#SommNextDoor: Wine Slang

#SommNextDoor: Wine Slang

Our new weekly editorial that answers questions from our community by our resident girl-next-door who happens to be a certified level 2 Sommelier Alex Sanchez. Send us your questions! Twitter, Facebook, or email [email protected]

This week’s question via email from Lindy in Dana Point, Ca was about breaking down wine terminology.

Often you may hear people use odd words to describe a wine such as body, bouquet and finish. Understanding them will allow you to determine what it is that you enjoy about your favorite wines and help guide you with future wine purchases. These are terms of art used in the world of wine. Here are some common terms used in wine tasting and will have you speaking and understanding wine in no time!


There are three classifications of body for wine: light, medium, and full. This is used to describe how heavy the wine feels in your mouth. It’s like the weight of different types of milk, for example:

Light Body: similar weight to skim milk, it’s thin and and watery

Medium Body: similar to the weight of whole milk

Full Body: similar to weight or heaviness of cream (not that it tastes like cream!)


Is the wine clear, hazy, or opaque?

If the wine is clear, the wine has likely been fined or filtered to remove all sediment (lees) from the wine. If the wine is hazy or opaque it probably has not been fined or filtered. Some winemakers choose to not fine or filter for a more “natural” winemaking approach (hippies, this kind of wine is for you).


This is the same idea as measuring brilliance in diamonds. It refers to the brightness created by the white light that is reflected back to the eye from the wine.

In wine we classify brightness as Dull, Bright, Day Bright, or Star Bright.

Viscosity, aka Tears or Legs

Made up of three components: glycol, sugar, and alcohol

Contrary to what you may have heard, the legs (the drippings that form on the inside of a wine glass after you swirl it) tell you nothing about the quality of a wine, only the amount of glycol, sugar, and alcohol it contains. The thicker and higher the legs, the more glycol, sugar, and alcohol. The thinner the legs, the less of those three components are in the wine.

On to the Nose…

The nose is the overall effect of the smell of the wine. If you want to get more specific about the aromas you are detecting you can use “aroma” and “bouquet.”

Aroma: derived from the grape itself; typically fruit, flower, and herbal notes.

Bouquet: the aromas that come from a wine’s aging process and the vessel it’s aged in (oak, amphorae, concrete, etc); examples include baking spices, vanilla, soy sauce, sherry.


The way a wine makes your mouth pucker and salivate. Acidity is ranked as low, medium, or high. The more your mouth salivates after tasting a wine, the higher the acidity.


Bone Dry: No residual sugar

Dry: 0-9 g/L (grams per liter) residual sugar

Off Dry: 9-18 g/L residual sugar

Sweet: 18-120 g/L residual sugar

If you’re not into sweet wines stick to wines that are bone dry or dry. If you like sipping sweet, go for off dry and sweet wines.


The astringent, gripping sensation in your mouth similar to the bitterness of unsweetened black tea. Red wines have tannins and white wines have phenols(the bitter astringency in white wines). The exception in white wine is that whites can get tannin from being aged or fermented in oak. Many tasting notes and shelf talkers read “silky, velvety, soft tannins” and other adjectives of the sort. Soft and integrated tannins are wonderful in a wine but harsh, abrasive tannins are not (unless you like the drying, cotton mouth sensation).


Tannin, alcohol, acidity, and sugar must all be in harmony with each other without any one part being more noticeable or overwhelming. If any one part dominates the others, the wine is not balanced. To get a better understanding of balance next time you’re tasting a wine, pause and ask yourself if you are noticing any of these four components more than the others.


The amount of different flavors and aromas in a wine. Complex wines are layered with fruit, minerality, earth, floral, umami, and more. Wines that lack complexity are one-dimensional and don’t have a lot going on. (This doesn’t mean that it’s bad wine!)


How long the flavors and taste of the wine linger in your mouth. This is commonly associated with quality. High-quality wines should have a longer finish.

Have fun with these wine terms like Gary Vaynerchuk’s tasting notes of Favia 2010 Rompecabezas Syrah Blend from Amador County:

“Juicy I mean Nicki Minaj ass juicy.. Hints of pepper and plum and finished off with a super long finish…. Super long ….. Like John Elways drove long …. Sorry Browns fans …” –Gary Vaynerchuk