10 Words That Will Change The Way You Drink And Buy Wine

10 Words That Will Change The Way You Drink And Buy Wine

Updated 5 minutes ago. Posted 1 hour ago

Wine doesn’t have to be so complicated.

With so much terminology and seemingly complicated phrases, the world of wine can feel mysterious and overwhelming. But it doesn’t have to be! By understanding these important wine terms, you’ll begin to discover the kinds of wine you like to drink, and you’ll become more knowledgable when it comes to buying wine.

1.

Varietal

A poster containing hundreds of wine varietals and their descriptions.


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A varietal is a type of grape used to make a wine. You probably know of the most popular varietals like Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, and Malbec, but there are hundreds and hundreds of varietals. When you shop for wines, look out for lesser known varietals such as Albariño, Chenin Blanc, Carménère, and Frappato, for starters. Not only are they delicious, but they can often be great values.

2.

Vintage

A bottle and glass of wine with an arrow pointing to the year on the label


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Vintage refers to the year that the grapes for a wine were harvested, which is displayed on the front of a bottle. If a bottle of Brunello di Montalcino reads 2013, that means that all the grapes used to produce that bottle were picked in 2013. The vintage is important because certain years produce very different wines. Consider, for instance, an uncharacteristically hot year in Napa Valley with very little rainfall. Hot weather will cause the grapes to ripen faster so they will contain more sugar and the final wine they produce will be less acidic, higher in alcohol, and more full-bodied. Of course, you don’t have to memorize the yearly weather patterns. You can easily do a quick Google search to see how critics and other average drinkers compare wines based on their vintages.

3.

Old World vs. New World

Two bottles of Pinot Noir, one from California and the other from France.


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Wines can be divided into two general categories: old world or new world. Old world wines are wines from Europe, where modern wine-making began. Wines from France, Italy, Germany, Spain, Hungary, etc. are all considered old world wines. As a very general rule of thumb, these wines tend to be higher in acid and lighter in body. The new world refers to the countries that imported wine-making techniques from Europe, so places like the US, Argentina, South Africa, Australia. New world wines tend to be higher in alcohol, fuller bodies, and less acidic.

4.

Tannin

A bottle of red wine with a cute label with a ladybug and butterfly.


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Have you ever had a sip of wine and immediately feel your mouth dry up, like you need a sip of water? What you’re experiencing are tannins. Tannins are compounds known as polyphenols that come from the skins, seeds and stems of grapes, and they give structure to a wine. How tannic a wine tastes comes from not only the type of grape used to produce that wine, but also from the winemaking process. As a general rule, red wines have more tannins than white wines because red wine is fermented with the skin on the grapes. The more structured or fuller bodied a wine, the more tannins it contains.

5.

Acidity

A bottle of Italian light red wine with lots of acidity.


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Besides for tannins, acidity is the other main way to describe a wine. If tannins make your mouth feel rough and dry, acidity tastes puckery and zesty and might make your tongue wet. Acidity gives wine its slightly sour and tart taste. As a general rules, wines from warmer climates are less acidic and cooler climate wines are more acidic. Another way to think about this is by wine region. New world wines from warm places like California, Chile, Argentina have less acid and old world wines from Europe (cooler climates) are more acidic. So, why is this important? Think about the kinds of wine you like to drink, whether you appreciate more tart flavor or fuller-body, and seek out wines accordingly.

6.

Natural, Organic, and Biodynamic

A handful of natural wines on a countertop containing some reds, rosés, and white wines.


Hannah Loewentheil/BuzzFeed

In recent years, there’s been a big trend toward natural, organic, and biodynamic wines. There is some overlap between all three, but in a nutshell they refer to wines that are made sustainably with the wine maker using the bare minimum of chemical additives. Defining organic wine can be tricky because the certifications and requirements are different depending on the country or even the region it’s from, but think of it like you’d think of any organic produce. Natural wines are some of the buzziest wines today, and these are wines made made with minimal intervention (meaning no chemicals, additives, sulfites, filtering, etc). The resulting wines can be a bit funky, but extremely juicy and delicious. Biodynamic wines are made via a grape growing process based in astrology and the cosmos, for example, planting and harvesting grapes according to the phases of the moon.

7.

Pét-Nat

A bottle of peach-colored pét-nat wine with a bunny on its label.


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If you’ve started to explore the world of natural wines, you’ve probably stumbled upon the term “pét-nat.” Pét-nat is short for pétillant naturel, which is basically a style of sparkling wine that is different from Champagne or Prosecco. In short, winemakers make pét-nat by bottling wines that are still undergoing their first fermentation. The process is very unpredictable, and oftentimes wine makers don’t know exactly what they’re going to get. Another major difference between Pét-Nat and champagne is the grapes that can be used. You can only use three types of grapes to make Champagne, but Pét-Nat is funkier and more experimental. You can use any sort of combination of grapes, which is why you’ll find red, orange, rosé, and white pét-nat wines.

8.

Late Harvest

Three bottles of sweet Chateau d'Yquem dessert wine.


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Late harvest wines are made from grapes that are left on the vines for a longer period that usual, even after they’ve reached peak ripeness. These grapes become sweeter and sweeter as they begin to shrivel up, and they produce dessert wines as a result. Some of these wines can be semi-sweet like Spätlese riesling, or they can be extremely syrupy like a white wine from Sauterne, France, known for some of the world’s most expensive dessert wines.

9.

Appellation

Three bottles of wine from France with their appellation (AOC) circled in pink.


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Appellations are legally defined and protected areas used to label where the grapes for a certain wine are grown. Different appellations have different rules and regulations. In the United States, we call different growing areas AVAs (American Viticultural Areas), in Italy they are DOCs (Denominazione di Origine Controllata, in Spain they are DOPs (Denominación de Origen Protegida) and in France they are AOCs (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée). Essentially all of these anagrams mean the same thing: they are areas with defined boundaries that help countries regulate and classify the wines grown within. So, why does it matter? You can guess a wine’s style based on the appellation in which it’s grown, and you can also often determine the grape(s) used in a wine depending on the appellation, even if those grapes aren’t listed on the bottle. Trying wines from different appellations and learning about the wines that grow there will make you better at buying exactly what you love to drink!

10.

Skin Contact


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Most people know skin contact wines by a different name: Orange wines. Put simply, skin contact wines are technically white wines that are made by using red wine techniques. Wine makers start with white wine grapes but they leave the juice in contact with the skins for a long period of time. This gives the final wine an orange color. These wines taste bolder and have more tannins (grip) than white wines and many rosés. And like rosé or white wine, skin contact wines taste best chilled.

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