In our previous post, on How to be a Wine Expert I talked to you about the steps you need to take in order to enhance your knowledge regarding wines and train your taste palate. Among other things, I mentioned wine terminology , the fact that you should make your own personal glossary and that tasting wines is essential.
However, I forgot to mention some very very important terms you definitely need to know, and above all, some very very important terms you need to practically understand.
You see, while you are reading a bunch of information about wines and wine tasting, you will often bump into the following 5 words: acidity, alcohol, body, sweetness and tannins. These are actually 5 basic characteristics that you will find in every wine and by learning how to trace them you will be able to determine a wine blindly!
Everything works around these five little words. You not only need to know how to determine and decode them to become an expert in wines, but you will also need them to be able to set your personal wine profile.
So, are you ready?
Let’s get you to learn How to Set Your Personal Wine Profile!
5 Basic Wine Terms
Let’s elaborate a bit more…
Characteristic No #1: Acidity
Acidity is an important factor in the quality of the wine. It is, even more, important for the taste of the wine. It is that feeling of crisp, sour or tartness we get when we taste a wine, the characteristic of wine that makes us want more of it every time. The word “acidity” is actually used when we refer to the balance between the sweet and bitter parts of a wine.
There are quite a few acids in grapes and wines. Some of the acids that can be found in the grapes and consequently in wines are citric acids, lactic acids, malic acids and tartaric acids. However, the acidity level is not always the same and therefore amongst other things wines taste different. The acidity level from higher to lower can range from 2.5pH to 4.5pH. I know, acidity and pH are represented in a different way! Just keep in mind, the higher the pH, the lower the acidity and likewise, the lower the pH, the higher the acidity. It would be a good thing to also remember that as time passes and grapes become riper, their acidity levels get lower. Nevertheless, there are wines were acidity and pH are not correlated and they can be high in pH lever and high in acidity as well.
Characteristic No #2: Alcohol
Alcohol is actually the alcohol content (ethanol) in a wine. But how does alcohol emerge from the grape juice? Well, during the fermentation process, yeast turns the sugars of the grapes into carbon dioxide and alcohol. The level of sugar content in the grapes is the factor that determines the alcohol level in the final wine, up to a certain point. After all, Fortified wines belong to the category of wines, where additional spirits like brandy are added and therefore, the level of alcohol defers from the initial alcohol level expected, according to the sugars’ level.
Alcohol is measured by volume and is expressed in percentage in a wine (ABV, abv, alc/vol). Generally, the alcohol level ranges from 9% to 16% ABV, although you will most likely encounter wines from 12.5% to 14.5% ABV. The following chart will give you some guidelines regarding the percentages of alcohol in wines and what is the alcohol volume we refer to a wine as low or high:
|Low||Below 10% Alcohol By Volume|
|Low to Medium||From 10% to 11.5% Alcohol By Volume|
|Medium||From 11.5% to 13.5% Alcohol By Volume|
|Medium to High||From 13.5% to 15% Alcohol By Volume|
|High||Above 15% Alcohol By Volume|
Characteristic No #3: Body
Body is actually the word we use to describe the “weight” and texture of a certain wine once inside the mouth. We use it to describe how the wine “feels” in the mouth. All of the rest of the basic wine characteristics, acidity, alcohol, sweetness and tannins that is, affect the formation of a wine’s body. Alcohol is the prime factor of contribution.
We have all heard about light-bodied, medium-bodied and full-bodied wines, but honestly, how can we tell what the body of a wine is? I mean, really understand practically how to determine the body characteristic of wine? And, you guessed right! It is the most difficult characteristic to comprehend to be exact.
But there is way, of course, and this is it! Try to taste wines that are commonly known as light, medium or full in body and try to realize their difference in weight you feel in your mouth when tasting them. You will get confused in the first place, but once you start tasting same body wines, you will be able to see the similarity but the contrast as well when tasting different body wines. For example, try tasting two full-bodied wines and then a light-bodied wine. I am sure you will get what I mean, the feeling of the wines in your mouth will guide you!
Take a look in the chart below for a few wine recommendations to start with!
|Light Bodied Wines||Chablis||Gamay||Pinot Gris / Pinot Grigio||Tempranillo|
|Medium Bodied Wines||Chianti||Grenache||Merlot||Riesling|
|Full Bodied Wines||Cabernet Sauvignon||Malbec||Syrah / Shiraz||Zinfandel|
Characteristic No #4: Sweetness
Sweetness in wines refers to the amount of residual sugar that is left in the wine after the process of fermentation. Although it sounds pretty simple it actually is not. And that usually happens because we do not perceive sweetness in wines as we should. Give me a minute to elaborate on that.
