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Guide to Becoming a Wine Connoisseur

Posted by Amanda on 3/2/10



Becoming a wine connoisseur is not as easy as one might think and factors in many aspects besides drinking a glass of wine. In order to become a true wine connoisseur you will have to learn all there is about wine including how it is made, what vineyards create the best grapes, and how to know the top vintage wines at a glance. Of course, if you only wish to appear like a wine connoisseur or just desire a crash course, this guide will help you. Remember, this is a crash course, if you want to truly become a connoisseur it will take years of studying.

The very first step in becoming a wine connoisseur even a pretend one is to learn the vocabulary. If you cannot carry on a conversation or you use the terms incorrectly, you will be labeled a fraud before you even get to take that first sip of wine. You may wish to create some flash cards to help you learn these terms so when you attend your first wine tasting event you can fit right in.

Basic Vocabulary used by Wine Connoisseur’s

Acidity is the balance of the acids found in wines such as lactic, malic, or tartaric. These acids add to the wine quality. The acids can come from the grape or from the fermentation process.

Aging Barrel is the container that is used to age the wine, which is usually made of oak.

Angel’s Share is the wine that evaporates while the wine is being aged.

Appellation is a term that is used to name the area in which the grapes were grown.

Aroma is of course the smell of the wine; however, aroma is only used to describe young wines whereas bouquet is used to describe older vintage wines.

Astringency is the term used to describe the dry and coarse sensation the wine produces in the mouth when tasting red wines.

Balance is the mixture of the various elements of the wine that make it stand out from other wines.

Bouquet is the smell of the wine used to describe older vintage wines whereas aroma is used to describe young wines.

Body is the term that is used to describe the effect the wine has on the palate, which is said to be light bodied, medium bodied, or full bodied. In some cases, you may hear the words full or weighty.

Bottle Shock is the time when the flavor of the wine is temporarily masked which can occur right after bottling or while traveling.

Burnt Wine is nothing more than brandy, which is liquor, made from distilled wines.

Canopy is the grape vines you can see above the ground.

Clarification is the term for the filtration process used during winemaking.

Corked is the term for wine that has been contaminated by the cork giving the wine a wet cardboard paper taste.
Decanting is the process of pouring the wine from its original bottle into a decanter to separate the wine from the sediment and allow the wine to breath, using done with older red wines.

Dry is the term used to describe the level of sweetness or sugar of the wine. Dry wines may have a hint of sugar or none at all.

Encology is the science of wine and winemaking.

Extra Dry is the term often used to describe sparkling wines or champagne meaning the drink is not sweet.

Fermentation is the process of adding yeast to change grape sugars into alcohol.

Finish is the aftertaste you experience after you swallow the wine.

Flabby is the term used for low acidity.

Fortified wines are wines that have extra alcohol added to prevent fermentation.

Green Harvest is when the grapes are harvested before time to produce higher quality grapes.

Hard is the term used when an unpleasant wine is produced and takes longer to mature due to too many tannins.

Late Harvest Wine is the opposite of green harvest. With late harvest wine, the grapes were left on the vine longer than normal and will result in the creation of a sweet or dessert wine.

Lees are solids that settle out of the wine during the aging process.

Legs are the lines that are made by the wine after you swirl the wine as the wine slides back down the side of the glass.

Length is the term used by some to describe the length of time the aftertaste or finish is left on the palate. In most cases, the longer the time the better the wine.

Malolactic Fermentation is the process used for red wines to help convert the malic acids into lactic acids, which are softer creating a softer wine.

Mead is a drink that is similar to wine but created with honey and water instead of grapes.

Mulled Wine is wine that is heated with spices and then served.

Must is unfermented grape juice created from pressing, removing stems, or crushing.

New World Wine is wine that is created in other countries besides North Africa and Europe.

Nose is nothing more than the aroma or smell of the wine.

Oenology is the Old English term for the science of wine and winemaking.

Old World Wine is wine created in Europe or North Africa, the traditional wine producing regions.

Oxidation is the affect that exposure to air has on wine.

Palate is the roof of your mouth, which includes the opening to your sinuses. You will hear all kinds of phrases using the word palate when describing wines.

