Wino Words

Wine Terminology
A brief (and hopefully helpful) listing of wine words and their definitions


Acidity
Acidity is what makes a wine taste refreshing. Acid occurs naturally in grapes -- as the fruit ripens and sugar levels rise, acid levels fall. Wine makers must play a balancing act with ripeness and acidity. Without acid, the wine will taste completely flat. It's so important that wines of "questionable quality" are artificially acidified during the wine making process in order to make them more palatable. Acidity is especially important in wines with residual sugar, as the refreshing acidity helps keep the wine from being cloyingly sweet.

Body
Body is a way to describe the textural impression you get from the wine. Is it light and thin like water or skim milk? Is it heavy and thick, coating your tongue like cream? Or is it somewhere in between, more like 2% milk? Many things contribute to how you perceive the wine, including but not limited to:
  • a high level of ripe tannin can make the wine feel full bodied, but even a small amount under-ripeastringent tannin can make the wine feel thin and light
  • higher levels of alcohol (around 13.5% or more) can make a wine seem fuller bodied
  • sugar can increase viscosity and therefore body -- unless the wine has high levels of acidity to balance may decrease perceived fullness
How these components interact will determine the body of the wine.

Sugar: Dry vs. Sweet
Yeast convert sugar into alcohol during fermentation. The sweetness of wine comes from residual sugar -- what's left after the little yeast monsters finish their job. Alternatively, sweetness can come from the addition of sugar or grape juice after fermentation. Most wines of quality are not sweetened, but rather the fermentation is interrupted, leaving some sugar "uneaten" by the yeast.

In this blog I'll be generally following the Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) scale of sweetness:



Tannin
Tannins are an important part of red wine, giving it it's color and texture. They come from the grape skins, seeds, and stems, in addition to the barrels in which the wine is stored. Tannins can be harsh and grippy, drying your mouth and making you want to chew -- or they can be soft and silky giving the wine a smooth feel. Generally speaking, the unripe grapes' tannins will feel astringent, whereas ripe grape tannins will be velvety  Tannins are also important for a wine to be able to age.


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