You see, most of the times, we tend to characterize wines in two simple terms: sweet or dry, right? What we fail to understand is that there are quite a few stages from sweet to dry and that even a wine that feels dry to you, can have a very small amount of residual sugar and therefore, it is not 100% dry. Ok, but how can you distinguish if a wine has residual sugar? Well, generally, if you eat or drink something sweet, you will get a tingling feeling on the tip of your tongue. Try to check for yourselves! You will be amazed of the amount of wines you thought as totally dry, are not that much after all!
Ok, so now you know how you can understand if a wine has sugar or not. But, let’s also see how the levels of sweetness are generally defined. The following chart shows the levels of sweet and dry, in terms of calories and residual sugar per glass of still wine.
|Sweetness Level Definition||Calories||Amount of Sugar (Residual)|
|Bone Dry||0 cal.||< 1 grams per litre|
|Dry||0-6 cal.||1-10 grams per litre|
|Off Dry / Medium||10-21 cal.||17-35 grams per litre|
|Sweet||21-72 cal.||35-120 grams per litre|
|Very Sweet||72-130 cal.||120-220 grams per litre|
How about we take a look to a relevant chart for a glass of sparkling wine as well?
|Sweetness Level Definition||Calories||Amount of Sugar (Residual)|
|Brut Nature||0-2 cal.||0-3 grams per litre|
|Extra Brut||0-5 cal.||0-6 grams per litre|
|Brut||0-7 cal.||0-12 grams per litre|
|Extra Dry||7-10 cal.||12-17 grams per litre|
|Dry||10-20 cal.||17-32 grams per litre|
|Demi-Sec||20-30 cal.||32-50 grams per litre|
|Doux||30+ cal.||50+ grams per litre|
Characteristic No #5: Tannins
Tannins, also called polyphenols, are the ones that are responsible for that feeling of bitterness and dryness in your mouth when you’re drinking some kind of wine. When the wine leaves you with a very dry mouth, we say that this wine is highly tannic, and likewise when it doesn’t leave you with such a dry mouth, we say that the wine is low in tannins.
But how come that tannins are in wines? Well, the answer is quite obvious. Tannins already existed in the grapes that were used for the wine! To be exact, they were in the grapes, in the grape skins and in the grape stems. The reason why some wines are higher in tannins than others has to do with how long did the grape juice stayed in contact with the grape skins after the grapes had been pressed. That is also why red wines are more tannic that white wines, the grape juice and skin contact is longer for more color to emerge in the final wine. A great fact is also that, tannins work as natural antioxidants and protect the wine, and therefore, the aging potential is greater for a wine with high content of them.
Apart from the above,it is quite essential to know that tannins are the main reason why we love so much the combination of “strong” aka “tannic” wines with meat! The thing is that tannins react with proteins, such as the ones found in the saliva of the mouth, and consequently, give us the aforementioned sensation of dryness. Meat is also high in protein. So, when we pair meat with a tannic wine, meat “absorbs” in some way, the tannins of the wine, minimizing the sensation of bitterness and giving us a great mouthfeel.
Nebbiolo, Cabernet Sauvignon and Tempranillo are some wines high in tannins while Barbera, Grenache and Merlot are some low tannin wines.
So, A Short List to Remember on How to Set Your Personal Wine Profile…
- Acidity is the feeling of sour or tartness we get when tasting a wine.
- The higher the acidity, the lower the pH and the lower the acidity, the higher the pH.
- Alcohol is expressed with the abbreviation ABV, abv or alc/vol and is determined as Low, Low to Medium, Medium, Medium to High and High.
- Body refers to the weight and texture of a wine.
- We can categorize wines as light bodied, medium bodied or full bodied.
- The Sweetness level of a wine is determined by the amount of residual sugar left in the wine.
- You can understand if a wine has residual sugar by a tingling feeling on the tip of your tongue.
- The Sweetness levels of still wines are Bone Dry, Dry, Off Dry or Medium, Sweet and Very Sweet.
- The Sweetness levels of sparkling wines are Brut Nature, Extra Brut, Brut, Extra Dry, Dry, Demi-Sec and Doux.
- Tannins are the wine components that make your mouth feel dry or bitter after you sip a wine.
- Tannins are responsible for the aging potential of wines.
- Wines high in tannins are an excellent pair for meat.
So, keep in mind the five basic terms and the above list and you are on your way for being an expert and setting your own personal wine profile!
Do you think there are any further basic terms you need to learn to understand in order to set your personal wine profine? If yes, please share them with me in the comments!If not, I would love to see you share this post! 😉While reading a bunch of information about wines, you will often bump into 5 words: acidity,… Click To Tweet