Wine glossary – translating sommelier lingo into plain English

Even us sommeliers know that wine is super complex. Let’s just get that out of the way. Until we actually taste the wines, we rely heavily on wine specifications. Let us teach you some of our lingo...

Wine glossary – translating sommelier lingo into plain English

Even us sommeliers know that wine is super complex. Let’s just get that out of the way. Until we actually taste the wines, we rely heavily on wine specifications. Let us teach you some of our lingo...

Even us sommeliers know that wine is super complex. Let’s just get that out of the way. Until we actually taste the wines, we rely heavily on wine specifications, normally issued by the producer. There are so many variables – soil composition, grape variety, climate, weather, the actual vine, regulations, history, ‘terroir’ (say what?) closures (cork or screw cap). Not to mention viticulture, vinification, maturation, treatments and bottling, the impact of water, global warming impact, altitude, wine making styles, different regions, different wine labels…   the list goes on, trust me. Then, when you finally have the wine in your hand, how do you describe what you’re tasting and why do we talk about wine the way we do? 

We want to take you on a journey and, hopefully by the end of it, you’ll feel much more confident showing off your knowledge to your mates or feel smug knowing you’ve learned something. 

Let’s start with….

Sommeliers wine descriptions part one:

Juicy

Usually sommeliers call a wine juicy if it tastes like the grapes were pressed just moments ago.

Oaked

This is the non-grape element that affects the flavours in a glass of wine from the barrelling process. Oak and barrels are to wine what salt is to food. A little too much and you’re done, not enough and the end result might not be as good. However, there’s some amazing dishes out there that don’t need salt (don’t ask us what bc we’re salt lovers) and the same applies to wine. In red wine, the flavours and notes you’ll normally find include baking spices, butterscotch, toast, coconut and vanilla. In white wine, barrelling normally adds flavours and notes of butter, vanilla and brioche.

Structure

Structure is normally related to tannins, acidity, body and alcohol. If wine was a human body structure, we’d basically be talking about the skeleton and its muscles. Which is quite a graphic analogy, but there you go.

Body weight

Ignore flavours and tannins for a moment (not easy I know) but just picture the actual weight of the juice in your mouth. If the weight is closer to what water feels like, it means it’s a light wine. However, if it feels more like a full-fat milk, chances are it’s a full-bodied wine. Every wine is different and everyone has a different preference on the types of weight they like in a wine, but the weight doesn’t affect how good a wine is necessarily. The weight of wine has a lot to do with the alcohol content of the wine. The higher the percentage, the fuller the body is most likely going to be. Wine over 13.5% alcohol is generally considered full bodied. Who knew!

Tannins

This is everyone’s burning question isn’t it? What are tannins? Well, it’s a polyphenol found in many plants. In wines it comes from the skins, seeds and stems of the grapes. But It can also be found in oak barrels. Tannins are normally found in red wines – but can also be found in white and orange wines (from fermenting on skins or barrel ageing). Basically, tannins can add bitterness and astringency to wines, which adds to the depth of flavour. Some people like lots of tannins, some people don’t. And it’s true that once you figure out how to spot tannins, you’ll be able to pick them up easily. The grape varieties that normally give wines high concentration of tannins include Nebbiolo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Tannat, Petit Verdot, Monastrell. 

Silky/Velvety

Silky is the red-wine version of buttery in white wines (see below). It references the texture of the wine when you take a sip. How does it feel in your mouth? 

Buttery

Normally felt on the middle of your tongue, buttery refers to the texture of white wines that are rich and creamy, reminiscent of melted butter or oil. Delicious. 

Notes of (or hints of)

A nice way to describe the flavours you’re picking up in  the wine. If you want to sound fancy, just say “I’m picking up notes of…”

Minerality

I’m not going to lie, even sommeliers struggle to describe this one (ha). Seriously, not even science really knows.

Meaty/fleshy

Just imagine having a juicy, textured piece of meat in your mouth (forget the flavours, just picture the textures here). If a wine has a more full-bodied texture, you might describe it as being meaty… somms are weird, I know. 

Crunchy

Again, forget about the flavours here. This is all about texture. Imagine a crunchy, perfectly toasted (medium rare, thanks) piece of bread in your mouth and that’s what we mean. If a wine has a ‘vibrant acidity’ sommeliers might say it’s crunchy. It means it’s refreshing or mouthwatering, and usually associated with white wines like Sauvignon Blanc, Albariño, Torrontes, Pinot Grigio, Assyrtiko and even Riesling. 

Drop us an email with your pressing wine questions and we’ll do our best to answer them!

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