Making sense of wine words
Why do wine pros use such weird words when describing wine? I mean, it’s just wine. And it’s already somewhat intimidating to non-oenophiles, right? What’s “mouthfeel” and, really, can a wine be sexy, dumb or aggressive? Doesn’t that describe people? Let’s go over some wine terms together and soon enough you’ll be sounding like a pro.
Sexy: A wine that is enticing and ethereal. I always think of cabernet francs as being sexy. They smell of violets and raspberries and the scent of tobacco. The initial perfume-y, intoxicating sniff of the bouquet, when you really put your nose right into the glass – that’s the aroma of sexy. I love this term.
Mouthfeel: While it might seem kind of a creepy word, mouthfeel is the sensation of the wine inside your mouth, the chemical reaction of what’s happening between the wine and your tastebuds. It can feel light or heavy, tart or creamy; it’s the literal feel of the wine inside your mouth. Velvety is a good mouthfeel. An acidic, face-scrunching reaction is not good.
Buttery: OK, it’s not that weird, but why would you use a dairy product to describe a grape derivative? This is simple, actually. The smell and/or taste of melted butter is a result of the wine being aged in toasted oak barrels. For most people this is a good thing; who doesn’t like butter?
Aggressive: In this instance not your ex or some crazy neighbor, actually a very acidic or tannic wine, in taste or texture. The wine just booms at you right out of the bottle because it may be too young to drink or needs some time in contact with the air to relax and unwind, become smooth.
Cuvée: A blend of wines to ensure a wine always tastes the same way, year after year, especially in Champagne. Think Veuve Clicquot or Dom Perignon. For wines that you want to know what you are buying every time, consistency is of the utmost importance. Blending wines can also make them more complex and layered or fix minor flaws.
Backbone: Good backbone denotes a well structured, full-bodied wine. As with people, no backbone equals not good/squeamish, and strong backbone equals worthy/noble.
Chewy: How can a liquid be described as chewy? If you’ve ever tasted a rich, deep, dark, heavy and tannic wine, you’ll remember feeling like you could literally chew it. That’s chewy, and you will recognize it when you sip it.
Dumb: This is actually a seldom-used term and reserved for collectors. An older wine in a bottle “shuts down” at a certain stage of time, but it won’t remain there forever. Eventually the wine will leave its dumb stage and come alive again, but it’s impossible to tell when either the former or the latter will happen. For this reason, a collector (could be a restaurant, too) will buy a case of the wine and open bottles periodically over time. This idea is obviously reserved for very good wines and ones that are meant to age.
There are hundreds of wine terms, and we’ve only scratched the surface. Also – you can pretty much use whatever words you want to describe wine, as long as you can justify it. Cheers!
First appeared in the March 2016 issue of Fort Wayne Magazine.