By Eric Harris, Wine Steward Barcelona Wine Bar and Restaurant
As a sommelier, one of the most powerful tools I have is my words. They help me to paint the picture and tell the story of each wine. With words a wine professional can take a bottle of wine you may never have tasted it and give you a true sense of what it has to offer. It is because these words are so important to us, that wine basically has its own language. Sometimes when I’m talking to someone about a bottle of wine, I look up and realize they are looking at me as if I’m speaking in foreign tongues. With that in mind I thought we’d discuss some of the most common descriptors or color words I come across on a daily basis.
“Funky”- This is a wine term used for wines with flavor and aroma profiles that may not be what we’re used to. This may mean really dank barnyard notes in a Mencia, or the briny, nutty, oxidized notes found in aged white Rioja’s. I personally love this in a wine, because they offer a break from the usual and tend to be very intellectually stimulating.
“Fruity”- Fruity is a term that is often misconstrued with thoughts of a sweet wine. Fruity does not necessarily mean that a wine is sweet, but rather the flavor profile is driven by a very strong fruit character. A wine can be very fruity and dry.
“Spice”- There are two distinct types of spice in the wine world. There is sweet spice, which is usually indicative of things like ginger, cinnamon, clove, anise, and other such flavors. Then there is pepper spice which is more indicative of the heat of spice from hot peppers.
“Terroir”- This is a term used across the wine industry and is one of, if not the most, important concept in all of wine. Terroir refers to the characteristics of the land where the grapes are grown that have a distinct impact on the flavors and qualities of the wine. It is the reason a pinot noir from Oregon will taste different than a pinot noir from Chile.
“Bright”- Brightness refers to a wine that has really fresh fruit and acidity. It can be used for both red wines and white wines alike. These wines are light and lively. They tend to be younger wines, but some wines can keep their bright flavors even with age.
“Oaky” – This is a word we hear thrown around a lot at Barcelona that can mean different things to different people. Oak in a wine can present itself in a variety of ways including notes of sweet spice (cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, etc.), vanilla, smoke, cedar, caramel, toasted coconut, etc. These flavors can depend on the type of oak used as well as the winemaking methods.
“Dry” – This for me is probably the most misconstrued word in the wine world. Dry just means a lack of sugar. People often try to attribute the flavors they have tasted to being dry, but it is just a lack of sugar. A wine that is dry can be very fruity or not fruity. It can be very earthy or not earthy. It can be very tannic or not tannic. This, like our desire to link fruity with sweet, is one of the seemingly hardest things for people just starting to learn wine to wrap their mind around.
“Creamy” – This term can refer to both flavors and texture. It is associated with wines that have gone through malolactic fermentation. This is a winemaking process that converts malic acid into lactic acids which tend to be rounder and less harsh. This then presents with flavors of butter and cream, and a mouthfeel that is reminiscent of something creamy. This word is most often attributed to white wines that have seen some oak aging.
“Jammy” – This is used to describe wines with big, bold, cooked fruit flavors. They often remind me of preserves or the inside of a fruit pie. Be careful when selecting a wine referred to as jammy as it can be referring to both dry style wines and wines with a little to a lot of sweetness.
“Minerality” – Minerality is a quality found in both white and red wines. In white wines it often presents with flavors or aromas of limestone, wet rocks, and riverbeds. In red wines it can present itself as the beautiful slate notes of Mencia.
These are just a few of the many words that are the language of wine. Never be shy to tell your friends or local wine professionals that you have no idea what they’re talking about. Sometimes when we get carried away talking about wine we are in a world of our own!