1.1 Know the lingo. A glossary.
Acidity. Acid is naturally found in grapes, it is important for retaining the wine's freshness. How to measure it whilst tasting is to gauge how much your mouth waters. The more it waters, the more acidity there is. Tangy, zesty, fresh and lively would be words used to describe a wine with high levels of acidity.
Balance. How the different parts of the wine work together, these parts would be acidity, alcohol, tannin and body.
Body. How heavy it feels in your mouth. We use words like light and refreshing or full bodied and powerful. Think about the sensation of skimmed milk compared to full fat milk or cream.
Complexity. The more flavours and sensations you pick up when tasting the wine, the more complex the wine is.
Dry. The term dry is used to describe wines that do not contain residual sugar (most table wines), Some wines may taste sweet, but will technically still be dry, sweetness can come from the fruity character of the flavours, not because sugar is present.
Legs. Sometimes known as tears, refers to the clear traces of liquid that stick to the inside of your glass. They indicate that the wine could be high in alcohol or high in levels of residual sugar.
Length. Simply put, how long after tasting the wine you can still taste the flavours in your mouth. A wine with good or long length is usually of better quality. A short finish would indicate that the wine is more simple.
Minerality. Sometimes wine can pick up what we would refer to as the taste of the terroir, minerality would be a blanket term that covers tastes that are chalky, stony, slate-like or steely.
Sweet. Sugar is naturally found in grapes and during the fermentation process the sugar is normally eaten up in the production of alcohol. Dessert wines still have residual sugar present so are considered to be sweet.
Tannin. Almost exclusively found in red wine, tannin comes from the skin of the grape (red wines are left in contact with the grape skins for long periods of time to gain colour). Tannin helps give the wine structure and body. The presence of tannin can be smoothed by the use of oak barrels when maturing the wine and oxygenation through bottle age or use of a decanter. Tannin feels ‘grippy’ in your mouth, drink a wine high in tannin and sometimes your lips stick to your teeth. You can pick it up as a bitterness when tasting.
Terroir. There is not true translation from this French word to English. Terroir is a beautiful word that we use to describe the environment in which the grapes are cultivated, It relates to the place, the origin, the soil, climate, altitude and aspect. Everything that happens to the grape outside of wine-making decisions.
Vintage. Put simply, this refers to the year the grapes are harvested. If a vintage is good or bad comes down to climate conditions. In regions with a varied climate it follows that vintage quality will be varied too. Modern wine-making techniques as well as better growing methods mean that these changes in vintage are less noticeable to the consumer. Vintage is mostly something you need to worry about in fine or high end wines.