Wine Masterclass: How to describe wine

Wine Masterclass - How to describe wine! 

Angelica Nohra 

Wine Importer | Wine List Consultant | Speaker


Have you ever listened to a bunch of hard-core wine people talking about the acidity and tannin in a wine and thought "Oh no, I have no idea what they are talking about" yet you don't speak in fear of sounding uneducated? Are you someone that just drinks wine without really thinking about what's happening when that wine enters your mouth? Do you want to get more educated? Well, hopefully this is the start of some learning for you!

Firstly, it's important to be able to analyse what 4 different things are:

Acid: This is that mouth-watering feeling that wines have. Do get an understanding of this, after drinking a wine, swallow it and tip your head forward. If you feel like you would drool if you opened your mouth, that is a HIGH acid wine. If not, it's a low acid wine. To really try this out, try a glass of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. You'll quickly come to understand what acid it. The words to describe acid are things like; Crisp, Balancing, Bright, Fine, Steely, Refreshing, Tart, Vibrant, Well-integrated, Well-balanced. 

Tannin: Only really found in red wines (however there are a lot of skin contact white wines now available on the market that display some tannin). Tannin in that gritty, chalky, dusty, furry feeling on your teeth, tongue etc after drinking a wine. You will find these are usually balanced with acid in a good wine so they aren't unpleasant. The adjectives I used above can be used to describe different tannins and there are many more. They can be found in a lot of Italian Reds so give them a go to understand them. Tannins are the residue of the skins, seeds and,sometimes, stalks of the grape. 

Body:  How 'heavy' does the wine feel in your mouth? This is body. A full bodied wine is normally quite obvious. An oaked chardonnay, a Barossa shiraz. A medium to light bodied wine will be more like a Chianti or a Pinot Noir for red and a pinot grigio for white. 

Alcohol: How 'hot' does this feel? High alcohol wines feel like pinpricks at the roof of your mouth and quite warm going down the chest. Low alcohol is under 12%, Medium Alcohol is between 12.5-14% and high alcohol is anything over that. Be conscious of how you feel when drinking the different levels of alcohol so you can understand how your body is reacting to it. 

Sweetness: When we talk about wine, we talk about sugar sweetness. It's illegal to add sugar to a wine. Sugars are maintained through leaving the fruit on the vine for a longer time before harvest or by stopping fermentation early. Wines are either fermented to dry, off dry, sweet and luscious. In sparkling, it is dry, extra dry, brut, extra brut and natural which means 0gm sugar (my personal fav). So we don't talk about a wine being sweet if it has jammy fruit. We talk about a wine being sweet if it's actually full of residual sugar. Think Moscato, Vin Santo, Botrytis Semm etc. 

Now that's over with, there are other words to be aware of. 

Aroma ('nose'):
When you smell the wine, does the aroma just jump out of the glass without you having to stick your nose into the glass too much? If so, that is described as a 'pronounced' wine. If you really need to swirl up the glass and basically stick your head in to get any aroma, it's considered a neutral wine. To understand this, pour a glass of NZ Sauv Blanc and a glass of Italian Pinot Grigio from Veneto and you'll see the difference between pronounced and neutral. 

Secondly; on this point, are you smelling lots of fruit when you take a sniff? Lots of cherries or strawberries or citrus or blackberries? If there is a dominant smell of fruit, we say it's a fruit driven wine with lots of primary aromas. If you are smelling vanilla, butterscotch, butter, cheese... these describe a wine that has secondary characters (usually from oak ageing or lees stiring.) If you are smelling leather, tobacco, stewed or dried fruit, petrol, forest floor... we are getting into tertiary characters. A youthful wine will display the primary fruit. As a wine ages, it will start to develop into these interesting tertiary character before the wine doesn't develop anymore and just falls over. 

White wines will either be described as pale, medium or deep lemon, lemon-lime or gold. Red wines are described as pale,medium or deep purple, ruby or garnet. The younger a wine, usually the more pale or purple it will be. As a white wine ages, it will turn yellow/gold. As a red wine ages, it will turn to garnet. If it's brick red, it's past it's best. 

Lastly, this might sound silly but it needs to be stated. The aromas and flavours in the wine are naturally occurring characters within the grapes and the wine making techniques. Flavours aren't ADDED to the wine. Yes I know, it may sound silly but I've had that question asked to me in the past. 

Hopefully that initiates you on the world of wine talk. Hit me up below if you want me to go deeper into anything else! Otherwise, go out there and enjoy talking about your wines :)

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