Wine lovers love to let you know they love wine. And they do it in some of the most off-putting ways, not least among which is using words that the average Joe has no reason to know the meaning of. It’s our duty as your vinophile zine to help you decode the lingo and perhaps even wield it yourself.
Study up on these wine words and phrases, and earn your enthusiast badge.
Nope, not your mom’s Guns ‘n’ Roses tee from 1987. Not your grandmother’s unexpectedly back in style floral embroidery. Vintage, on the vineyard, refers to the year the wine was bottle. It marks an important starting point in the age of the wine, and it allows drinkers to reference the year in order to research the climate characteristics and its impact on the terroir.
Speaking of terroir (tare-wah), this appropriated French word refers to the unique flavors imparted to a crop, usually coffee cherries or wine grapes, from the climate and soil quality during a given growing season. The terroir is usually described in terms of taste and smell.
Tannins are responsible for giving wines that dry, astringent quality. These compounds come from the skin and leaves of grapes, so the more these pieces soak in the pressed grapes, the more you’ll be puckering up during those first few sips.
“Legs” are something of a misunderstood quality in wine. The extent to which a wine “has legs” that has a lot to do with the body of a wine and, to a large extent, the alcohol and sugar content. A full-bodied wine “with legs” generally runs nice and slow down the side of a glass. Contrary to popular belief, legs are not necessarily indicative of quality.
Oaked vs. Unoaked
Chardonnay wines are most commonly where you’ll see this term used. An “oaked” chardonnay ages in oak barrels, which imbues the wine with a soft golden color and a woody, buttery flavor. Oak aging enhances the natural flavors in the grapes, as well. An unoaked wine will generally have a less earthy, cleaner flavor.
The body of wine, coffee or any similar beverage encompasses qualities such as viscosity, density, and the overall feel of the liquid. A wine with more body will generally feel heavier on your palate and have a less watery finish. Body affects how heavily the flavor sits in your mouth and is a quality determined by the varietal, alcohol content, water content and density of other particles in the wine.
Every sip of wine is a journey. From the moment it hits your tongue, to the moment you swallow, the interaction of taste buds and enzymes with all the flavor particles in a sip takes your mouth through layers on layers of flavor. The finish of a wine refers to how it tastes after the journey is complete—what are you left with? Finish can refer to both flavor and dryness and may be dramatically different from what the wine initially tasted like.
Try your hand at using this wine jargon next time you uncork a bottle, and learn how these differences play out in real life by trying new wines.