Now that we’ve met and gotten to know each other a little, I think it’s time I told you just what the heck I’m talking about. Let’s do some wine term learnin’!
Here are some common terms I use when talking about wine. You might find them helpful if you’re new to the world of fermented grapes.
Varietal – This is a fancy word for the type of grape used in a wine. Chardonnay, for example, or Cabernet Sauvignon. Wines have more than one varietal are called blends. It’s a personal pet peeve of mine when bottles don’t tell you the wines used in their blend – I don’t care that it has a cute name, I want to know what I’m drinking!
Breathing – This is the process of letting the wine come into contact with air for a period of time. It happens automatically whenever you open a bottle, but some wines will offer a better flavour if you give it time to breathe, which is why you’ll see some wines being decanted before it’s served.
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Opening Up – This is what happens when you let a wine breathe. As wines open up their flavours mellow out and become more cohesive. There have been many times when I haven’t really liked a wine on the first sip, but after letting it sit for a while the flavour changes and I love it.
Lay Down – This is a phrase I like to use when talking about saving a bottle for the future. I like to think of the bottles going to sleep for a long winter’s nap in a subterranean cellar somewhere – or, if your collection looks like mine, tucked away under your bed.
Nose – This is a more informal word I use for ‘bouquet’, which is essentially the smell of the wine. Since smell is tied so closely to flavour I really like to give my wines a good sniff, and I encourage you to get into the habit too. Go on, get your nose right in that glass!
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Finish – This is the initial aftertaste of a wine. I say initial because sometimes a wine can linger on your tongue for quite a while, but the finish is something different. It is the end of the taste process – you can often get a totally different observation as the wine passes the back of your tongue than when it passes another part. Try it sometime.
Dry – A word used to describe the amount of sugar in a wine. Dry wines don’t have as much sugar in them as sweeter wines (duh) and usually don’t have much sweetness in their flavour, if at all. There are a number of different scales for sweetness, and the LCBO has developed their own scale to use on their labels to help customers choose which wine to buy.
Legs – Legs are those spindly strands of residue that trickle down a wine glass when you swirl the wine or take a sip. Whether or not a wine will have legs depends on the amount of alcohol a wine has, and how quickly or slowly they slide down the glass has to do with a wine’s sugar content.
Sparkling – Ah, bubbly, I love you so! Sparkling wine is a term used for any wine that has those fizzy bubbles in them. Some people refer to any bubbly wine as Champagne, but those people wrong. All Champagne is sparkling wine, but not at sparkling wine is Champagne. This is another pet peeve of mine! Calling all sparkling wine Champagne is like calling every dog a Labrador Retriever. Don’t be that person!
There are many other wine terms, and I’ll explain them as I go. There are also lots and lots of more exhaustive lists out there, especially if you’re interested in learning why some wines evoke certain characteristics. (I’m still learning that myself!) I suggest starting with Wine Magazine’s list, but Wikipedia is always a good go-to for learning the basics.