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Wine Terminology: The Anatomy of Wine

Welcome to the launch of Through the Grapevine! Our goal is to demystify the process of how wine gets from the vine, to the bottle, to the ship, to the store, to your door! Let's start with terms that you should know to easily follow along. These include terms about wine production, shipment, placement, and tasting (the best part).

Today, we'll focus on the key components and how they interact together to create a balanced wine.  Here are some beginner wine terms:

Acid

With four kinds of acid found in wine - lactic, citric, tartaric, and malic - it's clearly a key component of what you're tasting! The acid molds the flavor, livens up the wine, and creates the aftertaste. It also acts as a preservative, but we'll discuss that more in our blog on the bottling process.

Why does acid matter?

When wine grapes initially start growing they are high in acid and low in sugar. Over time that changes and the acid levels go down as the sugar rises. Generally the ideal time to harvest is when those two lines intersect and the acid and sugar are well balancing the other out. (This is obviously up to the vintner to decide)

sugar-acid-wine-relationship

How do you know if a wine is high in acid?

To tell if a wine is high in acid, let it swish in your mouth for a bit of time, hitting the sides of your cheeks. If after you swallow you seem to have a watery mouth and feel thirsty, the wine is likely very acidic. 

Examples of wines with this characteristic:

Sauvignon Blanc - especially a Marlborough, New Zealand varietal - think of the grapefruit and pucker you get from those first sips.

Sugar

As discussed above, sugar is produced in the grape over time, the longer the grape is allowed to grow, the more sugar it will contain. However, don't confuse the amount of sugar in the grape with the amount of sugar in your wine. Sugar is the medium to creating alcohol. When it combines with yeast during fermentation it turns the sugar into alcohol, ultimately creating a dry wine.

sugar-yeast-wine-fermentation

Why does sugar matter?

It's the part of winemaking that turns it from a grape-juice to the liquid we all know and love.

When added to the wine or the yeast is removed before all the sugar is converted into alcohol, then it is also what makes a Moscato or other sweet wine have the flavor we associate with it.

How do you know if a wine is high in sugar?

This one seems pretty clear for everyone, it either tastes sweet, dry as a bone, or some medium in the middle. Generally you can begin to taste sugar in the wine with 1-2% or more of residual sugar present. 

Examples of wines with this characteristic:

Moscato, fortified wines like Port or Sherry

Alcohol

This one should seem obvious, wine is an alcohol. However, it's only a part of the wine, as you can see from the percentage of alcohol content designated on the bottle. What you learned above is that alcohol is made from the sugar in the grape and the more conversion of sugar, the more alcoholic the wine is. 

Why does alcohol matter?

Beyond all the fun feelings of ingesting alcohol (responsibly of course), alcohol is what makes the wine what it is and allows it to age. 

How do you know if a wine is high in alcohol?

You can obviously read the bottle and see what the percentage reads. A tell-tale sign of high alcohol content is a burning sensation in your mouth (think about taking a shot). This is likely not a balanced wine and may leave you with a hangover!

Examples of wines with this characteristic:

Bold reds are generally more alcoholic at 12-15% than a light Riesling, which may only have an alcohol content of 8%.

Tannin

Tannin can be a difficult one to describe. It is the part of a wine that leaves your mouth feeling dry. Next time you're eating a grape try the following: First, eat only the flesh first and see the fleshy, sweet, and acidic flavor. Second, eat only the skin and feel the dryness it creates, this is tannin. Third, eat both together and see how they balance each other. Note that because tannin comes from the grape skin, white wines will typically not have tannin, as they don't interact with the grape skin.


 
Why does tannin matter?

In red wines tannin is another component that ages and smooths out a wine over time. They're highly useful in combatting fatty foods as well (will discuss further in wine pairing blog). Tannin also helps to create the color of the wine whether a dark garnet or ruby red. 

wine-grape-anatomy

How do you know if a wine is high in tannin?

When a wine is high in tannin it will give that same feeling I described above with the grape. They will leave your mouth feeling dry and, when very high in tannin, can even feel a bit uncomfortable. 

Examples of wines with this characteristic:

Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo, Chianti 

The final component that doesn't need its own section is water. Wine is actually 85%+ water, which can sound crazy, and like you aren't getting your money's worth! However, the water is used to balance out all the other components described above and can be one of the largest components in keeping your wine balanced.

 

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