Every industry has it’s own peculiar set of terms it uses routinely. The wine industry is no exception. What you hear in the vineyard is different from what the winemakers may use, and wine speak in the tasting room is different, too. After reading this, it shall be easier to tell a flight from a finish, and you will find yourself easily using these terms as you continue your wine tasting journey. The following are seven often used, easily understood terms you will encounter while wine tasting.
- AVA/APPELLATION: The appellation is the region where the grapes are grown. It could be as large as California or Oregon, more specific, like Lodi or Willamette Valley, or even more specific, like Alta Mesa or Dundee Hills. AVA stands for American Viticultural Area, and is a federally recognized grape growing region. A region must apply with the Alcohol and Tobacco tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) to become an AVA or a Sub-appellation of an AVA. As such, there are laws regulating the use of AVA’s on wine labels.
- FLIGHT: This is the selection of wines you will get to sample. A flight can any number of tastes, as determined by the winery. It can be pre-determined by the winery, based on such variables as color, style, varietal, or region, or I can be a flight of your choosing based on the wines offered at the winery.
- VINTAGE: This is the year in which the grapes were harvested. It is helpful to be able to remember the weather of any particular year in relation to the region and the varietal, and the environmental impact on the grapes. For example, in 2018, as you sample wines from California’s 2015 vintage, remember that there was an early heat wave in the early spring, cooler-than-usual conditions during the summer, and a lot of fires through out the state. These conditions will impact the amount of fruit the vines put out (thus affecting price and availability), the length of time they hung on the vines (affecting alcohol levels) and some grapes may display smokiness (from smoke in the air and ash in the soils). If you do not see a vintage year, it means the wines of several harvest years have been blended together, as is routinely done with ports and sparkling wines., and even some still blends.
- ESTATE/RESERVE: This should actually be broken out into two terms, as they are two different things. You can have Estate wine on your label if it meets three recognized and regulated criteria: it must be made with grapes grown in a vineyard owned or leased by the winery, it must be from a single AVA, and the winery and the vineyards must be in the same AVA. While ‘Reserve’ sounds equally as fancy as ‘Estate’ it is a more loosely defined idea: it typically means that the wine is made from wine ‘reserved’ for a special bottling or from first press juice ‘reserved’ from the other presses. You may even see these two terms attached to each other: Estate Reserve.
- AROMA/NOSE: This is just as the name suggests – how does the wine smell? Assuming you like wine to begin with and the odors of wine do not offend you, stick your nose in the glass and take a deep breath. If it smells ‘off’ it may flawed, and this is the first reason you want to smell it before tasting it. If it smells okay, take a few more whiffs of the wine. This is your first indication of what the wine has to offer your palate. You may be able to distinguish odors of fruits, herbs, woods, spices, and other everyday aromas.
- MOUTHFEEL: Again, it’s as easy as it sounds – how does the wine feel in your mouth? Heavy? Oily? Creamy? Bubbly? Each varietal will display it’s own characteristics. However you perceive them is the right answer for you.
- FINISH: As the name implies, it indicates what the wine gives your palate after you swallow it. The finish can be immediate or it can linger. It may burn, or it may silky. As with many other aspects of wine, it is all up to your individual preferences as to whether or not a wine’s finish is a good thing. Some like a long end to the wine, others don’t. As your wine tasting journey goes on, you’ll soon be able to distinguish not only the finish of a wine, but also the beginning and mid-palate nuances of the wine.
There is more in-depth more tasting room terminology that you will pick-up along the wine tasting journey, but these seven will help you navigate the process and sound like an experienced wine taster.