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The Somm’s Apprentice: Acquiring a Wine Tasting Vocabulary

by / Thursday, 23 March 2017 / Published in Wine

Follow along as our marketing intern, Thomas Roller, learns the ins and outs of the wine industry in this feature column, Somm’s Apprentice!

I love to write reviews.

My writing credentials include serving as the University of Colorado student newspaper’s  head music critic and columnist. Critical analysis is something that comes naturally. Picking things apart, discussing their individual elements, figuring out how to communicate all the subtle, transitive properties that make something good or bad — it’s one of my favorite forms of writing. So when assigned to write VintageView’s fun and creative column, Picking by the Label, I was really excited.

At first, everything went swimmingly. I wrote some good content about the label, the character the company evokes, and the history of the brand.

Then it came time to taste the wine, and I was quite literally at a loss for words. Not a very common occurrence, mind you. While used to divining subtle aspects of alcohol — yours truly is a whiskey enthusiast — being faced with the complex flavors entirely unique to wine, I didn’t even know where to start. There’s an entire separate vocabulary when it comes to wine tasting, and that’s where the journey begins to understanding its distinctive taste:

Sweetness

It’s the first thing you taste in a wine, and refers specifically to the sugar content. It’s responsible for the tingly feeling on the tip of the tongue, and also contributes to the wine’s viscosity. The more sweetness there is, the more viscous the wine is.  The level of sugar in the wine also pertains to its dryness on the palate.Wines devoid of sugar are called dry. Sweetness is often confused with fruit, however…

Fruit
Were it not for guidance from our trained sommelier and marketing director, Jacob Harkins, it would have been easy to fall into the trap of confusing fruit flavors with sweetness. This trait pertains more to flavors and notes and is the main characterization of different types of wine. You can find dark fruits like blackberry, red fruits like strawberry and raspberry, and more citric fruits like lemons, peaches, or apples depending on the wine style. Wines that are heavier on fruit (aka Fruit Forward), tend to drink well on their own without the need for food. This flavor element is also closely related to…

Acidity
This is where wine gets its tartness, that quality that puckers the lips, tingles the sides of the tongue, and makes the mouth feel wet. This is what gives wines descriptions like “zesty.” Wines that are heavier on acids tend to taste better alongside foods.

Tannin
Tannin is a phenolic compound, and wine’s most unique flavor element. It imparts that elusive quality, body, and provides bitterness. It is one of the elements that determines a wine’s aging potential. It’s bitter, and provides wine’s most complex and mature overtones, adding structure and complexity. They can give wine a rough, almost sandpapery feel. Tannins come from grape skins, seeds, and stems, or outside agents such as oak barrels. When aged properly, the tannins mellow allowing a wine’s fruit and acid to shine in balanced harmony.

Body
Body is the culmination of wine, a totality of sweetness, acidity, tannins, and overall alcohol content. This is how the wine feels in your mouth. White wines generally run from light to medium bodied, while reds range from medium to full.

Our amazing marketing intern, Thomas Roller, is an adept advertising student and a talented writer, which is good for us. There’s just one problem: he doesn’t know anything about wine. In this new column, Thomas chronicles his journey learning about the ins and outs of our favorite beverage.

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