Remember Wine Is Food.