The world of wine has a mystique of its own, and you may be intimidated by the wine ‘jargon’. We at Louisvale Wines, the pioneers of Chardonnay in South Africa, love the ambiance of the wine world, but believe a passion for wines should be open to everyone. Today we’re bringing you a peek at some basic wine terms everyone should know, and why they matter to you.
What is ‘finish’ and ‘body’?
The finish refers to the lingering taste left in your mouth after you drink the wine. Was it fresh? Smoky? Tart? That’s your finish.
Body, or ‘mouth-feel’, is generally described as light, medium, or full. Think of the weight and fullness of the wine while in your mouth. Light wines typically have low tannin and high acidity, with longer finishes. Full-bodied wines are an intense experience, typically high in tannin and pretty alcoholic.
‘Complexity’, ‘Depth’, ‘Acidity’, ‘Earthy’…what do these descriptions mean?
We won’t cover every term you’ll encounter here- the wine world loves its dramatic descriptions- but a lot of them are intuitive anyway if you have a little confidence in your wine knowledge. Complexity and depth both refer to how many different aromas and ‘layers’ of the wine you can smell and taste. Generally, aged wines have more depth and complexity than fresh vintages.
All wines have some acidity, which is that tart sourness we associate with wine in the first place. Some are richer and less acidic, while others have a fresher feel. If your wine is ‘crisp’, ‘bright’, or ‘fresh’, chances are it has higher acidity. Just don’t confuse this one with the pleasant bitterness of ‘earthy’!
Dry wines are the opposite of sweet wines, with no perceptible sugar taste. Earthy wines are the flip opposite of fruit-forward wines. One has undertones of berries and fruits, while the other a (delicious) bitterness and peppery hints. Oaky hints get added when wines mature in oak barrels, and this is the source of the vanilla/butterscotch type tastes and smells you find in oak-aged wines.
We all know about corks and wine bottles, but what exactly is a corked wine? In the wine world, this isn’t talking about the actual cork in the bottle. Corked wines have been over-exposed to oxygen and an unpleasant reaction has occurred. People describe the smell/taste of a corked wine as anything from wet dog/cardboard to ‘beach bathroom’. All in all, it’s just not good, nor can a corked wine be saved. Badly handled wines with traditional corks can get corked before you open them, but it’s mostly a result of badly sealing the wine after opening and then drinking it later. Toss the corked wine in the sink, and invest in some quality fridge stoppers (or use a screw cap) so it doesn’t happen again.
Cork vs screw cap
Ok, this one seems obvious, we admit… some wines ship with the traditional cork, while others use a newer, metallic screw-off cap. Believe it or not, however, this simple change in the traditional bottle is seen with a lot of controversy in the wine world. As with most things in life, each method has its pros and cons. Screw caps are easy to remove, can be used to re-seal the bottle easily, and avoid ‘corking’. Traditional corks, on the other hand, offer you that satisfying ‘pop’ and all the drama and romance that comes with, and allow the wine to breathe through the permeable cork.
This debate does, in the end, come down to the type of wine you’re drinking and personal preference. In general, a screw cap is convenient for cooking wines or other wines you want to reseal, and best used on quick-drinking vintages where the ease of use and lack of corking are convenient. Traditional corks are a must on wines that need to be aged, to allow the wine to mature properly, and generally add the luxe ambiance you want at special functions. In the end, the debate should be more about the wine than how it’s sealed, so enjoy what you like best.
Why all the French?
A lot of other terms in the winemaking world are French, because historically the French dominated the best vines and soils, making French wine superior to that from other areas. While that no longer holds true today, the industry itself still uses many French terms as a legacy.
Battonage is very important here at Louisvale Wines, as it’s a key part of making quality Chardonnay. When you stir settled lees (the deposits that settle in the barrels during the winemaking process) back into the wines after fermentation and ageing, you create a more balanced wine. A ‘sommelier’ is a highly trained wine ‘waiter’, educated in the wines in their establishment and with the knowledge to help you pick the perfect accompaniment to a meal or function. Head sommeliers will often have had a personal hand in stocking the cellars as well as helping the chefs with the best wines in the kitchen, too.
Blends and WO…and what is ‘MCC’?
Blended wines mix the juice of grape varieties from several locations. In SA, the ‘Cape Blend’ uses our local Pinotage grapes to blend with other Bordeaux varieties… to be a proper Cape Blend, 30%-70% must be Pinotage grapes. ‘Single Variety’ wines use the same grape variety for at least 85% of the wine. Wine of Origin (WO) means the grapes came from one, very specific, geographic location, and were not mixed with grape varieties from anywhere else.
Lastly, an ‘MCC”, or Méthode Cap Classique, wine is what you may typically think of as ‘Champagne’ or ‘bubbly’ that’s been homegrown in our gorgeous country. Properly speaking, Champagne is a term that can only be used for wines made from grapes grown in the Champagne valley in France, so MCC indicates sparkling wines made with local grapes. That location is not what makes Champagne so special, though. The iconic bubbly wine we celebrate with is created when it is fermented a second time in the bottle, giving it it’s iconic fizz, and MCC wines have fans across the globe.
The wine world is packed with many terms that may seem intimidating to newcomers- but don’t be scared! Those of us who love our wines may wax lyrical with descriptions, but we’re always happy to help you discover your own passion for wine. The team at Louisvale Wines has the experience and love of wine to help you find your perfect match no matter what, so why not reach out today?