There are copious blogs, articles, videos, and courses all aimed at helping you to improve your wine experience by learning the vocabulary used about the topic. So really, it would be pointless of me to re-invent the wheel in this post by trying to explain the expanse that formulates wine jargon.
Here’s my view on the matter – you don’t have to learn to speak (or anything) about wine to appreciate it. There is no wrong or right wine for you. As I’ve said before in many posts, just drink and share your wine with friends and enjoy the experience.
Some people want to understand a little more wine jargon so that they can perhaps make a better choice when purchasing (which is fair enough) but then, that’s my job when you come into Green Acres searching for a suitable wine.
Anyway, I am not saying that those who want to immerse themselves in the subject of wine shouldn’t bother but I am saying, don’t get too caught up in the details and forget about the enjoyment of it all.
Yes, there is a particular jargon when it comes to describing wines but that is in place for the people in the industry and wine enthusiasts to be able to communicate better with each other. It is not there to describe the quaffing wine one might have with a pizza watching a Wexford GAA match on TV (in fact that might require something stronger – just a joke).
In this post, I am going to explain why you don’t need to know the technical jargon just to have a good wine experience. I intend to find a balance between the nerdy wine lingo and some words that just might help you, better understand and appreciate wine.
Weird Wine Lingo
Now we know that when it comes to wine, very often no two people will taste the exact same characteristics. So as to better explain to each other, what it is that they’re tasting, professional wine tasters use specific words (jargon) that are understood within that community.
For non-professionals, who are not au fait with such a vocabulary, there are certain descriptions that generalise elements which each wine is well known for. Examples would be buttery Chardonnay, grassy Sauvignon Blanc, spicy Gewurztraminer etc.
Using these general descriptions is fine, as long as you have experienced the same tastes. Otherwise use your own words – just be careful not to stereotype a grape because that’s what you’ve read about it somewhere. Why? Because the same grape may have different taste characteristics depending on where it was grown etc.
But it is gas when you hear some of the modern-day descriptions. I will outline some of them below but my one caveat is that we must not forget that those with highly developed and experienced palates may indeed pick up on smells or tastes that others might not.
Sometimes descriptors used may give the impression of pretentiousness but it is not. Actually, in some ways, I believe they can be even more in tune with what a normal wine drinking person might say. Here are some that come to mind.
Farmyard – what springs to mind? Yep, cow poo, pigs, wet hay, or horses. In fact, what causes this aroma is a yeast that makes its way into aging barrels and wine cellars. To get a little technical, the yeast is known as ‘brettanomyces’ or Brett for short. Whilst a little brett gives a different sensory characteristic a lot of the time it is seen as a ‘spoilage yeast’ because too much of it makes the wine smell bad. The good news is that, in the main, it can be controlled by the winemaker.
Petrol – This is not a wide-spread aroma but I thought it sounded weird enough to be included here. Usually, it is a result of the minerality of the soil in a vineyard, and usually only with German Rieslings. Again, without trying to be too technical, this aroma will be balanced out by fruit and bright acidity (oops there’s me using jargon – sorry).
Cat Pee – Probably not the exact visual or aroma you want to think of when tasting Sauvignon Blanc but it is the tartiness (zest) caused by a chemical compound that results in this aroma. I find it mainly when I drink Sauvignon Blancs from New Zealand and in fact, there are those that consider this aroma a representation of high-end wines. To each their own, I say.
Nail Polish Remover – Some people like this aroma but in wine, it might not be a good thing. Interestingly enough it is a particular acid (ethyl acetate if you’re interested), in the wine that when excessive, gives off this pungent aroma. Sometimes though, when you open the bottle and you get a faint whiff of this aroma, leave it open (in the glass) for a little while. In general though if it is has a strong aroma the wine is probably faulty.
Burnt rubber or used matches – I could get really technical with this one but it is a good descriptor. Sulphur Dioxide is used to stabilise the wine in the winemaking process. It also serves as an antioxidant and antibiotic in wine. Now it is a naturally occurring compound in wine but when added to wine, or overused, it can give off an aroma of burnt rubber or used matches. If you smell rotten eggs – well then, run a mile.
