Guide to the Most Essential Wine Tasting Terms

Guide to the Most Essential Wine Tasting Terms

by JJ Buckley Fine Wines


people-toasting-with-red-wine

The deep study of wine, or “oenology,” can seem like a daunting undertaking for even an experienced enthusiast. However, wine lovers need not reach a sommelier level of expertise to become competent when evaluating fine wine. Gaining a deeper understanding of the wine tasting process and honing in on a few beyond-the-basics wine tasting terms can greatly enhance your next wine tasting experience.

The Wine Tasting

When you learn how to properly taste wine, a whole new world will open up. With practice, you’ll soon impress guests and dining companions by being able to identify flaws, varietals, and even make an educated guess about a wine’s age!

The distinct qualities of a wine become apparent through a taster’s senses of smell, taste, and sight. Each individual may come away with a different opinion about their overall preference for a given wine, but each wine’s basic traits are typically agreed upon by tasters.

Preparing for a Wine Tasting

If you attend a wine tasting event at a winery or another respected vintner, your host will have taken pains to serve each wine according to its unique, ideal conditions. You can create the proper environment for a wine tasting at home, as well. You’ll want to consider:

Temperature

If a wine is served at too high a temperature, the alcohol flavor can overwhelm the wine’s other aspects, leaving the taster with the impression that the wine is lacking depth. A wine that is served too cold can suffer a similar loss in taste.

Generally, full-bodied red wines should be served between 60-65 degrees Fahrenheit, fruity red and white wines at 50-60 degrees, and light, dry white wines at just 40-50 degrees. Try checking the winery’s website or an online wine guide for specific recommendations.

Atmosphere

Try to create a neutral environment for your wine tasting. A quiet, distraction-free atmosphere allows for better concentration. Consider competing aromas, as well. The scent of strong perfume, air freshener, or even a nearby fireplace can throw off a taster’s perception.

Glass conditioning

Check glasses for clarity. If they seem cloudy, give them a quick rinse with wine.

Take note of the ambient temperature. If it’s a hot day and your wine tasting is outdoors, you may want to store glasses in a refrigerator when serving dry white wines, for example. The reverse holds true when the air temperature is colder than the wine you’re serving. Consider investing in an instant-read thermometer to check the wine’s temperature.

The Wine Tasting Process

There are four main evaluations to consider during a wine tasting:

Sight

After the pour, well-versed wine tasters take a good look at the wine in the glass, evaluating it from various angles: straight-on, from the side, at an angle, and by the way it looks like when swirled in the glass. This examination can reveal information about a wine's density, age, and weight. Generally, wine with a clear, bright "sparkle" is likely a quality wine.

Smell

Evaluating the complex aromas in a wine might be the most difficult technique to perfect. Wine tasters will breathe in the scent of a wine via several short sniffs followed by a moment of contemplation away from the glass.

The smell of a wine can give an experienced taster clues about its age, quality, and even how the wine was stored before it was bottled. Sniffing a wine can also alert you to flaws in the wine, including whether it was bottled too early, spoilage, or acidic and bitter flavors that can point to a lower quality of wine. When sniffing a wine, you're looking for a ripe scent with no "off" bitter, musty, or acidic smells.

Taste

Everyone’s favorite part of the experience, tasting the wine, brings all the senses together. Here, you’ll want to take just a sip of wine and rely on your taste buds to give you further clues about the wine at hand, and more importantly, whether it’s a wine you’d enjoy drinking by the glass. Wine enthusiasts are often seeking a wine with harmonious, complex flavors that "dance," or evolve, in the mouth.

When all three senses align, you've come across a "complete" wine - one that has a lasting finish, a pleasing aroma, and a classically beautiful sparkle.

Common Wine Tasting Terms

When you’ve experienced several tastings with the goal of gaining more wine knowledge, you’ll be able to evaluate the quality and balance of a given wine with more confidence. Along the way, you are sure to encounter several common wine tasting terms:

Acidity: the tartness of a wine. Is it crisp or “flabby” tasting?

Aeration: Introducing oxygen into the wine by letting it mix with air. Some people call this step “opening up” a wine. Aeration can be achieved with specialized aeration tools or by simply decanting a bottle of wine into another pouring vessel.

Appellation: Where a wine originated geographically.

Body: A “mouthfeel” evaluation. Does the wine have a full, medium, or light body in your mouth?

Bouquet: The overall scent of a wine.

Finish: The endurance of a wine’s aftertaste. When the flavor lingers, the wine is said to have a long finish, while a wine with little lingering aftertaste has a short finish.

Horizontal/vertical tasting: Horizontal tasting includes sampling wines from a specific year created by different wineries, usually located in the same regions as one another. Vertical tasting refers to a sampling of multiple wines from a single winery with differing vintages.

Jammy: As opposed to a “fruity” wine, which has more of a fresh fruit flavor, a jammy wine offers a cooked fruit taste.

Minerality/earthiness: Wines with strong minerality are said to have a stone-influenced aroma and taste, while earthy wines bring the taste and scent of soil to mind.

Legs: The streaks of wine left on the glass when the wine is swirled. Wines with more legs contain more alcohol and glycerin, which often leads to a dense, bold-tasting wine.

Oaked: Wine that has been aged in oak barrels.

Oxidation: Occurs when a wine has been overexposed to oxygen. Oxidation is a negative quality in most wines, though sherry is an exception to this rule of thumb.

Sediment: the grit sometimes found at the bottom of a wine bottle. Surprisingly, sediment is often a positive attribute, a sign that the wine has undergone less processing.

Tannins: The compounds in the seeds and skins of grapes. Tannins are more prominent in red wines versus white. More tannins mean a dryer wine. Wines can become overly tannic.

Terroir: The effect of the region where the grapes were grown affects a wine’s qualities.

Varietal: A grape variety. Common varietals include cabernet sauvignon, merlot, chardonnay, and pinot noir.

Vintage: A wine crafted from grapes harvested in a single year. Non-vintage wines include grapes harvested from multiple years.

After the Tasting

Maintaining a wine tasting journal is an easy way to keep track of wines you enjoyed and why you enjoyed them. This record can help you make informed choices when you try a new wine, and creates a handy list to reference when you want to stock up on your top picks.

Now that you’re more well-versed in wine terminology, you’ll be able to select wines for your next shipment with confidence. You might even consider a themed selection based on similar terroirs or bouquets, or host a horizontal or vertical wine tasting at home.

No matter where your wine tastings lead you, you’re in the right place to track down your favorites. Whether you’re after a full-bodied Spanish tempranillo, a vintage Northern California pinot noir, or a refreshing rosé from the Côte d'Azur, you’ll find exactly what you need at JJ Buckley Fine Wines. Put together a case today!