HOW TO TALK ABOUT WINE LIKE A PRO
Here’s a list of important wine lingo that will have you talking and sounding like the smartest wine drinker in your tasting group. Isn’t it time to bring out your inner wine geek?
A French term that doesn’t translate in any other language but expresses “a sense of place,” encompassing soil, climate, and the entire environment of where the grapes are grown.
Premium wine grapes. Countries where winemaking and vitis vinifera grapes first originated are considered “Old World.” Wines from countries where winemaking and vitis vinifera grapes were imported are considered “New World.”
RESIDUAL SUGAR (RS)
Sugar that remains in a wine after fermentation, usually measured in grams per liter or percentage. Most wine is fermented to dryness, but a popular varietal that does well with residual sugar is the cool climate varietal, Riesling. Not all Rieslings will be sweet and to help the consumer understand the level of sweetness, there’s typically a chart on the back of each wine label. Another trick to determine sweetness is to look at the percentage of alcohol. Sweeter wines typically have less alcohol by volume (ABV), unless it’s fortified wine, which will then add alcohol to the wine. The amount of sugar remaining in a wine is the choice of the winemaker.
MALOLACTIC FERMENTATION (MLF)
Taking the harsh malic acid (tart apples) and converting it to the softer lactic acid (milk) by a bacterial conversion called malolactic fermentation. Most red wines undergo this process, but winemakers can either promote this biological process, creating rick buttery chardonnays, or block the process with the goal of preserving a higher level of acidity in white wines, such as Sauvignon Blanc.
A phenolic compound found in grapes. Tannin comes from the grape’s skin, pips (seeds), and stems. It acts as a natural preservative while helping the development and balance in a wine. Tannin can also derive from oak barrels. For the most part, grape tannins make the side of your cheeks stick to your teeth, while wood tannin gives a drying sensation to the back of your tongue.
2.4.6 TRICHLOANISOLE (TCA)
The primary chemical responsible for cork taint. “This wine is corked!” Detection level of “cork” varies to the point that some don’t detect it at all, while others are sensitive to it before it even reaches their nose. TCA tends to mute all fruit flavors, creating a sort of bland tasting wine. Descriptions of corked wine included terms like dank moldy basement, sweaty gym socks, wet newspaper or cardboard, or even wet dog. Yum! Luckily, it’s not bad for you.
VOLITIZING THE ESTERS
A fancy term for swirling the wine, which opens aromas so the brain can translate and differentiate each individual smell. An ester is a chemical compound that results from the joining of an acid and an alcohol.
A root louse (pesky bug) that drains the sap from grapevines, reducing their productivity and eventually killing them. One of the most devastating epidemics to hit Europe’s wine world. Washington State is fortunate not to have this pest.
There you have it! Take some of these wine terms and start sharing your newfound knowledge at your next tasting. You’re one step closer to being a true wine expert. Cheers!
- Shelly Fitzgerald, Wine Education Specialist, CS, CSW, AWE, WSET Level 3