Useful wine phrases and wine terms to know
If you want to have the full wine-tasting experience in South Africa, then there are certain words and phrases which can really help you to get the most from your encounter with the different types of wine. Although you can use words which are familiar to you, it is always a good idea to try and broaden your vocabulary with words which are relevant to your situation, and this is no-where more true than in wine-tasting. The wine experts will expect you to be able to speak their language, so knowing a few of the basic wine-tasting words or phrases will help you feel more comfortable during wine-tasting sessions.
Acidity: Elements in the wine, such as the tannins and certain added substances, can produce different levels of acids in the wine, giving it a tart or intense taste. During a wine-tasting tour, you will experience different levels of acidity.
Aftertaste: The aftertaste is one of the most important elements in wine-tasting. This is the lingering flavour which remains in the mouth after the wine has been swallowed or discarded, and is likely to reveal any significant problems in the acidity of the wine.
Big: This is a popular term in wine-tasting, and is used to describe full-bodied and strong wines, particularly those with a robust taste. Many wine experts consider big wines to be the best varieties, and it generally used to praise vintages.
Body: The body of the wine is the weight or feel of it when it is in the mouth. A wine with a light body will sit comfortably over the palate, while a more full-bodied liquid will feel heavier, and can seem to take up more space in the mouth.
Bouquet: This is the aroma or scent of the wine, sometimes used to describe a wine with a number of different scents.
Character terms for wine
Complexity: The complexity of the wine will depend upon the various flavours and scents which have been added to the wine. A bottle which has several fruits added, for example, may have more complexity than one which has only the original taste of the grapes.
Corked: This is a common term outside of wine-tasting, and describes a wine which has ‘gone off’, or is not suitable for drinking. Corked was originally used to describe only wines which were affected by a mould called TCA, but is now used to describe wines which have gone bad.
Finish: The finish is the length of time that the aftertaste lasts in the mouth. A good quality wine will usually have a long finishing taste, which lingers on after the wine has gone. A poorer quality wine will usually have a short finish, or one which is rather bitter to the taste.
Fortified Wine: Many South-African wines are fortified, meaning that they have had alcohol added to them, usually to prevent the wines from fermenting in the barrels.
Legs: The drops of wine which stick to the side of the glass, and slide slowly back into the liquid, are known as legs. The larger the droplets, and the longer they take to descend back into the glass, the higher the alcohol content.
Maderized: This term is used to describe wines with a sweet, almost caramel flavour rather like Madeira or other dessert wines. It can be used to describe a wine which has become oxidized.
New World Wine: When wine-tasting in South Africa, you will be drinking New World wines, that is wine produced outside of Europe and the Northern parts of Africa.
Nose: Another word for the bouquet of the wine, nose is often used by wine experts to describe the smell as the glass is brought towards the mouth.
Oak: Oak or oaky is one of the most popular terms used to describe wines, and is used when there are distinct oak bouquets and tastes. A smoked oak will sometimes give you a roasted or chocolate taste to the wine.
Vintage: Vintage refers to the picking and distilling of wine grapes into the final product. Vintage wines are those which have been created from wines produced in a single year, and it can also be used to refer to the particular year in which any wine was produced.
Tannin: Tannin is the compound found in the skin and stems of fruits such as grapes. This adds to the acidic taste of wines, and are often very strong in red wines, although they fade with age and become smooth and velvety.
Taste: This is the word used to describe the mix of flavours in the wine prior to swallowing or discarding. Flavoured wines may have particular tastes, which may or may not complement each other.
Terrior: Coming from the French for land or soil, this describes the origin of the wine. Good wine-makers are supposed to bring out the individual terrior of the grapes in the character or taste of the wine.
Worth noting, is that our website sidebar includes wine tasting notes from RealTimeWine, which comments realistically on wine and even has their own set of wine terms to describe their vino experiences.
Let us know if you come across more wine phrases that are worth adding above, specifically for the South African wine market.