From time to time I’ll take a few of the most used and misused wine terms and try to make them a little more understandable. Here are five that I think are widely misunderstood.
I think “dry” is one of the most misunderstood terms used by wine drinkers. Dry is simply the absence of sugar (sweetness). When wines are fermented, the sugar in them is converted to alcohol. If most of the sugar is converted in this way, the wine is left dry. Dryness is not sourness, that’s acidity, nor is it astringency, that is caused by tannins. Many people say they don’t like dry wines, when in fact what they don’t like are acidic or tannic wines. Personally, I’m not a fan of sweet drinks. In general, I don’t care for sweet soft drinks, sugar in my tea or coffee or sweet wines (except dessert wines). I know a lot of people with similar tastes who also say they don’t like dry wines. In most cases I find that it’s actually not the dryness they dislike; it’s either the acidity or the tannins that bother them.
I always get strange looks when I talk about how wine feels in my mouth. How food feels in our mouth is a very important component of taste. Peanut butter would not “taste” the same if it was thin and watery. We sense the consistency of peanut butter, thick and creamy vs. thin and watery, via our sense of touch, how it feels in our mouth. There are six mouth-feel sensations associated with wine: irritating, heat, texture, weight, acidity and intensity. Common examples of these are peppery – as in black pepper (irritating); astringent – tannic or puckering (irritating); buttery – creamy or smooth (texture); cloying – overly sweet (texture); full bodied – dense (weight); thin or watery – the opposite of full bodied (weight); acidic – tart, crisp (acidity); and intense or bigness – concentrated flavors (intensity).
When we say a wine has good body, we’re not talking about how it looks in a swimsuit. Body is a sense of the weight of the wine in your mouth (its mouth-feel again). We say that wines are light, thin or watery (light weight), medium bodied (medium weight) or full bodied (heavy weight). The weight of the wine in your mouth has to do with the wine’s density (literally how heavy it is) and the alcohol content. Higher alcohol wines have a heavier feel than lower alcohol wines. Many Pinot Grigios can be described as light bodied; Chardonnays as medium bodied, and red Zinfandels as heavy or full bodied.
As I mentioned above, tannins are the reason that many people think they don’t like red wine. That puckery, astringent feeling that fills your mouth when you drink a young Cabernet Sauvignon is caused by tannins. Tannins occur naturally in grape skins and oak, and are tasteless and odorless. You feel tannins rather than taste them (yes, its mouth-feel yet again). As I mentioned earlier, there is a tendency to confuse tannic with dry. Most red wines are dry, but most are not tannic. Consider the difference the next time you try one.
Meritage is a proprietary term used to denote Bordeaux-style wines without infringing on the French Bordeaux region’s legally protected designation. To use the term on a label, the maker must license the Meritage trademark from the California-based Meritage Alliance. This is an effort to reign in the use of the term which had become almost meaningless through unregulated misuse. Red Bordeaux is made principally from a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, with lesser proportions of Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec. A red Meritage must be made from at least two of these grapes (or the less well known St. Macaire, Gros Verdot, and Carmenère), with no varietal comprising more than 90% of the blend.
By Wine Time News Letter