Wine 101: unlocking the language and deepening appreciation

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Wine terms to know
Wine evaluation and appreciation
8 min read

Wine evaluation and appreciation

Wine tasting techniques and terminology

  • Acetic: A term used to describe wine with a vinegar-like aroma and taste, often indicating spoilage due to acetic acid.
  • Acid: The natural compounds in wine, including tartaric, malic, and citric acids, that provide tartness and structure.
  • Acidity: The level of acid in a wine, which affects its taste, freshness, and aging potential.
  • Alcoholic: A term for wines with a high alcohol content, often associated with warmth and intensity.
  • Aroma: The wine's scent, which is often associated with its grape variety, winemaking process, and aging.
  • Bouquet: The complex set of aromas that develop in a wine as it ages, often different from its initial aroma.
  • Brut: A term indicating dryness in sparkling wine, often associated with Champagne and other sparkling wines.
  • Brettanomyces (Brett): Yeast strains that can sometimes introduce undesirable aromas and flavors in wine, such as barnyard, horse blanket, or wet leather.
  • Cassis: A specific aroma and flavor note in wine, resembling ripe blackcurrants, commonly found in Cabernet Sauvignon.
  • Complexity: A tasting note referring to wines with a wide range of aromas and flavors that evolve and change as you sip, indicating depth and sophistication.
  • Corked: A wine with a musty, moldy odor and a dampened flavor, typically caused by a contaminated cork containing TCA (2,4,6-trichloroanisole).
  • Crisp: A tasting note describing wines with refreshing acidity and a clean, lively character, often associated with white wines like Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay.
  • Decanting: The process of pouring wine from its bottle into a decanter to separate it from sediment and aerate it.
  • Elegance: A characteristic that describes wines with a harmonious balance of flavors, moderate alcohol, and refined structure, often associated with finesse.
  • Fermentation: The metabolic process where yeast converts grape sugars into alcohol and carbon dioxide during winemaking.
  • Finish: The lingering taste and sensation of a wine after swallowing, reflecting its length, complexity, and overall quality.
  • Fleshy: A tasting note describing wines with a full and juicy mouthfeel, often associated with ripe, fruit-forward styles.
  • Glycerol: A natural component of wine, also known as glycerin, contributing to its mouthfeel and texture, often associated with a sense of richness.
  • Grippy: A tactile sensation in the mouth, often attributed to young wines with strong tannins that create a slightly astringent or gripping texture.
  • Hedonistic: A term used to describe wines that provide pure pleasure and enjoyment, often characterized by rich and opulent flavors.
  • Herbaceous: A tasting note indicating the presence of herbal or vegetal aromas and flavors in wine, often associated with grape varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon or Sauvignon Blanc.
  • Length: The duration of the wine's finish, with longer lengths suggesting higher quality and more complexity.
  • Legs: The streaks or "tears" that form on the inside of a wine glass when you swirl it, indicating the wine's alcohol content, glycerol levels, and viscosity.
  • Minerality: A tasting note often used to describe the perception of mineral-like qualities in wine, which may be influenced by the vineyard's soil composition.
  • Mouthfeel: The tactile sensations a wine creates in the mouth, encompassing aspects like smoothness, astringency, or viscosity.
  • Noble varieties: Grape varieties traditionally associated with premium wine production, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir, known for their exceptional quality and aging potential.
  • Nose: Another term for the aroma or scent of a wine, often used to describe the initial impression when sniffing the wine.
  • Oak barrel: A container made of oak used for aging and flavoring wine, which can impart characteristics like vanilla, spice, and toastiness to the wine.
  • Oxidation: The exposure of wine to air, which can lead to spoilage, causing undesirable changes in aroma and flavor, often associated with a sherry-like character.
  • Palate: The overall taste and sensory experience of a wine when it's in your mouth, encompassing flavor, texture, and structure.
  • Petrichor: A term used to describe the earthy, pleasant wine aroma reminiscent of wet soil's smell after rain.
  • Phylloxera: A vineyard pest that devastated European vineyards in the 19th century, leading to the grafting of European grapevines onto American rootstocks.
  • Reductive Notes: Aromas and flavors that result from winemaking practices that limit exposure to oxygen, often described as flinty, smoky, or sulfur-like.
  • Residual sugar: The natural sugars left in wine after fermentation which contribute to sweetness and can vary from bone-dry to lusciously sweet wines.
  • Secondary aromas: Aromas that develop during the aging process or post-fermentation, such as notes of vanilla, baking spices, or toast, often attributed to oak barrel aging.
  • Sommelier: A certified wine professional who specializes in wine selection, service, and knowledge, often working in restaurants.
  • Structure: A term referring to the balance and framework of a wine, including elements like acidity, tannins, and alcohol, which contribute to its aging potential and ability to develop complexity.
  • Tannin: Compounds found in grape skins, seeds, and stems that contribute to wine's structure, astringency, and aging potential.
  • Tartrates: Crystals that can form in wine due to temperature changes, often seen as harmless sediment in the bottle.
  • Terroir expression: The concept that wines can reflect the specific characteristics of the vineyard's soil, climate, and geography, resulting in unique flavors and aromas.
  • Wine fault: A flaw or defect in wine that negatively affects its aroma, taste, or overall quality, such as oxidation, cork taint, or excessive sulfur.
  • Yeast: Microorganisms, specifically Saccharomyces cerevisiae, responsible for fermenting grape sugars into alcohol and carbon dioxide during the winemaking process.

