Bottle Service: Wine Speak

Recently, a group of collectors had dinner at one of the world’s largest wine cellars, Bern’s Steak House in Tampa. One novice wine bibber was there and wrote down the terms she had questions about. I thought a brief list of terms might help everyone who ends up with a wine geek at a tasting or dinner.

Attack — The first impression the wine makes as it enters your mouth. Usually the fruit is represented in the attack since the taste buds that perceive sweetness are on the front of our tongues.

Balanced — Wine that has no characteristic stronger than the others. It is a balance of fruit, acid and tannin.

Complex — A wine with a number of flavors and qualities (all good). It’s the opposite of “one dimensional.”

Finish — The last impression the wine makes as it leaves your mouth after being swallowed. Usually, the longer the finish, the better the wine. A long finish is different than an aftertaste, which is the flavor that remains in the back of the throat and nasal passages after the wine has been drunk. Usually, this is the sign of a wine in poor condition.

Nose — The aroma of the wine; the way it smells.

Palate — The way the wine feels or the weight of the wine in your mouth.

Light-bodied — For red wines, this means not much tannin. A lot of wines under $15 a bottle are light-bodied, such as Beaujolais nouveau. Full-bodied red wines are the opposite. Most high-priced California cabernet sauvignons are full-bodied. Light-bodied white wines have a lack of acidity. Again, inexpensive white wines are usually light-bodied.

Good acidity — On the nose, good acidity is usually reflected by strong fruit scents, especially citrus, crisp apple and ripe pineapple. On the palate, it's mouthwatering, like biting a lemon. Acidity is reflected on the sides of your tongue. A lack of acidity gives wine a flabby characteristic and a watery finish.

Bitter — Obviously a taste detected in the mouth. Its causes are legion, and it makes a wine undrinkable.

Corked — An often overused descriptor. It is caused by the bacteria TCA. It has a very distinct wet cardboard smell and will only get worse as the mold multiplies during contact with air. If there’s any doubt whether or not a wine is corked, let it sit. If the smell gets worse, it’s corked.

Maderized — A heavy, flat smell marked by the lack of fresh fruit and metal elements. It’s caused by age or exposure to oxygen and is usually associated with the term “oxidized,” which is an overexposure to oxygen. In red wine, it’s a burned metal smell. In white wine, the color has usually become a deeper yellow, and the nose is metallic.

While there are plenty of other terms you can learn and may hear, these will let you enjoy wine speak with a wine geek. Above all, remember: the only opinion that really matters when it comes to wine is yours.