Hi there! We decided to create a page which will help beginners understand some of the most basic terms used in the wine industry. It also includes questions we get asked on a regular basis.
We encourage you to read through this page. It is a great way to make sure you don’t miss anything important, expand on your wine knowledge and get the most out of our articles. Enjoy!
Basic Wine Terms
What is a “well-balanced” wine?
The chief components of wine are alcohol, tannin, acidity, sweetness, and extracts (or fruit concentration). When the different components are found in the right balance in a wine, it is termed a “well-balanced” wine. All the elements of a balanced wine work in harmony and none of them dominate the outcome.
What do you mean when you say that a wine is “full-bodied”?
This term denotes the overall feel of wine when it lands in your mouth. It simply indicates the general weight or fullness of a wine. When a wine is called “full-bodied”, it implies that it feels big and powerful. Such a wine has a high intensity and richness of aroma/flavor. On the contrary, a glass of light-bodied wine is more delicate and less powerful.
What does the wine term “breathing” mean?
“Breathing” essentially denotes aerating of the wine, i.e., exposing it to oxygen. Breathing begins immediately after you pull the cork out. Chemical reactions take place between the gases of the air and the wine. These reactions change its flavor. While breathing is great for some wines, the flavor of a few wines does not get altered by aeration.
What does a “wine color” mean?
The intensity of the shade of wine depends on how extracted it is. The more extracted it is, the deeper is its shade. The same applies to the maturity of the wine.
That is why many people use this color-prompt technique to determine the best wines during wine tasting sessions. Every variation in the color indicates something different. For example, a pale green or light yellow wine usually characterizes a youthful and light body.
What is dry wine?
A dry wine is not sweet, meaning that it has no residual sugar in it. During the process of fermentation, yeast consumes the sugar present in the grape juice. While making wines, several winemakers halt the fermentation process before yeast eats all the sugar, thereby giving the wine a sweet touch!
When this residual sugar is absent, there is no sugary sweetness, and the wine is termed “dry”.
What does “earthy” mean?
The wine descriptor “earthy” implies that the wine has aroma and flavors similar to the Earth’s elements like mushrooms or the forest floors. It may also refer to the “drying” impression due to a high amount of geosmin- a chemical compound related to the earthy quality in grapes, which naturally occurs in grapes. Earthiness is often complemented by a savory character in the wine.
What is meant by “acidity” in wine?
With reference to wine, “acidity” refers to the element of taste created by acids in the mouth. The fresh, sour, and tart characteristics contribute to the acidity of the wine. For instance, high acidity levels in the wine make it taste very sour or tart, whereas low acidity makes the wine taste flat and flabby. Thus, it is crucial for winemakers to get the appropriate levels of acidity.
What is the difference between “vintage”, “antique”, and “retro”?
In the context of wines, a vintage wine is one that is made from grapes and is grown and harvested in a single year. A wine’s “vintage” indicates the year in which the grapes were harvested. This can impact the taste and quality of the wine.
What are tannins?
In wine, tannins are responsible for both bitterness, complexity, and astringency. To find out if your wine has tannins, you need to check if your wine dries out your tongue or if it tastes bitter in your mouth. Tannins provide texture to the wine along with weight and structure.
What is Rosé wine?
A Rosé wine incorporates the color from skins of the grapes, but it is not intensive enough to qualify as red wine. It is both the oldest and the easiest type of wine to make. It is usually named so in French, Portuguese, and the English speaking countries. It is called “rosato” in Italian and “rosado” in Spanish.
Is wine dryness or sweetness due to grape variety?
No. Both sweetness and dryness of wine have nothing to do with the variety of grapes used. Just about any kind of grape can be made sweet or dry or any stage in between. The fermentation process alters and reduces sweetness and induces dryness, if the winemaker continues the process for long enough. If the winemaker stops before, the residual sugar gives the wine a sweet touch.
Why is red wine often paired with red meat?
The reason why red meat is often paired with red wine is that the latter contains a high amount of tannins. When on their own, tannins can cause drying. But when paired with the rich fattiness of red meat, the tannins present in the red wine complement red meat well.
Should I worry about sulfites in wine?
Sulfites are nothing but the food preservatives used in winemaking. They help in maintaining the flavor and freshness of the wine. Most people perfectly tolerate sulfites. A research revealed that some people could be affected by the presence of sulfites in wines and may experience potential side effects like stomach pain, headache, and swelling. If you have asthma, you need to keep away from consuming them as sulfites can irritate your respiratory tract.
Should I worry about sulfites in wine?