Wine collecting and investment

  • Blue chip wines: Highly sought-after and prestigious wines from renowned producers and regions that are considered stable and valuable investments.
  • Bordeaux futures: A system in which wine enthusiasts can purchase wine from the Bordeaux region while it's still aging in barrels, often at a lower price than the eventual release price.
  • Burgundy en primeur: Similar to Bordeaux futures, this practice allows buyers to purchase Burgundy wines while they are still aging in barrels, often from esteemed Burgundian producers.
  • Capital gains: The profit realized from the sale of wine investments, subject to taxation in some regions, depending on local tax laws.
  • Cellar Tracker: A popular wine cellar management and wine rating application used by wine collectors and enthusiasts to track their wine inventory.
  • Collectible wine: Wines that are considered desirable by collectors due to their quality, rarity, or historical significance, often with the potential for long-term appreciation.
  • Cult wines: Highly sought-after, limited-production wines from boutique wineries or renowned estates, often commanding premium prices in the market.
  • En primeur: The process of buying wine as a futures contract while it's still aging in barrels, common in Bordeaux and other wine regions.
  • Investment-grade wine: Wines that are considered suitable for investment due to their potential to appreciate in value over time, often from prestigious wine regions and producers.
  • Liquid asset: Wine considered as an investment that can be bought or sold relatively easily, typically in a secondary market, allowing investors to access their capital.
  • Market value: The current price at which a wine can be bought or sold in the open market, influenced by factors such as supply and demand, vintage quality, and critical ratings.
  • Portfolio diversification: The strategy of spreading investments across a variety of wines, regions, and vintages to reduce risk and enhance potential returns.
  • Provenance: The documented history of a wine's ownership and storage conditions can significantly impact its value and desirability to collectors.
  • Rare wine: Wines that are scarce, limited in production, or highly sought after by collectors, often commanding high prices in the secondary market.
  • Rare wine auction: An event where collectors and investors can bid on rare and collectible wines, often offering access to unique and valuable bottles.
  • Secondary market: A marketplace where individuals buy and sell no longer available wines through primary retail channels, facilitating wine investment transactions.
  • Wine consultant: A wine industry expert or advisor who provides guidance and recommendations to individuals looking to invest in wine, assisting with portfolio selection and management.
  • Wine fund: A collective investment vehicle that pools the resources of multiple investors to invest in a diversified portfolio of wines, managed by a professional fund manager.
  • Wine index: A benchmark that tracks the performance of specific wine categories or regions over time, serving as a reference point for wine investors.
  • Wine investment strategy: A customized plan developed by an investor or wine consultant to achieve specific financial objectives, considering factors like budget, risk tolerance, and investment horizon.
  • Wine valuation: The process of assessing the current market value of a wine collection, taking into account various factors such as vintage, condition, and provenance.
  • Wine collector: An individual who collects and accumulates wine, often with the intention of aging and enjoying it or as an investment.

Wine accessories

  • Aerator: A device used to introduce air into wine, enhancing its aromas and flavors.
  • Corkscrew: A tool designed for removing corks from wine bottles.
  • Decanter: A container used to pour wine, allowing it to breathe and separate from sediment.
  • Wine bucket: A container filled with ice used to chill wine, often placed on the table during wine service at restaurants.
  • Wine carafe: A glass container used for serving and decanting wine, often with a wide base to allow for aeration.
  • Wine chiller: An insulated container or sleeve designed to keep wine bottles at the desired serving temperature.
  • Wine coaster: A small, often decorative, coaster used to protect surfaces from wine bottle condensation or drips.
  • Wine decanting funnel: A funnel with a built-in filter used for pouring wine into a decanter while separating sediment.
  • Wine glass: A specialized glass designed for drinking wine, with various shapes for different wine types.
  • Wine glass charms: Small, colorful charms that attach to wine glass stems to help guests identify their glasses at gatherings.
  • Wine opener: A general term for tools like corkscrews and wine keys used to open wine bottles.
  • Wine pourer and stopper: A combination accessory that both aerates wine during pouring and seals the bottle afterward.
  • Wine preserver: A device or system that helps preserve opened wine by minimizing exposure to oxygen.
  • Wine rack: A storage solution designed to hold and display wine bottles.
  • Wine stopper: A device used to seal an opened wine bottle, preventing further air exposure.
  • Wine thermometer: A thermometer designed to measure the temperature of wine, ensuring it's served at the correct temperature.
  • Wine-tasting notebook: A specialized notebook for recording wine-tasting notes and impressions.
  • Wine thermometer: A thermometer designed to measure the temperature of wine, ensuring it's served at the correct temperature.
  • Wine tote bag: A stylish and insulated bag designed to carry wine bottles, often used for picnics or transportation.
  • Wine vacuum pump: A tool that removes air from an opened wine bottle to preserve its freshness.
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