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Welcome, fellow wine enthusiasts! Whether you're a seasoned oenophile or just dipping your toes into the vast world of wines, understanding the language of wine can be a daunting task. Fear not, for we are here to be your trusted guide in deciphering the intricacies of tasting notes and labels. In this article, we'll embark on a delightful journey through the nuanced language of wine, demystifying the terminology that often leaves even the most dedicated wine lovers scratching their heads. And be sure to check out our monthly wine subscription, where every month we help employ this same approach to every bottle of wine you receive!
Demystifying tasting notes
Tasting notes are the poetic expressions of the complex flavours, aromas, and textures that dance within each bottle of wine. To the uninitiated, these notes might seem like a secret code, but fear not, we're here to break it down for you.
This term indicates that the dominant flavours in the wine come from the fruit. For example, a Merlot might be described as fruit-forward if it bursts with notes of ripe plum, cherry, or blackberry.
Tannins are compounds found in grape skins, seeds, and stems, as well as oak barrels. Wines with high tannins often have a drying effect on the palate and are commonly associated with red wines like Cabernet Sauvignon. When you read about "grippy" or "firm" tannins, think about that pleasant dryness in your mouth.
Descriptions like "crisp" or "zesty" often refer to the acidity of a wine. High acidity lends freshness and liveliness to the wine and is commonly found in whites like Sauvignon Blanc or sparkling wines.
Wines aged in oak barrels can take on characteristics like vanilla, caramel, or even a smoky quality. When a wine is described as "oaky," it means these flavours are present, adding layers of complexity.
The body of a wine is its weight and texture on the palate. Wines are often described as light, medium, or full-bodied. Think of it as skim milk, whole milk, and cream, respectively.
Cracking the code on wine labels
Now that we've explored the language of tasting notes, let's turn our attention to the enigma that is the wine label. Unravelling the information on a label can provide valuable insights into what you can expect from the bottle.
The grape varietal is sometimes prominently displayed on the label. This is more common practice for New World wines, such as Australia, compared to the Old World, e.g. France. Knowing the primary grape(s) in the wine can give you a good sense of its flavour profile.
If the grape isn’t displayed, then we turn our attention to the region. Wines from different regions carry unique characteristics due to variations in climate and soil. Familiarise yourself with the major wine-producing regions, and you'll start to recognize patterns. For instance, a Chianti from Tuscany, where the grapes used will be Sangiovese, might have a different taste profile than a Rioja from Spain, which will be made from Tempranillo. A quick phone Google should help you here!
The vintage year tells you when the grapes were harvested. Some years may produce exceptional wines due to favourable weather conditions, while others may be less noteworthy. In addition, older wines generally will be more complex and intense, as the flavours develop and deepen over time.
The alcohol by volume (ABV) is usually displayed on the label. Wines with higher ABV might be bolder and more intense, while lower ABV wines may be lighter and easier-drinking.
Deciphering the language of wine is a journey worth taking, and with us as your guide, you're well-equipped to explore the vast and diverse world of wines. If you’re keen to delve further into this, our monthly wine subscription is the ideal place to continue on. Armed with a better understanding of tasting notes and labels, you'll be able to confidently select wines that cater to your preferences and embark on a tasting adventure like never before. Cheers to expanding your wine vocabulary and savouring every sip!