4 Words To Help You Describe Wine

December 2, 2022

Tips and tricks from Katherine Mindach, Shawnessy Sommelier. 

We've all been there; we walk into the liquor store with a bit of confusion as we scan the vast shelves of products. Then, an employee asks the dreaded question, "Can I help you find something today?". You were feeling pretty good about what you came to the store for, but now you are second-guessing yourself. What if this person has a better suggestion? How do I ask for what I'm looking for and know their recommendation will be the best bottle? Well, we've got a solution for you. Here are some common wine descriptors to help you find more wines you'll love!

Body

This is a term used to describe the weight and viscosity of the wine. It is broken into 3: Light, Medium, and Full. 

Light-bodied wines are those that are typically lighter in alcohol and tannin (reds) and will usually have higher acidity. These wines will seem delicate, subtle, lean, and sometimes racy. 

Full-bodied wines will have a deeper colour, more alcohol, and more tannin. On the palate, they will have more texture and more intensity. You could also describe full-bodied wines as rich, opulent, and structured. 

Some examples of light-bodied wines are Pinot Grigio and Pinot Noir, while some examples of full-bodied wines are Viognier and Shiraz/Syrah. 

Fruit 

We use the term 'fruit' to describe the dominant fruit notes on the nose and palate, such as green apples, blackberries or raspberry jam. This term can be confusing as people sometimes need clarification on a wine that is fruity as a sweet wine. Unless, of course, you are looking for a wine made from cherries. 

By letting our trained staff know the fruit flavours you enjoy, they can help guide you to the wines made with a particular grape or style. Some examples of fruit-forward wines are Chenin Blanc and Zinfandel.

Acid

Acidity is what gives wine its tart and zesty taste. In our mouths, we taste acidity on the front and sides of our tongues. Wines with higher acidity taste crisp, fresh, bright, and tart, while those with lower acidity will be more smooth and round on the palate. Those wines higher in acidity will cause your mouth to pucker and salivate. The more you salivate, the more acidity in the wine. 

Wines from cooler climates tend to retain their acidity because less warmth and sunshine are available to increase the sugar content in the grapes. This goes for both white and red wines. A notable high-acid white varietal would be Riesling, and a unique high-acid red would be Pinot Noir.

Tannin

Tannins are a chemical compound (polyphenols) found in grapes' seeds, skins, and stems. This is why tannins are commonly found in red wine, as there is more contact between the juice and the skins. 

All too often, acidity and tannin are confused with one another. The main difference is that acidity will be tart or sour, while tannins will be bitter, astringent, and make your mouth drier. Acidity is detected from the sides of your tongue, and tannin is detected at the back. 

Another term we would use to describe tannin is the mouthfeel. Tannins feel smooth, velvety, dry, rough, grainy, and coarse. Some grape varietals are more tannic than others, so think about what is pleasant for your palate and convey that feeling of tannins when describing your ideal wine. Some of the higher tannic reds are Nebbiolo and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Happy to help at Calgary Co-op Wine Spirits Beer

We know that sometimes the world of wine can be intimidating, especially when it comes to understanding some of the words we use to describe wine. Just know that the friendly staff at Calgary Co-Op Wine Spirits Beer are here to help you navigate the products and get you exactly what you were looking for and maybe a couple of new favourites! Ask a sommelier and visit coopwinespiritsbeer.com/meet-your-sommeliers

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