Wade Cothran | Aug 28, 2020
Common Wine Terms Explained (Part I)
Here at BruMate, we’re proud to say that while we’re huge wine enthusiasts, we can’t exactly proclaim ourselves as seasoned experts with diplomas to back up our wine knowledge. This is part of the reason why we like to produce these blogs and articles: to talk about wine, beer, and spirits in an approachable and realistic way, and without being weighed down by tradition or the kind of knowledge that sometimes alienates the everyday average Joe.
For example, just this week, we were chatting to a friend of ours who works as a sommelier in a fancy restaurant, and who we often turn to for our wine recommendations of the week. They described a wine as ‘plush’ - and our first reaction was one of confusion. I mean, we know what ‘plush’ means… but not in the context of a drink. Our friend was quick to explain that plush when talking about wine, meant rounded and soft. OK - but these are still adjectives that don’t describe a liquid. Following a brief chat, we got to the crux of the term: plush, in wine-speak, means less tannic quality and fewer acids on the palate. More like milk than lemonade. Finally, we understood perfectly.
This got us thinking: what other wine terms are a bit vague and maybe a little alienating for non-wine experts? We’ve started a list that will grow exponentially over time, but it’s a good place to begin. As you know, we’re all about the enjoyment, and not the confusion!
What Does “Dry” Wine Mean?
The drier a wine, the less residual sugar it has, and this especially applies to white wine. This is because very few red wines are off-dry, semi-sweet, demi-sweet, or sweet.
This is an important one, simply because the vast majority of white wines on the market (due to buying trends, more than anything else) are ‘dry white wines’ - and ‘dry’ in this context simply means the opposite of sweet.
The best way to think of it is like this: in a normal world, where wine wasn’t so pretentious when it comes to language, ‘dry’ wine would just be called wine or ‘normal wine’. Sweet wine would be called sweet wine because it’s more unusual. See? Not so difficult after all.
What is Wine “Length?”
Ah, another favorite of ours. How can a wine be “long?” How can a liquid be measured in length, rather than in volume? Who comes up with these phrases?
Actually, this one does have a bit of logic to it. The length refers to how long - in time, rather in inches - the taste of the wine lingers in the mouth. A very long wine is likely to be a bold and full-bodied one that you can feel for ages after taking a sip. A wine without length is likely to be light-bodied and delicate.
Pinot Gris vs. Pino Grigio
We might get into a bit of trouble for saying this, but in actual fact, there’s no difference between the two grapes. They’re simply the French and Italian names for exactly the same fruit, which, on a genetic level, is 100% identical.
Now, in a simple world, that would be the end of the story. Of course, the world of wine is a whole lot more complicated than many of us would prefer it to be, and as such, there’s a whole load of differences between these genetically identical wines.
However, the differences don’t come from the fruit, but rather from the land on which the vines are grown, the way the grapes are handled and processed, and the distinctive and disparate styles the winemakers are trying to achieve.
What is a Sommelier?
A sommelier is a French name for a person whose job is centered around the selection, sale, and serving of wines in a restaurant or wine bar. Sommeliers will typically be experts in food and wine pairing and will spend years honing their knowledge and craft.
Wine Serving Temperature
Think the temperature of serving wine makes no difference to the taste? Think again: it’s one of the most significant factors regarding your experience of a wine, and it’s something that we here at Brumate care a lot about since we produce high quality insulated wine glasses for keeping vino at the perfect sipping temperature!
The warmer your wine, the more you will notice the flavors but also the heady hit of the alcohol. Experts, therefore, say that white wine should be served just above fridge temperature and red wine a little below room temperature. But that’s enough of the specifics; here are a few guidelines that will help you out when you’re in a pinch:
- If the wine’s not that great, serve it slightly chilled. The cold will suppress some of the more unpleasant flavors.
- If you want the fruity notes of your white wine to come forward nicely in the glass, leave it outside the fridge for 20 minutes before serving.
- If your red wine is a little too punchy and the alcohol tastes too strong, twenty minutes in the fridge will sort it right out.
- If it’s boiling hot outside, don’t worry about drinking your wine straight from the fridge. Sometimes, you just need a cold drink!
Tannic and Tannins
Tannins are the compounds within the skin of grapes (and the stems and stones, too) that have a bitter, drying, astringent quality that puckers your mouth and leaves your tongue feeling a little furry. Imagine biting into an unripe plum - that’s tannins.
When they’re dealt with carefully and masterfully and blend in harmony with the other aspects of the wine, tannins are brilliant: they add complexity and depth to the wine and make sure it’s not too jammy or fruity. If the wine is very low in tannin, it will slip down a little bit too easily, and feel a bit too lightweight.
Like most things in life, tannins have positive and negative sides. If you’re eating a rich bit of steak, tannins will help cut through that richness and provide a more balanced dining experience. Too much tannin, however, and the wine will be too harsh. If this is the case, stick the wine in a decanter for half an hour, and let the magic of oxidation smooth down those rough edges!
To Be Continued...
Well, that’s the first in what’s likely to be several installments of our guide to tricky wine language. After all, there are whole dictionaries written on pretentious wine-speak, and you’re guaranteed to come across some of these terms the more you explore the wide and wonderful world of wine!
In our opinion, wine is all about enjoyment and great flavor. We don’t have much time for the more haughty and snooty aspect of the wine scene. That’s why our beautiful and stylish stemless wine glasses are happy to stand out from the crowd and do what they do best: provide a great drinking experience at the perfect temperature!