All the Wine Lingo You Need to Know
Wine is one of the most welcoming drinks I know. It’s universally loved. It’s available at every price point. And there’s a bottle for everyone, no matter how tricky your taste buds desire. So why does the wine world seem so intimidating? The truth is that it shouldn’t be.
To shed some light on the peculiar world of wine, I recently spoke with Chris Cutler, founder and co-owner of an awesome new brand called Grip, which produces wallet-friendly wines inspired by easy, outdoor California living. Cutler is also a partner at MyVinotype, a technology-based platform that uses data to make smart wine recommendations, and in the past, he’s been involved in sales, marketing, brokerage, and more for a number of great wineries, so he really knows his stuff.
Cutler tells me his number one piece of advice for anyone interested in learning about wine “is not to be overwhelmed and think that you have to learn everything (or anything) about wine to appreciate it.” Like people, he says, “wine comes in many different flavors and colors, and not one is right or wrong. Just sip, share, enjoy, and don't get caught up in the details.” If you’re really gung ho about immersing yourself in the subject, “the best thing to do is start visiting wine regions and experience what makes each one unique: the soils, terroir, grapes, history, and so forth,” he adds.
To give us a head start, I asked Cutler to share with us a list of the words that he thinks everyone should learn to better understand and appreciate wine. Read on for his glossary!
“Appellation is a legally protected ‘place name’ for a wine region. You will find the wines from many European countries, such as France, Italy, Germany, and Spain, are identified by their appellation versus the New World practice of naming the wine by the grape variety. For instance, red burgundy refers to pinot noir from Bourgogne, France; you just have to know the place to know the wine. Here in America we grow pinot noir grapes wherever suitable conditions exist, and we call the wine ‘pinot noir,’ whether it’s from Willamette Valley or the Russian River appellations.”
“Aroma is a singular, specific smell that one finds when they smell a wine. Often, there are aromas that may be familiar from fruits and spices, like honeydew, grass, blueberries, cherry cola, leather, or licorice. But rest assured, these items are not added—it just smells like they were!”
“Bouquet is the more complex collective or composite of aromas in a wine, just as in the term applied to a collection of flowers. Some would call this the ‘nose.’”
“To breathe is to let wine ‘open up’ by interacting with air (possibly pouring into a decanter), which sometimes softens the flavor, with old and new wines alike.”
“Dry is a relative (and sometimes confusing) word that indicates a wine that is not sweet. It is often confused with the astringency, the drying sensation from the tannins in red wines, but it is entirely possible for a wine to be both tannic and sweet—such as vintage Ports. Similarly, sweet wines are often referred to as ‘off-dry.’”
“Fermentation is the process that occurs in barrels and tanks after grapes have been pressed and the sugar in the grape juice is converted into alcohol. This, along with inoculating with yeast, is what converts grape juice into wine!”
“The desirable combination of sensations that provide the ‘mouthfeel’ of a wine—acidity, bitterness, and/or tannins—is often referred to as grip.”
“Méthode Champenoise is the method of making sparkling wine (from Champagne region) whereby bottles are stored face down and hand-‘riddled,’ or slightly turned on a regular basis in order to not let yeast settle in the neck during a ‘secondary fermentation,’ thereby creating bubbles.”
“Terroir is a French term that roughly translates to ‘territory’: the elements of geography, geology, culture and traditions that make a wine recognizable.”
“Varietal is the ‘variety’ or specific type of wine grape. Almost all of the grape varieties used for wine production (such as merlot, cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, etc.) belong to the Vitis vinifera species.”
“The sum of your unique physiological (sensory sensitivities) and psychological (cultural, social, and experiential) characteristics that define the type of wine you enjoy most. Learn your vinotype at myVinotype.com.”
“Vintage is the year the grapes were picked or harvested (not bottled). This is the year that appears on the bottle (e.g., 2012 cabernet sauvignon).”
Read on for some of Cutler's favorite wine books and to shop a couple of his own wines.
Spinning the Bottle by Paul Franson and Harvey Posert ($40)
"I have read a lot of books about the history of Napa, wines from the Old World, how to make wine, etc., but as a sales and marketing guy, the most interesting to me is/was a book called Spinning the Bottle by Paul Franson and the late Harvey Posert. The authors are old-school Napa PR and marketing pros who share a series of case studies on how wine brands differentiate themselves in a world where there are more than 5000 brands and wine is essentially just fermented grape juice in a pretty package."