5 Basic Wine Terms Explained
Learn about dry wine, tannins in wine, and more.
Some common wine terms are difficult, when you first encounter them. Phrases like “dry wine,” or “chewy tannins,” or “young wine” are all mysterious when you’re new to wine. The words don’t seem to apply to wine at all. It seems impossible that a wine can be “chewy!”
However, all of these phrases are actually easy to learn.
Explaining some basic wine terms can help you feel more confident drinking and cooking with wine. Plus, you can have fun teaching friends your newfound knowledge.
Basic Wine Term #1: What is Dry Wine?
Dry wine is wine that isn't sweet. Wine is made by fermenting grape juice, which converts sugars in the juice into alcohol. If all of the sugar is converted into alcohol, then the wine won’t be sweet anymore. It will be dry. Some wines, like Moscato or Sweet Riesling, stop the fermentation process before all of the sugar is converted, making the wine sweet.
Some examples of dry white wines are: Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, and Chenin Blanc.
Some examples of dry red wines are: Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Pinot Noir, Malbec, Merlot, and Grenache.
Basic Wine Term #2: What is Wine Body?
No, this isn’t the same as “dad body.” Body in wine refers to how a wine feels in your mouth. To experience the difference, try taking a sip of something creamy, like whole milk. Then take a sip of water. The milk feels thick, or “full-bodied,” while the water feels thin, or “light-bodied.” You can find a similar textural difference in wine.
Basic Wine Term #3: What is Malolactic Fermentation?
Malolactic fermentation is a winemaking process where one type of acid is converted to another. Malic acid is naturally found in wine. It’s tart, like biting into a green apple. Lactic acid is found in milk, and it has a creamy texture. Malolactic fermentation converts malic acid into lactic acid, giving wine a rounder mouthfeel. Chardonnay commonly goes through malolactic fermentation, which makes its texture “creamy.” Other types of red and white wine also go through malolactic fermentation.
Basic Wine Term #4: What is Tannin?
Tannins are naturally occurring antioxidants in wine. They come from the grape skins, and they come from wine being aged in oak barrels. Tannins make your mouth feel dry. Think about drinking very strong black tea, licking a popsicle stick, or chewing on the skin of a grape. Red wines, like Cabernet Sauvignon, have a lot of tannins, while other wines will have very few (like most white wines). Tannins are thought to be the source of health benefits of red wine, like heart health and cancer prevention.
So, what are “chewy tannins?” Full-bodied wines that have strong tannins will dry out your mouth, so you might feel like making a chewing motion while sipping. It’s generally a positive thing!
Basic Wine Term #5: Young Wine vs. Old Wine
Did you know that wine can be young or old? Young wines are wines that were recently bottled, usually within 3 years of the vintage date (the date on the bottle). Some wines are meant to be enjoyed young, like many white wines, rosés, and affordable red wines. Old wines may rest in the bottle for 10 or more years past their vintage date, maturing in flavor.
If you drink mostly affordable wine, then you don’t have to worry about age of the wine. It’s meant to be enjoyed now. However, if you’re putting down $30 or more on a bottle, check with the winery to see if it should be opened now or cellared for a few years.
You can dislike a wine for any number of reasons. It might lack nuance, have too many tannins, or it might be sweeter than you prefer. However, it’s important to know when a wine tastes terrible because there is actually something wrong with it. How to Identify Corked Wine and 3 Other Common Wine Faults
What other wine terminology would you like to see explained? Let us know in the comments below!