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Enhance your wine expertise with these fundamental wine terms

The wine lover’s lexicon

Story + Photo by Danielle Petty

Navigating the world of wine can be daunting with its jargon and complex terminology. Purchasing wine and grasping the winemaking process can become challenging without a foundation in these key concepts. Fortunately, understanding these terms can simplify your wine journey, providing insights into aging, wine qualities and components, making you a more informed wine enthusiast. We asked local wine experts about key wine-related terminology that can help streamline your bottle selection process and help you appreciate the qualities of exceptional wines.


A varietal wine is crafted from a single grape variety and bears the name of that grape. Just as knowing the ingredients can inform the taste of a dish, understanding the varietal can offer insights into the wine’s flavor profile. Each grape variety possesses its own set of attributes — such as sweetness, acidity, tannin levels and aromatic compounds — imparting a unique flavor signature to the wine. 


Terroir encompasses all factors contributing to wine production. Each vineyard creates a unique environment for grape growth, including elements such as climate, temperature, soil composition, elevation and topography. Terroir exerts such a profound influence on the final product that some experts claim you can taste the essence of a wine’s terroir. This is the magic of terroir, the notion that the land itself whispers its story into each bottle, allowing you to savor not just a beverage but a sense of place and history.

Wine tasting. A woman enjoys a red wine tasting, savoring the wine's flavors and aromas.

Bouquet vs. aroma

Bouquet and aroma both pertain to a wine’s scent. Bouquet arises from the winemaking process and may vary in intensity across different wine types. For instance, the aroma of vanilla derives from aging wine in new oak barrels. A wine’s aroma on the other hand originates from the grape variety and can evolve as the wine ages. It serves as an indicator of a wine’s quality and plays a significant role in professional wine assessment and rankings.

Red wine tasting. Participants compare the colors of different red wines in a wine tasting event, learning to identify the wine's age, grape varietal, and other key details based on hue.


A wine’s body encompasses its weight, texture and richness, influencing its overall mouthfeel. Some wines possess a lighter, smoother texture akin to water, while others exhibit viscosity, thickness and syrupy qualities. Light-bodied wines tend to dance gracefully, offering a refreshing and invigorating experience, while their full-bodied counterparts invite you to sink into their depths, unfolding layer upon layer of complex flavors.


Tannins are naturally occurring compounds found primarily in plants, bark, leaves and grape products. They impart a drying, astringent sensation on the tongue and are extracted from grape seeds, skins, stems and oak barrels. When you take a sip of a red wine and notice that intriguing drying, astringent sensation on your tongue, you’re experiencing the influence of tannins. 


A wine’s vintage refers to the year in which the grapes were harvested. The vintage significantly impacts the wine’s flavor, as some years yield high-quality grapes while others produce lower-quality ones. Vintage is a crucial factor in selecting the finest wines. When you contemplate a wine’s vintage, you’re not just considering a date; you’re opening a door to a world of flavors, aromas and experiences waiting to be savored and explored. 


Finish pertains to the lasting impression a wine leaves after tasting, encompassing the wine’s aftertaste, the duration of flavor persistence and its texture. A prolonged finish is often indicative of high-quality wine. A wine with a well-structured, extended finish is often seen as a testament to the winemaker’s skill and the wine’s potential for aging and evolving in the bottle.


When a wine is referred to as “oaky,” it signifies a transformation during its aging process that imparts distinctive taste and aroma attributes from the oak barrels or casks. This oakiness elevates the wine, enhancing its overall structure, body, flavor and aroma, unveiling notes such as vanilla, subtle spices or a hint of smokiness. This unique trait is often embraced with enthusiasm, recognized as a hallmark of quality and celebrated for its ability to add depth and complexity to the wine.

Wine tasting sensory analysis and evaluation. Wine education trainees evaluate the aroma, taste, and finish of a red wine, learning to identify its key characteristics and flaws.
Most traditional wine corks are made from the bark of the cork oak tree, primarily grown in Portugal and Spain. The material is prized for its elasticity, impermeability to liquids and gases and the fact that it doesn’t flavor the wine. Synthetic corks, made from plastic compounds or a mixture of plastic and plant-based materials, have become popular as a cost-effective alternative.


A sommelier is the epitome of wine expertise, a consummate professional whose profound knowledge encompasses the world of wine and its marriage with culinary delights. Achieving this prestigious title demands a relentless commitment to education and certification, which demonstrate the dedication required to attain such an esteemed status in the world of wine and gastronomy.

Sommelier at work. Confident male sommelier pouring wine to decanter while standing near the wine shelf


Decanting is the careful act of pouring the liquid from a wine bottle into a container to remove impurities and separate it from sediments at the bottle’s bottom. Allow the wine to settle, especially if it was stored horizontally or recently moved, to let solid particles settle. When decanting, watch the bottle’s neck to stop pouring before sediment escapes. Decanting can alter a wine’s flavor by exposing it to oxygen and releasing compounds, but not all wines benefit from this process. Some vineyards offer guidelines, but ultimately whether to decant should be based on personal preference: taste the wine upon opening to decide.

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