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It should go without saying that Australian cellar doors offer a highly non-intimidating environment in which there is no such thing as a stupid question. From the first-time taster to the wine aficionado, a cellar door should be a safe space to learn more about wine, a winery, its region and your unique perspective on each. Having said that, there are a handful of frequently-used wine terms that you will hear from cellar door to cellar door. We thought we’d save you some time and panic by demystifying these for you. Know the lingo already? Consider this a recap.
Terroir (pronounced ter-wahr)
The environmental conditions, especially soil and climate, in which grapes are grown which give a wine its unique flavour and aroma.
The wine term for the single year in which a wine was harvested, as opposed to a non-vintage wine, which may be made from a blend of wines made in more than one year.
Now this one is tricky and mistakenly used interchangeably with the word 'variety'. The easiest way to understand the distinction is to remember that one (variety) is a noun and the other (varietal) is an adjective.
The word variety refers to the grape variety, grown and used to make the wine such as Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, etc. whereas a varietal wine is a wine made primarily from a single named grape variety, and which typically displays the name of that variety on the wine label. Anything that includes more than one grape variety on its label, is a blend e.g. Semillion Sauvignon Blanc.
Wine that is said to have spent time ‘under oak’ has been matured in oak barrels.
Lees are leftover yeast particles from autolysis which is the self-destruction of yeast cells by enzymes created from fermentation. Lees are used in white and sparkling wines to add beneficial textures and flavors. Therefore, wine that is matured ‘on lees’ or ‘on the lees’ has been kept in contact with the lees through part of the maturation process.
Once you’ve heard a bit about the wine, you might swirl it in your glass and perhaps admire its nose and legs...
The nose is wine-speak for the smell.
Those streaks that trickle down the side of any wineglass after you swirl it. The legs are caused by alcohol, so generally more legs = higher alcohol content.
And then it comes to tasting, where you might be met with these perplexing terms...
The holy grail for winemakers. Wines should be in balance, with the acidity, alcohol, fruit and tannins all coming together in harmony and therefore providing flavour evenly on the palate.
Tannins are mostly found in red wines and are the cause of the drying sensation you feel on your gums. High, unripe tannins can be aggressive and unpleasant, but round, soft tannins help bring structure to a wine.
Literally wines with a predominantly fruity taste or aroma.
This is used to describe wines that do not have fruit-forward flavours, so savoury characters such as soil and wet grass. These flavours are typically found in red wines.
Minerality is often referred to when describing wines with a flinty, slately or metallic flavour.
When someone says a wine is crisp, bright or fresh, what they are really saying is the wine has well balanced acidity. Particularly relevant in white wines but present in all wines, acidity helps provide structure to the other flavours.
Generally, this the word given to a wine that is lacking acidity.
Oak should always be in balance when used in winemaking. When used judiciously, oak adds a lovely toasty character to white wine and helps build in complexity. With red wine it adds layers of flavour and helps the wine soften out before bottling. It is important however to recognise when a wine has been negatively overtaken by too much oak, masking the natural fruit flavours of the grapes themselves. A wine's oakiness is often highly subjective.
This can also be referred to as the aftertaste a wine leaves in your mouth. Better quality wines tend to have a longer finish that is rich, complex and flavoursome.
Now you can take on a standard wine-tasting like a pro, perhaps enhance your wine knowledge with some of our more in depth wine education experiences:
Understand wine like never before at The Lane Vineyard.
Go behind the scenes and delve into the world of extended maceration, toast and tirage with a barrel masterclass hosted by the winemaking team.
Taste Heritage wines directly from barrel as individual components and discover the subtleties of premium oak maturation.
Learn the impacts of oak on colour, aromatics, texture and structure in our most complex wines before retiring to the Tasting Room for a Gathering Indulgence wine flight. Taste the premium range of Occasion and Heritage wines paired with tempting tastes from the Chef.
Learn about the vines that grow in an ancient landscape. Hear about the viticultural philosophy and the small batch handling that make these wines world class. Appreciate the hint of elegance varietal glassware brings to any occasion.
The language of wine can seem quite complex. Sometimes it’s as if winemakers and sommeliers are talking another language. Through Voyager Estate’s Introduction to Wine Tasting, you’ll learn some of the techniques of wine tasting in an interactive and fun way. The team will help you discover your ideal wine, using a three step approach of appearance, aroma, and taste. You’ll gain an understanding of key wine descriptors and learn to identify the main characteristics of wine, especially in Margaret River varieties such as Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon.
Next, take a journey of the senses with a wine-paired six-course, Wine Discovery Menu. Each course tells part of the Voyager Estate story, with a few surprises along the way.
This hosted masterclass at d'Arenberg will take you on an educational wine journey. You will learn how to swirl, smell, taste and most importantly, how to identify the classic grape varieties and their subtleties.
Build up your wine vocabulary whilst you discover the differences between an aromatic or textural white wine, how to describe reds with varying intensity, mouthfeel, body and tannins. Hear about the age old winemaking techniques, and graze on a cheese plate as you are expertly guided through six wines from the award winning portfolio.
For more wine education experiences, click here.