You don’t need to be a sommelier or fine wine collector to be interested in all things vine related. But have you ever felt confused by some of the fine wine terminology used by wine sellers, makers and enthusiasts? Here’s a rundown on some of the fine wine terminology we think needs debunking.
Debunking fine wine terminology
Many of these phrases will be familiar to a wine industry professional, or to a fine wine collector. And lots of them will be well-known to a wine enthusiast or beginner, but their actual meanings aren’t always clear. Here’s what some common (and not so common) wine terms mean.
- Complexity – the complexity of a wine is about all of the different aromas and flavours it has. It also covers how these aromas and flavours interact with each other. And the better they interact, the higher the quality of the wine. For example, if when tasting a wine, you can pick up a whole raft of flavours and they all blend well on the palate, then that wine has a complexity that ups its quality and value.
- Cork tainted – a common misconception is that ‘corked’ means that a wine has bits of cork physically floating around in it. This isn’t the case. Rather, ‘corked’ is used to describe a fault in the wine causing it to smell a certain way. Instead of whatever floral or fruity flavours the wine should have, if it is corked, it tends to smell like damp paper or mildew. The most significant chemical that causes this ‘off’ smell is TCA, which is transferred to the wine from the cork. TCA stands for ‘2,4,6-trichloroanisole’, an incredibly powerful chemical that can cause ‘corked’ or ‘cork-tainted’ aromas and flavours in wine even in tiny amounts.
- Full-bodied – you’ll often read this term in articles about wine, or hear it thrown around by a wine expert, but there is rarely an explanation as to what it really means. This is partly because it’s quite difficult to fully define. The ‘body’ of a wine refers to how to how it feels on the palate and in the mouth. An easy way to think of it is to consider water as ‘light bodied’ and heavy cream ‘full bodied’, and to compare the way a wine feels in your mouth to these. A typically light bodied wine has a high acidity, such as Pinot Noir or Sauvignon Blanc, while deep reds such as Cabernet Sauvignon are generally described as ‘full-bodied’ wines.
- First growth – refers to Bordeaux, specifically the Bordeaux Classification back in 1855. Wine brokers ranked Chateaux based on price and reputation, in categories known as growths or ‘crus’. For example, in the Medoc sub-region, ‘first growth’ means one of the top five chateaux. These wines are also referred to as ‘Premier Cru’, which refers to the land rather than the wine itself.
- Grand vin – you’ll see this French wine term on bottle labels. It indicates that the producer thinks that it’s the best of their wines. However, because it’s a subjective term, it’s unregulated. In other words, it’s no guarantee that the particular wine producer’s ‘grand vin’ is excellent, or even OK. But it does tend to bump the price up anyway.
- Natural wine – another commonly used term with no regulated definition, it’s usually used to describe wines that are produced using few or no man-made chemicals. Natural wine vineyards will normally be sustainable, biodynamic and organic. They tend to use natural fertilisers and treatments and harvest their grapes by hand. Wines are fermented using wild yeast, with hardly any sulphur dioxide or additives. Natural wines are usually lightly filtered before they reach the bottle.
- Tannin – this is the chemical you find in tea. It’s what gives black tea the bitter flavour. Tannins in wine come from the skin of the grapes used. How much tannin ends up in your wine depends on the amount of contact the wine skins had in the process of making it. Tannins give wine that dry, bitter flavour.
- Terroir – this is a complicated term used in wine making. It encompasses many factors and refers to the natural environment in which the grapes have been grown. It covers everything that makes the site unique, from its soil and topography to the climate. All of these factors play important roles in determining the ultimate flavour and quality of the final product.
For more on fine wines, head to Ideal Wine Company’s blog where you’ll find industry, product and regional information.