5 Wine Terms To Know: The Main Components

We're only 11 days into August and my current thought process is as follows: Will it be this hot and sticky forever? Will the rain break the humidity? Will Fall ever come? Is there such a thing as too much air conditioning? Possibly, hopefully, maybe, and no. The cold can be miserable but the humidity is an entirely different beast. If you follow me on Instagram I am sure you have seen the (probably too many) posts about how lovely it is in the city this time of year. Sometime, it's just so gross out your brain can only mention or think about the weather and nothing else. There's a reason we tell people to stay away during August.

At least, I can write in the comfort of a cool living room thanks to our working AC unit and constant running fans.

In other news, did you catch my post the other day about Drunk Wine School? We're filming again this week so, you'll have a new video popping up in no time!

Lately, I've been working on wine terms that I believe are going to help you understand what's inside your glass a little more. Ever wonder what to say if someone asks if you're looking for a light, medium, or full bodied wine? Whether you like something with more tannins? What about acidity? Or what someone means when they talk about a wine's finish? Here's a breakdown of 5 main components.

Main Wine Components

Body

Also referred to as mouthfeel. This is the textural impression created by a wine. A good way to look at body is to think about types of milk. Skim milk (light body), 2% (medium body), and whole milk (full body). All have a different mouthfeel.

Body is determined by an overall impression created by all of the structural components. Alcohol, acidity, tannin, and sugar all play a role. For example, higher alcohol and tannin levels can leave a wine feeling fuller in body than that of a wine lower in alcohol and high in acidity.

Sweetness/Dryness 

This refers to sugar present in the wine. A ‘dry’ wine has little to no residual sugar left after fermentation is complete while a wine is considered “off-dry” if a tiny amount of sugar is detectable on the tongue. 90% of the wines you see at a store or on a wine list are dry. “Sweet” wines are those where the presence of sugar is the prominent feature of the wine. Wines can still be “medium-dry” or “medium-sweet”, and "sweet" (Riesling, Chenin Blanc) without being considered dessert wines (Port, Sauternes).

Tip - Trying to figure out if a wine is sweet or fruit forward? Plug your nose when you take a sip. Since sweetness levels are detected on the tongue as a feeling and not a flavor, if you don’t feel or taste sugar then the wine is dry.

Read more in my Guide To "Dry" Wine post.

Acidity

This is the mouth watering, sometimes sharp, tingling sensation most detected on the sides of the tongue. Higher levels of acidity make your mouth water more for longer. Low acid wines are considered round, soft, and broad. Cooler climates tend to create higher acid wines so, if you enjoy this sensation look for wines from Germany, Chablis (Burgundy), or Austria. There are two things to remember when considering acidity levels. First, sweetness and acidity mask one another. High acidity balances high sugar levels making a sweet wine seem less sweet. Second, alcohol can create a burning sensation similar to acidity.

If you are trying to determine if it is high acidity or alcohol you are experiencing, think about how much your mouth is watering. If you were to leave your mouth slightly open after tasting the wine, would your mouth fill up with saliva? (Super cute, I know). This is a good trick that I like to use to help determine acidity levels. Higher acidity = mouth-watering; smoother, less tart = low acidity. 

Tannin

This is an important structural component in red wine. Tannins are extracted from the skins and seeds during the fermentation process. Tannins bind to your saliva causing your mouth to dry and feel rough. This contributes to the textural richness of a wine and is felt mostly on the gums above our front teeth. Sometimes tannins can have a bitter taste. If you don’t like this bitter taste, ask for low tannin wines. Tannins are not one size fits all. Unripe tannins can seem more aggressive and astringent. Ripe tannins can create a wonderful experience that adds texture and richness. High tannin = more drying; low tannin = more juicy.

Finish

After you’ve swallowed or spit out wine, how long does the flavor or overall sensation linger? If the desirable qualities of wine (flavor, acidity, etc.) linger for a long time, this can be a sign of good quality. On the other-hand, if fruit impressions disappear quickly, the finish can be described as “short”. For a “long” finish, flavors can last up to a minute or more whereas the characteristics in wines that are considered “short” will disappear within a few seconds.

What do you find yourself being drawn towards? Does the weather play a role in what you're craving? Let me know in the comments. Right now, all I want is super bright, juicy, high acidity wines that are light to medium in body - chillable reds, Pét-Nats, and low alcohol wines from Portugal.

Have a great weekend, friends. Most importantly, I hope you drink something yummy.

Cheers.

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Photo by Raj Eiamworakul

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