Wine 101: Basic Wine Terminology

Wine for Beginners, 8 Basic Wine Terms for You to Know to Sound Like a Pro!

You may need help with basic wine terminology, and that’s why you’re here. If you’re new to wine, you’re not alone, as we all were at one point. The wealth of information can be overwhelming, but don’t worry, we’ve got your back! In this post, we’ll break down eight basic terms for describing wine so that you can understand and explore these different terms. Acidity, body, dryness, finish, nose, mouthfeel, tannin, and varietal are all terms you may have heard wine enthusiasts use when discussing their latest find. But what do they mean? Here’s a quick rundown of these eight essential wine terms, allowing you to talk wine with the best of them!

Wine Terminology Infographic

Wine and “Acidity”

Acidity in wine infographic

 Acidity is one of the most critical aspects of wine, as it provides balance and freshness. It is also one of the most essential wine terms on this list. Acidity can be perceived as a tart or sour taste, and it is also responsible for that crisp, refreshing feeling you get when you take a sip of wine. The degree of acidity in wine is measured on a scale of 0 to 14. The lower the number, the higher the acidity. Acid in wine can be affected by factors such as the grape variety, the climate where the grapes are grown, and the winemaking process. Okanagan Valley Wine, Pinot Gris, and Riesling are two varieties known to be high in acid. More on varietals later.

The “Body” of Wine

 Body refers to the overall weight and viscosity of a wine. Wines can be light-bodied, medium-bodied, or full-bodied. Light-bodied wines are typically easy drinking and have delicate flavour profiles. Medium-bodied wines are slightly more complex, with more decadent flavours and more structure. Full-bodied wines are often intense, with bold flavours and a higher alcohol content. The body is determined by factors such as the grape variety, the alcohol content, and the time the wine ages in oak barrels.

Wine can be “Dry”? How is that possible when it’s a liquid?

 Dryness is a measure of how much fruit sugar is remaining in a wine after fermentation. This is known as “residual sugar“, or R.S., and is measured in grams per litre of wine. Sugars are converted into alcohol during fermentation, so dry wines have little sugar content. The degree of dryness in a wine is usually stated on the label, using terms such as “dry,” “off-dry,” or “sweet.” In British Columbia, we use a wine sweetness scale that ranges from 0, which is sometimes listed as 00, to 10. For a wine to be considered a 0 or 00, it must have less than 5 grams of R.S. Off-Dry wines are listed as 1 or 2 and have between 5 and 25 grams of R.S. It all goes up from there, with a 10 having over 100 grams of R.S., which is quite normal for British Columbian Ice Wines.

It’s a marathon, not a sprint for a wines “Finish.”

The finish of a wine is its aftertaste. Please understand, as it can be very complex. This wine term refers to the lingering flavours and sensations you experience after swallowing wine. Finish is affected by many factors, including acidity, alcohol content, tannins, and residual sugar. A long finish indicates that these flavours linger on the palate for an extended period. A wine’s finish can be short, medium, or long. Short finishes are standard in white wines; young and lighter red wines are made from early ripening varieties. Medium finishes are typical of well-made wines aged for a few years. Long finishes are often found in older, high-quality wines or wines made from late-ripening grape varieties.

“Mouthfeel”, think of it as texture when it comes to liquids. Yes, we know it sounds gross.

Mouthfeel is a wine term used to describe the texture of a wine. It can be affected by many factors, including alcohol content, tannins, acidity, and residual sugar. Wines with high levels of alcohol or tannins tend to have a more astringent mouthfeel, while wines with higher acidity or sugar tend to have a more refreshing mouthfeel. We will touch on these other wine terms in a later blog post.

We talk about “Nose” when we put wine in our mouths?

When it comes to wine, the nose knows. The nose of a wine refers to its aroma. This can be affected by many factors, including grape variety, terroir (the natural environment where the grapes are grown), and oak aging. Swirling the wine in your glass will help release its aromatic compounds and improve your ability to smell it. When I swirl my wine, I like to imagine releasing the grape’s essence into the air. With each sniff, I am taking a step closer to understanding the complex flavour of the wine. So take a deep sniff and see what aromas you can detect. It may seem ridiculous, but the longer you smell, the more aromas that you may be able to detect. You might just be surprised at what your nose knows about wine.

“Tannins” are astringent, bitter molecules found in wine, but we love them.

 Tannin is a naturally occurring compound found in grape skins and seeds. It gives red wines some of their character, flavour and mouthfeel. Tannin also plays a vital role in aging; it helps preserve colour and aroma while softening rough edges over time. Wines made from grapes with thick skins (such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Syrah) will have higher levels of tannin than wines made from grapes with thin skins (such as Pinot Noir or Riesling). When wines are young or poorly made, the tannins may be grippy, astringent and bitter. The opposite happens in high-quality wines that have had some time to rest, where they can come across a plush and silky.

“Varietal” – is this the spice of life?

 Varietal refers to the type of grape used to make a wine. The way I like to describe it is by comparing oranges. You have Mandarin oranges and Naval oranges. They are both oranges but quite different in size, flavour and skin thickness. Like oranges, many different grape varieties are used in winemaking, each with its unique flavour profile. There are over 80 different grape varietals planted in B.C. Wines made from a single varietal often display characteristics typical of that grape variety. For example, Chardonnay is often described as having notes of citrus fruits like lemon and lime, while Cabernet Sauvignon features black fruit flavours like blackberry and currant. Don’t shy away from blends when exploring wine, as the flavours may pair quite well.

Now you know the basic wine terminology of how to describe wine like a pro, it’s time for you to put your skills to the test! Try to remember these terms while you taste the next time you’re in an Okanagan Valley Tasting room, on an Okanagan Wine Tour, or in a restaurant. If your next stop is a liquor store, head over to the B.C. wine section, pick up a bottle of wine that looks good to you, and try it. See if you can identify sweetness, acidity, tannin levels, and alcohol content by taste alone. Once you’ve got that down, start experimenting with different wines from all over the world. What is your preference? Red or white? Dry or sweet? Sparkling or still? With so many options available, there’s something for everyone regarding wine. Cheers!