While many of us can tolerate the presence of sulfites in wines, some cannot. If you are one among those and wish to know how to get rid of sulfites, I have a solution for you. Popular wine purifiers like the Üllo wine purifier helps you reduce the high amounts of sulfur in wine. All you need to do is pour your wine through the filter into the glass.
How long does white wine last? Does it ever go bad?
As a rule of thumb, an open bottle of white wine does not last more than three days. If unopened, it may last for 1-2 years. White wines are typically sensitive to light and heat. Therefore, it is advised to drink white wines in their entirety. Since these wines oxidize very quickly, they can go bad. Once opened, the wine’s exposure to oxygen cannot be blocked. Upon oxidation, it becomes sour and also changes its color. Check out this article for more details.
Does red wine go bad? How long does it last?
If you have an unopened bottle of red wine, you are in luck as it can last for several years if properly stored. As a matter of fact, it gets better with age and also gets enhanced nutritionally. On the contrary, an opened bottle of red wine spoils very quickly due to oxidation. If you do not close the bottle properly, it could get spoiled by as early as daybreak. Read on more here.
How long does champagne last? Can it go bad?
A properly sealed and refrigerated champagne bottle would be fine even if it were opened 4 or 5 days ago. However, you might notice a loss of taste after a week. That being said, a bottle of champagne should never be left unopened/unsealed. It will also taste sour and begins to smell sharp. Champagnes are made to consume at the earliest, and they do not age fine like red wine. They lose all the bubbles and spark if left for a very long time. Check out the full article.
How to taste wine properly?
Here are the key factors you need to have in mind while tasting a wine:
- Visual appeal: Be aware that the colors vary with the age of the wine.
- Smell: Swirl the wine in your glass and see that you coat the side of your glass. Coating the side increases the surface area and helps aroma escape, thereby allowing you to smell the wine better.
- Taste: Hold the wine in your mouth, tilt your head forward to 45 degrees and suck in some air. This helps you intensify the wine’s flavor.
- Texture: This is where you know how it feels and not how it tastes.
See more on how to drink and taste wine properly.
What is a Hybrid wine?
Hybrid grapes are a result of crossing between 2 or more species of Vitis. Most of the hybrid varieties do not contain enough tannins to produce red wine; they typically comprise higher acidity levels than Vitis vinifera.
What is Merlot wine?
Merlot is a variety of dark blue-colored wine grapes used for both varietal wine-making and blending purposes. It is soft and has a fleshy taste to it. Merlot is popularly used across the globe. It is also one of the most popular varieties of red wine.
What is Malbec?
This is a variety of grape that is used in preparing red wine. Malbec wine is a full-bodied red wine and is much celebrated in Argentina. It is known for a dark fruity flavor and a smoky finish. It gives an inky red finish to the wine, and hence it is used in many blends such as with Merlot. Read more on Malbec wine.
What grape is Pinot blanc?
Pinot blanc is principally a variety of white wine grapes. One of the most important characteristics of this grape is the specific roundness of flavor it exhibits. If the acidity is low, the wine also tends to display sweetness. They are gentle and generally have a smaller body. They are usually ready to be drunk.
What grape is Pinot Noir?
Unlike Pinot blanc, pinot noir is a variety of red wine grapes. It belongs to the species “Vitis vinifera”. These grapes are grown across the world, predominantly in colder climates. It is popularly used in making red wines, champagnes, and sparkling white wines. Read more about Pinot Noir.
What is Port wine?
Port wines can be prepared from a blend of several varieties of grapes. Port usually refers to a sweet, red, and fortified wine often produced in Portugal. It is famous as a dessert wine owing to its richness. There are several styles of Port. Some of them include red, white, tawny port, etc.
What is Riesling?
This is an aromatic white grape variety that displays flowery aromas. It is also known for the high levels of acidity. Riesling is used in making dry, sweet, semi-sweet, and sparkling white wines. These wines are varietally pure and rarely oaked. It was ranked the world’s 20th most grown variety of grapes in 2004.
What is Sauvignon Blanc?
It is a green-skinned variety of grapes that typically originated in France. It produces a dry, crisp, and refreshing white varietal wine. It is also the key component of the popular dessert wine from Sauternes and Barsac.
What is Zinfandel wine?
This black-skinned grape is a variety of wine grapes that is popularly grown in the vineyards of California. These grapes are capable of producing a robust red wine. It has high sugar content levels, which can be fermented into alcohol whose sugar levels exceed 15 percent. The taste of red wine is based on the ripeness of grapes from which it is produced.