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10 Wine Terms

Oaky: Many wines are aged in oak barrels.  Over time, the barrels impart a scent of freshly sawn oak to the wine.  An “oaked” wine can have a variety of different aromas, depending on the age of the barrels.  New barrels contribute stronger flavors to the wine.  Oak aging can give wine characteristics called “toasted,” “roasted,” or “smoky,” tastes that result when the barrels are heat-treated.  Because of the phenolic compound aldehyde, which resides in the wood, oak aging also imparts tastes of vanilla to the wine.  A properly “oaked” wine will have a subtle vanilla scent in the nose.  Oak can overpower other wine flavors, so bold, rich wines carry the flavor best.  A wine that is overwhelmed by oak flavors is said to be “overoaked.”

Tart: Wines that are too sharp and acidic can be called “tart,” referring to the often-unpleasant, almost sour taste that such wines have.

Clarity: A term that refers to a visual quality of the wine.  A wine with “clarity” is not cloudy, hazy or murky.  To test clarity, pour wine into a very clean glass.  Hold it against a white surface (like a tablecloth) and look at the wine through the glass.  Any bits floating in the wine or any cloudiness that is apparent decreases the clarity of the wine.  Wines with great clarity are prized.

Fat vs. Flabby: Though they might mean the same thing when referring to your post-Thanksgiving midsection, these two terms have decidedly different definitions when they are used to describe wine.  “Fat” is a textural term referring to wines that are concentrated and rich on the palate.  “Flabby” is fat gone too far: it refers to a wine that is too heavy on the palate, lacking balance, structure, and acidity.

Legs: Pour a taste of wine in your glass.  Swirl it like the pros do by keeping the base of the glass on the table and moving it in small, quick circles.  Be careful not to spill!  Stop swirling and inspect the glass.  Often, you will see small rivulets of wine running down the glass from the inside rim.  These are legs.  Their presence indicates a rich, full-bodied wine with a high alcohol content.  The more viscous and thicker the legs are, the richer and more full-bodied the wine.

Concentrated: When it refers to your orange juice, “concentrated” isn’t a good thing.  But it is a positive term when it refers to wine.  Fine wines, no matter if they are light-, medium-, or full-bodied, should have fruit flavors that taste rich and deep, or concentrated.  A synonym for “concentrated” is “deep.”

Complex: The definition of “complex” changes from one wine expert to another; its meaning is highly subjective.  But a memorable and accurate way to think of “complex” is how “interesting” a wine is.  Is the third glass just as good as the first?  Can the drinker continue to discover new tastes and aromas as he or she drinks?  If the answer to these questions is “yes,” feel free to call your wine “complex.”

Hard: “Hard” wines could also be called “abrasive.”  They are very high in tannins and acids.  Bold, strong wines that are still young can be hard.  Hard wines aren’t for everyone, but this descriptor isn’t necessarily a negative.  However, if a wine is too hard, it’s called “harsh,” which is never a good quality.

Precocious: Just as a precocious child acts older than her age, a precocious wine matures quickly.  Precocious wines can realize their maximum flavors in a relatively short period of time, and so allow an impatient collector to appreciate their benefits quickly.  Precocious wines can also be those wines that will continue to age well over a long period of time, but taste mature early on.


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