From the outside, the language of wine appreciation can seem like a barrier to those who don’t know its strange and specific vocabulary. Words like ‘residual sugars’, ‘tannins’, ‘acidity levels’, have all been created to describe the subtle nuances of flavour, age terroir and variety, but they can seem strange and foreign until we learn their meanings. |
Here we will attempt to outline the key phrases and terminology you may encounter on our French wine tours so that you are able to make the most of the expert knowledge of our guides and the viniculturists you will meet.
The Viniculture Process
Many of the words you will have heard when visiting vineyards on wine tours relate to the actual viniculture process. Terms like ‘early harvest’, ‘alcoholic fermentation’ and ‘estate bottled’ all refer to the way in which the product is made and are a key to understanding why each variety tastes the way it does.
• Acid ¬– There are several acids used in viniculture as part of the fermentation process, helping to form the flavour and extend its taste on your palate. • Alcoholic Fermentation – Refers to the actual process of adding yeast to the grapes to speed up the rate at which the sugars are converted into alcohol. • Barrel Aged – This refers to the time the liquid is allowed to rest in a barrel before it is transferred to the bottle. Different types of barrels (from aged oak to stainless steel) can be used in this process and will affect the final flavour. • Early Harvest – These are grapes which have been picked early, before they are fully ripe, creating a less sweet result. • Estate bottled – This is when the finished product is bottled on the estate where the vines were grown. • Lees – Refers to parts of the grape discarded during the viniculture process such as stems and seeds.
Terms to Describe Flavour
Whether we are trying it at our local restaurant or in the tasting room of a vintner’s estate on French wine tours, we know immediately if we like what we are tasting. But it can sometimes be difficult to put our opinion into words unless we have the right vocabulary. Here are some terms which should help.
• Aftertaste – This is the flavour that is left in your mouth after drinking. • Balance – This refers to the harmony of different flavours. • Body ¬– There are three main ‘body types’ of wine, and these can be affected by a variety of factors. The ‘body’ describes how ‘heavy’ it feels on the palate. It can be divided into light bodied, medium bodied and full bodied. • Complexity – This is used to describe a variety that has a range of levels of flavours that cross the palate at different moments but work in harmony together. • Crisp – This is a term that relates to the acidity and clean, fruity flavour. • Dry – A variety that lacks sweetness. • Floral – This term is used when the aroma has a scent of flowers. • Fruity – The flavour of fruit either in the scent or in its taste. • Earthy – Cabernets are a good example of an ‘earthy’ variety with a suggestion of the taste of soil in the richness of its flavour. • Intensity – This relates to the strength of flavour, as well as the depth of colour.
General Useful Terms
Here are some other key terms you may hear on French wine tours.
• Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) – The French organisation which regulates the terms viniculturists are allowed to use when labelling. • Oxidised – This is when the flavour and colour are diluted because the wine has been exposed to the air for too long. • Legs – The way the liquid drips down the inside of the glass, a good indicator of alcohol level. • Meritage – A blend of different grape varieties. • Palate – The way a particular variety affects the different regions of the mouth. • Reserve – The best quality variety from a producer. • Sediment – The particles of the grape left in a reds after the aging process. • Tannins – Come from the grapes’ stems, seed and skin and are used as a preservative. Tannins have a big impact on flavour.
This guide is only a small taster of some of the extensive language of wine appreciation, but I hope it will be enough to spark or feed your passion and drive you to find out even more next time you tour of some of Europe’s vineyards.
Paul Newman is the Marketing and E-Systems Executive for European Waterways, the UK's most respected provider of all-inclusive, luxury barge holidays. Offering holidays to France and other great destinations, itineraries include wine tours and other cultural and themed activities. Part of a team of experienced barging aficionados, Paul is first in line to endorse the perks of a slow-paced barge cruise to anyone looking for a unique holiday experience.
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