It is one thing to speak about wine familiar to you or even wine you enjoy, and another thing to understand what others say about wine. Whether you're listening to that friend with the private cellar, speaking with an associate who collects wine or even reading a review by a wine reporter, unless you understand the language, wine speak (lingo) may be a bit intimidating (I get it, I was once there). Today, what I have done is selected a few wine terms that I will cover in three parts. Every month, I will present simple vocabulary that will be sure to help you have a better understanding of the wine you drink and help you carry on conversation with a sommelier when you are ready to order that favorite wine at your favorite restaurant.
Please note that wine vocabulary can also be found on wine labels. Don't worry, I've got you covered. We will cover that in another post!
The term body, when used to describe wine, is used to describe the weight of the wine (how the wine feels in your mouth). A wine's body can be described as light, medium, or full. One thing to keep in mind, body does not suggest the quality of wine.
Cuvee (pronounced koo vay)
The term cuvee has two uses: When we speak of champagne, it refers to the first juice to emerge from the press in the production of Traditional Method sparkling wine. Cuvee is also used to describe a blend of many different wines. Since the term is not regulated, it is often used to imply prestige or quality. Therefore, you can find it on the label of a simple table wine.
Late harvest refers to late harvest wines made by grapes that have been on the vine beyond the harvest season (usually autumn). This in turn produces grapes that will yield higher sugar concentrations for sweet wines. Late harvest grapes are used for wines such as: Riesling, Sauternes, and Muscat.
A varietal wine is wine made from a single named grape variety such as Chardonnay and Merlot.
The term table wine has held various meanings throughout the years. According to Jancis Robinson, who wrote the Oxford Companion to Wine, the term is used to "distinguish wines of average alcoholic strength from fortified wines, which have been strengthened by the addition of alcohol" (2015). In Europe, table wines are those that are made outside of regulated regions or are made using methods that have not been approved. The takeaway is that the label, "table wine" is not an indication of the quality of the wine.
Tannins are the natural compounds found in the skins, seeds, and stems of grapes. They can also be found in the oak barrels. Tannins are typically found in red wines and give red wines body or structure. Tannins also create the drying sensation in the mouth.
This is a term that I believe is important to know. I always cringe when it is used incorrectly. Vintage in wine speak does not mean "old". Vintage refers to the year in which the grapes used to produce the wine were harvested.