Drinking wine is a simple pastime. You open the bottle, you pour it into the glass and then you gulp it. For others, however, it’s become something of a snobby sport. To help you on your way to getting it, here are five wine terms every aspiring wine connoisseur needs to know.
These fancy wine terms are mostly reserved for fine dining or wine tours but understanding the basics can help you follow along. Wines can be described in very enchanting ways, like ‘chocolate-y’ or ‘creamy’, but they’re not meant to be taken that literally.
Wine flavours are often open to interpretation and can alter depending on the food it’s paired with. Either way, it’s helpful to know what the hell the sommelier (a wine waiter) is talking about.
This is a common term you’re likely to hear during a wine tasting. The ‘body’ of a wine is simply the feeling of it in your mouth when you take a sip. Full-bodied red wines, like Shiraz and Cabernet, are full of flavour, tend to feel creamier and linger in the mouth a lot longer. On the other end, a Pinot Noir is considered light-to-medium-bodied and tends to be easier to drink for those who aren’t huge on wine.
White wines also have this scale. Chardonnay is generally considered full-bodied while a Pinot Grigio is considered light.
Linked to the body of a wine is the finish. This is the flavour that’s left on your tongue after you’ve swallowed the wine. Generally speaking, full-bodied wines have a longer finish while medium and light-bodied wines have a shorter one.
If you’ve ever had a sip of wine and felt like it slurped up all the moisture in your mouth, that’s the tannins at play. Tannins are a naturally occurring compound in grapes, particularly present in the skin, seeds and stems, and causes that drying or bitter feeling you might experience.
Too much tannin is undesirable in a wine but some red varieties, like Cabernet Sauvignon and Sangiovese, are enhanced by it. Shiraz and Tempranillo varieties round out the middle area if you like a little dryness, while Pinot Noir typically has the least.
As the name suggests, barrel-aged means the wine was poured into a barrel and left to age. Typically, these barrels are made of oak, which gives the wine a distinct flavour. As Masterclass explains, it can transfer tannins between the wood barrel and the wine, both adding a fuller body while mellowing out the flavour.
Barrel-aging is also a popular process for creating our much-loved dessert wines. Port, tawny, muscat and sherry are all commonly popped into barrels to age and offer a fuller, heavier fortified wine.
A vintage is an indicator of the year the grapes were picked, processed and bottled — not necessarily of age. If you pick up a bottle and it gives you a specific year, let’s say 2016, it just means it was made from grapes harvested in 2016. If it has no year on the label, it means it may have been made from a mix of harvests.
You’ll have to do some research if you want to pick a good vintage. It depends on how well the weather was in that region and whether grapes were harvested early or late in the season.
Bonus terms: Large wine bottle names that are definitely not metal bands
These are terms you’ll likely never hear a sommelier speak out loud, but rate a mention due to their heavy metal vibe.
Solomon, Balthazar, Imperial, Jeroboam, Methuselah, Nebuchadnezzar, Rehoboam and Salmanazar all sound like bands that’ll freak your mum out but are in fact names for large wine bottles.
A Balthazar, according to Wine Folly, contains 12 litres and is equivalent to 16 regular bottles. Salmanazars have nine litres, Imperials and Methuselahs hold six litres, Rehoboams are 4.5 litres while Jeroboams are around three-to-five. The big daddies are the Nebuchadnezzar and Solomon, which are 15 and 18-litre beasts or equivalent to 20 or 24 regular wine bottles.
I guess they are pretty metal after all.
If you’d like to keep the booze education going, check out our explainer on pairing whiskey with food for the first time here.
This article was originally published in September 2020 and has been updated since that date.