Wine Tasting Basics: 5 Words you Should Know
Part of our mission at Ruby Hill Winery is for wine to be approachable and enjoyed by all. We want everyone to be able to enjoy the delight of a glass of wine without the pressure of pretense—enjoying wine isn’t just for wine snobs! To enhance your experience, we’ve listed a few simple words below and what they mean when tasting wine.
The vintage of a wine is simply the year of its creation, which will appear on the bottle. For example, we are currently pouring the “2020 vintage” of our Reserve Sauvignon Blanc, which means the grapes that went into this wine were grown and harvested in 2020. For wines that take a long time to age in barrels before they are bottled (generally red wines), quite a bit of time can elapse between harvest and when the wines are released. The 2019 vintage of our Jewel Cabernet Sauvignon was just bottled earlier this year and has not yet been released. The year that appears on a bottle of wine indicates its vintage. Wines that are a blend of multiple vintages, such as our Solera Dessert Wine or our Armonia Lot #11, are labeled as “Non-Vintage."
In context: “I think the 2018 vintage of our Reserve Cab is especially good.”
Referring to a wine’s “nose” is a fancy way of referring to its smell or “aroma.” In a tasting room, you’ll likely hear the aroma of various wines described in terms of all kinds of fruits or flowers. Smells matter in wine tasting! The nose will reveal a great deal about how a wine will taste and give you an idea of what to expect once you take a sip. If a wine ages well, its aroma becomes more layered and complex as time goes on, developing from an aroma into what the wine world refers to as a “bouquet.” To get a good sense of the nose of a wine (aroma or bouquet) give your glass a nice swill before taking a sniff to release more of the scent molecules into the air.
In context: “The Petite Sirah has a very pronounced nose with notes of blackberry and cocoa.”
After you’ve just swirled your glass to get a sense of the nose, hold your glass up to the light and look just above the surface of the wine. Likely, you will see lines of wine easing down the sides of the glass. These lines are called “legs” and can tell you a bit about the alcohol or sugar content of your wine. Generally, sweeter or higher alcohol wines will have more pronounced legs but the length or appearance of these legs is not an indicator of quality.
In context: “You can see the subtle legs of the Sangiovese if you give it a swirl.”
The body of a wine is how full, rich, or heavy it feels in your mouth. A thinner feel in the mouth would be referred to as “light-bodied” or simply “light” while more robust, dense wines are medium- or full-bodied. The texture that you sense in the wine’s body, be it smooth, rough, or velvety, is fittingly referred to as the mouthfeel. The differences between the body of various wines is not terribly different from other beverages—think of the different sensations between sipping skim milk vs. whole milk.
In context: “The Grapeful Rosé is much more full-bodied than the average Rosé wine
The structure of a wine is a combination of several features: alcohol level, acidity, sugar, tannins, and fruit. A wine that has a deliciously harmonious balance between these elements is referred to as “structured.” A wine that has a pleasant aroma, a smooth sip and mouthfeel, and flavors that linger after swallowing (called the “finish”) would be considered structured. Structure in wine has a great deal to do with tannins, which are compounds from the skins and seed of grapes that give wine its color, its ability to age, and a great deal of its texture. If a wine makes you pucker or makes your tongue feel dry, it is likely a more tannic wine.
In context: “The structure of the Jewel Zinfandel is exactly the balance I’m looking for in a red wine.”
If you are looking for a chance to use your wine vocabulary, come taste what the Livermore Valley has to offer at Ruby Hill Winery! We're open 7 days a week and reservations are required on weekends only.
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