You see, a lot of what we taste and smell from wines come from various memories we have stored in our brains. This, of course, would lead you to describe a wine in your own way – so go ahead and do so! Experience the fun of the different descriptions your fellow drinkers have.Most of what we taste and smell from wines come from various memories we have stored in our brains so be yourself #greenacresirl Click To Tweet
Anyway, my point is that it is almost impossible to have the exact same descriptors of the wine you are sharing because everybody has different memories. Hopefully, though, you can throw in a few of the above words when next tasting – just for the craic.
Everyday Wine Jargon That Might Help
As I’ve alluded to, most people are uncomfortable talking about wine mainly because they feel they lack the vocabulary to speak about it. However, as I’ve said – forget about the jargon and just describe what you enjoy about the wine and the memories it evokes.
Ignore the wine jargon so forget about food pairings and words like terroir, mouthfeel, tannins, acid, elegant, authentic etc. My list below contains 15 words that you may come across and, I believe, might be useful to know.
- Appellation – this is simply a legally protected place name for a wine region e.g. Bordeaux.
- Aroma – a singular, specific smell that you get from a wine that you are drinking.
- Balance – no one element sticks out. Key components in a wine are alcohol, acidity, tannin, sugar, and fruit.
- Bouquet – a collection of aromas usually in an older wine (might be called the ‘nose’).
- Breath – to allow a wine ‘open-up’ by interacting with air (e.g. decant) to soften the flavour
- Dry – meaning not sweet. Sweet wines may be described as off-dry (just to confuse you)
- Extra dry – usually in Champagne this means extra sweet
- Full bodied – a rule of thumb would be any wine with over 13.5% alcohol. You should feel a big, heavy flavour in your mouth.
- Generic wine – blended wine of ordinary quality, a common term for low price wine
- Hot – not what you think (ahem), it’s a taste sensation often found in high alcohol wines
- Legs – nothing to do with the wine per se. Some say that these, on the inside of the glass, reflect a higher alcohol content
- Magnum – Oversized bottle, twice the size of a standard 750 ml. wine bottle
- Oaky – excessive woody flavour in a wine (from aging wine in oak barrels)
- Sekt – the German word for sparkling wine
- Vintage – this is the year that the grapes were picked/harvested (not bottled)
Jargon Can Sometimes Improve Your Wine Experience
In many cases, for professionals processing wine talk is like learning a second language. It can take years of effort and commitment. Luckily, though, for the non-professional, this is not a requirement. Because what most people want when sitting in a restaurant or when faced with a wall of bottles in a retail outlet, is to be able to make a somewhat educated choice, other than price.
I’ve seen it happen to many of our customers in Green Acres over the years. Suddenly all the characteristics they thought they understood such as varietals, regions, aromas, and tastes default to two words – Red or White. And they feel awkward when asked about their preferences.
I really do understand that most people want to drink the stuff without the need for a translator so my advice is to find out why you like a specific wine (Country, Region, Grape etc.) and learn just a few words (such as those above). As a result you will be surprised how simple a wine list looks and overall your wine experience will be more enjoyable.
What I would like you to take away from my post is that the wine industry’s evocative jargon isn’t there to confuse you or to romanticise the act of drinking wine. It’s there for them to communicate better and for you to unlock your preferences. With just a little understanding of the vocabulary, you can unlock a spectrum of flavours and senses.
If you have no time or just don’t want to learn a little wine jargon well then that’s where we come in. In Green Acres, myself or Donal Morris will be on-hand to help you choose wonderful wines that suit any occasion – even watching a Wexford GAA match – that’s a promise.
Thank you for reading our blog. Feel free to drop-in to us here in Green Acres and we’ll help you choose from our comprehensive selection of wines, without bamboozling you with jargon. Also, if you’d like to receive future blog posts from us, directly to your email, just ‘click’ here.
We look forward to engaging with you again soon – Cheers, James.