When I was a child, I remember grown-ups around the dinner table talking about the “cassis” of the wine, or the “savory” taste of a freshly-opened bottle. Of course, at the time I didn’t understand what they meant, but now that I’m in the wine business myself, terms like these offer me clues about the flavor and makeup of a vintage.
Although many times I find myself speaking about wine in nuanced terminology with fellow industry peers, I also spend plenty of evenings savoring a glass (or two!) with friends who’d just as soon call a wine “delicious!” as they would “balanced.” The good news is, there’s no wrong way to describe wine! From time to time my friends ask me about certain terms they hear at the wine shop or at a tasting, and I’m happy to help – getting them as excited about wine as I am is one of life’s great pleasures!
You don’t have to be a master sommelier to describe what you’re tasting and feeling when you enjoy a glass of wine. Here’s how I would describe a few of the most commonly overheard wine terms to my own friends and family:
The Term: Balance
When a wine is “balanced,” it’s usually understood to be very enjoyable. The balance of a wine is actually the balance of three components: fruit, alcohol, and acid. When it comes to red wine, a few other factors play into balance as well, such as wood (from barrel aging) and tannins. If a wine is balanced it is neither astringent or cloyingly sweet. If you’re hosting a dinner party, ask for a balanced wine at the shop.
The Term: Fruit Forward
All wines are made with fruit, but when a wine is described as being “fruit forward,” its fruity flavors are very pronounced. The wine will be very aromatic with sweet fruit smells, though not necessarily overly sweet itself. Some of the fruit flavors you might notice in fruit forward wines include raspberry, cherry, blackberry, peach, apple, and pineapple.
The Term: Light, Medium, or Full Bodied
When someone refers to the “body” of a wine, they’re referring to its mouthfeel, heft, and viscosity. The easiest way to think of body is the difference in whole and skim milk. Light bodied wines are the most refreshing and tingly, usually with higher levels of acidity and lower alcohol which makes them great for summertime. Medium bodied wines – a term reserved for reds – are a good middle-ground, and excellent for pairing with food. Full bodied wines fill your palate with texture and intensity and are perfect for cold, cozy weather.
The Term: Acid
Acid is an important component of both red and white wines, but particularly for whites. The earlier a grape is picked, the more acid it has. The more acidic a wine the more refreshing, crisp, and mouth-watering it will feel as you drink it. Acid is a critical component for aging wine successfully, so be sure to choose a high-acid wine if you plan to save a bottle for a future occasion like a birth or graduation.
The Term: Finish
The “finish” of a wine is, essentially, the aftertaste it leaves once you’re done drinking it. Wines can have a smooth finish, a bitter finish, a smoky finish, and so on. Oftentimes, the way a wine “finishes” greatly impacts the overall experience you’ll have drinking the wine. Wines with a more astringent, spicy finish might be less favorable to those with a sweeter, tart finish, and so on.
There are, of course, dozens of other ways to describe the elements of a perfect glass of wine, but these are a few of the terms my friends ask about most. At the Candoni De Zan Family winery, we love educating our guests on the tastes they’re experiencing. Whether it’s the notes of vanilla in our Pinot Noir or the taste of melon and pear in our Organic Pinot Grigio, seeing our guests recognize the flavors we’ve worked so hard to impart is a truly special experience!
The best news is, though, that how you describe wine isn’t nearly as important as how you savor it.