Posted: Oct 29, 2017
How to Speak Oenophile: A Wine Lover's Glossary
IS THERE ANY beverage more word-worthy than wine? Do beer drinkers or cocktail connoisseurs have as large an arsenal of nouns and adjectives? While wine verbiage can certainly be excessive, even annoying, some words are actually quite useful. Here, 10 phrases you might hear bandied about, and what they really mean to wine drinkers.
1. 'Lively acidity.'
A wine without acidity is a dull, flat drink. It's like Coke without the fizz. Acidity also acts to balance other elements of a wine, especially sweetness and tannins. While some wines have more acidity than others (e.g. Chablis, Muscadet), all well-made wines have a good amount of acidity, making them lively and refreshing to drink.
2. 'A balanced wine.'
When a wine is "balanced" all of its parts are in harmony. Axel Heinz, winemaker of famed Super Tuscans Masseto and Ornellaia, describes a well-balanced wine as one in which "no single parameter stands out. It's not about the fruit, it's not about tannin," but the wine as a congenial whole.
3. 'Great length.'
When a wine leaves a lasting impression it's said to have "length." A synonym for length is "persistence." Both words refer to texture and flavor that last on the tongue. Wine critic Robert M. Parker, Jr. liked to cite the time that a wine lasted in his mouth as a mark of its quality-in remarkably precise numerical amounts.
4. 'Really minerally.'
Minerality is such a complex notion I devoted an entire column to it in 2013. Minerally wines are often made in soil containing a high proportion of actual stone (e.g. limestone), as in the case of Chablis, but can also be used merely descriptively, to frame a flavor or sensation as akin to, say, flint or marble. A professor of viticulture in California offered what has become my favorite definition for minerality: "an energetic buzz."
5. 'On the nose.'
Oenophiles don't refer to a wine's "smell" but its "nose," and every wine has one-for better or worse. The "nose" of a wine encompasses both aroma (primary scents of fruit and/or oak) and bouquet (secondary smells of earth or mushroom that develop over time). Someone particularly adept at discerning nuanced aromatics is noted as a "nose" in the world of wine (and perfume, too).
6. 'A good palate.'
A palate is both the physical roof of the mouth and an ability to discern subtle qualities or glaring failures of a wine. A drinker acquires a palate with time and practice. Those who are particularly gifted or naturally discerning are acknowledged as good palates.
7. 'Elegant structure.'
Just as the collective components of a building are referred to as its "structure," fruit, alcohol, acidity and tannin make up a wine's structure. When these components work together especially well, a wine is praised as "well structured."
8. 'Residual sugar.'
There are two types of wine sweetness. Residual sugar-grape sugars left in the wine once fermentation ceases-refers to the actual, measurable sweetness in wine. The second type, perceived sweetness, doesn't always correspond to the first. For instance, a wine may be technically sweet but not perceived as such because it possesses lots of acidity (as with German Riesling). Another wine may be lower in residual sugar but also in acidity, and so come across as sweet.
9. 'High in tannin.'
There are also two kinds of tannins-grape tannins and oak tannins (from the barrels many wines are fermented and/or aged in)-both of which can grip the inside of a drinker's mouth with astringency. All wines, including white wines, have grape tannins, though some are more tannic than others. For example, Chardonnay has more tannin than Riesling, and Syrah has more tannin than Pinot Noir. New oak barrels impart a more tannic feeling to a wine than older oak barrels; French oak barrels have more tannin than American oak does.
10. 'Goût de terroir.'
In one sense, terroir comprises the entire environment in which a wine is produced: the soil, the climate, the sun, even the slope of a hill. It is both a comprehensive and endlessly elusive term. As wine writer Stuart Pigott once said, when a winemaker speaks of his wine's goût de terroir (taste of terroir), "reach for your wallet."
By Lettie Teague
October 26, 2017
Go-Wine's mission is to organize food and beverage information and make it universally accessible and beneficial. These are the benefits of sharing your article in Go-Wine.com