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Wine basics: the 9 key words you must know

Starting out in wine is not easy! Where do you start?

What’s the very first thing you need to know?

It all starts with just a few words… That’s right! You need to understand the meaning of some keywords that are used in the world of wine.

You see wine has a very special jargon, and understanding just a few words will be your key to a whole new wine knowledge!

 

1. Grape Variety

This is where it all starts: The grape!

Wine is made entirely from fermented grape juice

Nothing else, just pure grape juice where the sugar has been transformed into alcohol.

Grapes can be white or red as you’ve probably seen in shops. But they’re also lots of varieties, of different families if you wish, each with it’s own taste, smell. I’m sure you’ve heard of Merlot, Shiraz, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon or Zinfandel. These are all different varieties of grape.

It’s a bit like apples.

Granny Smith, Pink Lady, Golden Delicious are all different varieties of apples, and each taste different from one another.

In wine, the wine can be made from one single grape variety so Merlot for example. But it can also be made from different grape varieties, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, like the wines of Bordeaux, which in this case would be called a blend.

 

2. Origin

Appellation, Denominacion, Denominazione, A.V.A., A.O.P., A.O.C., D.O.C., D.O.

These all tell us the origin of a wine.

They also ensure that the wine is of a certain style AND quality. So, origin is very important.

Most often these will be named after a region or a city.

Champagne, Chianti, Rioja, Bordeaux, Napa Valley, Stellenbosh, Mendoza or Napa Valley among many many others, are all wine regions that have given their name to the wines that come from there.

Each country will have its own system to attest the origin of the wine.

In France it’s the appellation system, in Spain it’s denominacion in the USA it’s AVA.

 

3. Vintage

You may have heard this word on many occasions. With cars or clothes, it means old.

But in wine many people don’t really know what it means.

Still, it is extremely important. With some wines, depending on the vintage alone, it can mean that the wine is great or conversely that it’s extremely poor.

The vintage of a wine tells you the year in which the grapes used to make the wine were harvested.

Not to be confused with what year it was bottled in, nor the year the grapes were planted in

So, when you are drinking a 2009 Chianti, it means the grapes used to make the wine were harvested in 2009.

After that, it takes a few years for the juice to turn into wine and in the case of a good Chianti Classico Reserva, it means at least 2 years ageing in barrels so at best the wine will be released from the winery in 2012.

 

4. New World and Old World

When it comes to wine, the world in two: The old world and the new world.

The Old World describes wines that come from a part of the world where wine has been made historically for thousands of years and is deeply rooted into the cultural heritage: basically, Europe and the Mediterranean.

The New World covers everywhere else!

Regions with a much younger history of wine making. Places like Australia, New Zealand, the USA, South Africa, Argentina, Chile and Uruguay are all included in what we call the New World.

Even though some have been making wine for 400 years, it still is the New World.

 

5. The Eye

Now we come to the wine itself, the drinking and appreciation.

When we taste or drink wine, we use all our senses.

Sound: When the wine is being poured

Sight: When you appreciate the appearance of a wine.

Smell: When you smell the wine.

Taste: When you drink it

And Touch when the wine is in your mouth and in contact with your palate and tongue.

The look of the wine is often called the eye, or the colour… but it isn’t just the colour, it’s the texture, the contrast in colours…

This tells you a lot about the wine:

What it’s going to taste like.

How old it is

How long it has to go and much more…

 

6. The Nose

The nose of the wine, or the smell is the most poetic part of wine.

This is when we look for the different smells a wine has, which we call aromas.

The aromas tell us a ton of things about a wine:

What grape varieties were used to make the wine.

Whether the wine has been aged in barrels or not

Whether it’s young or old

Whether it has potential to age or not

How good the wine is.

Basically, the nose is one of the biggest windows into the wine.

 

7. The taste

The taste of a wine only made up of three elements:

Sweet

Sour

Bitter

 

You see there are only 5 primary tastes that exist: sweet, sour and bitter. And then there is salty and umami, but these 2 tastes aren’t found in wine.

When it comes to wine we use a special vocabulary to describe tastes.

Sweetness is the same, we say the sweetness of a wine.

But instead of Sour we talk about acidity.

So, if a wine is sour we would say it is acidic.

Crisp, zingy, fresh all describe different levels of acidity.

 

Then instead of bitter, we talk about tannin.

Tannin is a bitter component found in wine.

And if it’s bitter, we would say the wine is tannic.

 

Ok, you might be thinking “Hey Cyrus what about the thousands of other tastes such s blueberry, chocolate, vanilla, or butter?”

Well, they aren’t actual tastes… but smells.

They are picked up by our nose, through a phenomena called retro olfaction or more simply backwards smelling.

These smells are called flavours.

Together with the taste the flavours tell us:

How good it is

The grape varieties used to make the wine

Where the wine is from

How old it is

And more…

 

8. Flavours

As you now know, flavours are not actually tastes, but smells.

They are picked up by the nose, when its smells what is in our mouth as the nose is directly connected to the palate.

These flavours are often similar to the aromas you find on the nose of the wine, but they can also be different.

As the mouth brings up the temperature of the wine, the aromas evaporate more and can be more expressive which makes it easier to pick up.

 

9. Weight

This is something you may have heard thrown about quite a bit when it comes to wine.

If you haven’t, I can assure you that you will!

Light, heavy, full, light, medium: all these describe the weight of a wine.

The weight is made up of a combination of things:

Alcohol, which gives an impression of heat and unctuosity on the palate

The mouthfeel which goes from liquid, watery all the way to thick, rich and oily.

The flavours which can be light and delicate all the way to intense and bold.

Light bodied wines are going to be light and delicate in flavours. The mouthfeel is going to be more on the watery side. The sweetnes and alcohol are both going to be low.

On the other side of the scale, there are heavy wines, or full-bodied wines. These wines are going to have intense, bold flavours, with a rich, thick texture and a rather high sweetness and alcohol level.

 

 

Conclusion:

The world of wine has its very own vocabulary, its own jargon. Understanding it means you will be able to both understand people describing a wine but it also means you can be very descriptive when you talk about wine.

These 9 words you’ve learned will really be the key to unlock a whole new universe of wine for you, so make sure you learn them!

 

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Wine basics: the 9 key words you must know
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Wine basics: the 9 key words you must know
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Wine has a very specific jargon. When starting out, it's important to understand the meaning of these 9 words. Want to learn about wine? Get our free Wine 101 book: The Essentials Basics of wine.

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