Pip is grape seeds

Pump-over is a process in which the wine from the bottom is pumped up to the top to create a more evenly mixture among the grape skins during the fermentation process.

Punching the cap is another process seen during the fermentation process in which the grape skins are sent to the bottom for the same purpose as pump-over.

Punt is the indentation that you see at the bottom of the bottle of wine.

Racking is a method often used to separate the solids also called lees from the wine.

Reserve is the term used for high quality wines.

Sommelier is the name used for an expert assistant at fine dining establishments.

Tannin is the compounds of the grape skins, seeds, and stems that give wine the dry or bitter sensations in the mouth.

Transparent Wine is wine that holds each flavor instead of the flavors blending.

Unoaked is a wine that was not aged in an oak barrel.

Varietal is used to describe a wine made from one grape variety as well as the grape that was used to create the wine.

Vineyard is the acreage in which the wine grapes are grown.

Vinification is the process used to convert grape juice to wine.

Vintage is the year the grapes were harvested to create the wine. The vintage year is on the label of the wines.

Viticulture is the growing of wine grapes.

Winery is the term used for the building in which the wine is created.

Yeast is the compound used to convert sugar in unfermented grape juice (must) to alcohol.

These are a few of the terms you will hear once you begin attending wine tasting events. Along with knowing the lingo you should know the various types of wines which includes Chardonnays, Rieslings, Zinfandels, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlots, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noirs, to name a few. In order to learn the types of wines, you should visit your local wine store.

Now, that you know a bit about the terms used by wine connoisseurs and the various types of wines, you need to learn more about the varietal or varieties. Starting with white wines you will find the grapes used in the creation of these wines include chardonnay, Riesling, sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, pinot grigio and semillion. Red wines are created with grapes like cabernet sauvignon, merlot, pinot noir, Shiraz (or syrah), zinfandel and grenache. Champagne is only made from grapes that are grown in Champagne, France.

The regions the wines are made are also important to learn. The most famous wine regions in the world include Bordeaux, Burgundy and Champagne, France. The new kid on the block of most famous wines is Napa Valley, California. Other areas around California as well as Australia, Italy, South Africa, and Spain are also beginning to get on the popular list.

In the United States there are close to 3,000 vineyards that have at least one winery in each state. The West coast is one of the top wine producers in the US, which includes the states of Washington, Oregon, and California. The Rocky Mountain Region includes Idaho and Colorado. Southwestern United States region offers wines from New Mexico and Texas. The Midwestern United States region brings you wines from Missouri, Illinois, and Minnesota. The Great Lakes region is famous for wines from Michigan, northern New York, and Ohio. The East Coast region has wines from New Jersey and New York State, North Carolina, Virginia, and Pennsylvania.

Another great way to learn all the scoop on wine connoisseurs is to start reading wine magazines. One of the most popular is Wine Spectator. You may also want to read all you can from Robert Parker. These resources will help give you all the information you need to walk around during any event and be able to carry on a conversation regarding anything to do with wine.

You will need to learn about the wine critics. If you learn their names, this will truly help you to be in the know. A few of the wine critics you should learn more about include Robert Parker, Paolo Tullio, Stephen Tanzer, and Clive Coates. Just mention one of these names and all ears and eyes will be on you. Then watch your step and make sure you have your wine connoisseur jargon ready to go. Of course, do your best to find some of the articles written by these wine critics, you would not want to accidentally misquote a wine critic in front of wine connoisseurs.

Expand your taste buds by training your nose and your mouth to distinguish between tastes and fragrances. This will help you describe the wine in more detail. The way a wine connoisseur describes a wine is by saying,” it was dry, with a hint of lemon and oak, a bit fruity, with a lingering finish. The idea is to practice tasting wines so you can describe every taste and aroma of the wine.

A Wine Connoisseur does not always swallow every sip of wine they taste. Of course, you must swallow in order to describe the finish, however, during your learning process you should learn to swirl the wine in your mouth and then spit it out. It is proper to spit out wine especially during tasting events. If you actually swallowed every glass of wine, you tasted after a few drinks you would be intoxicated and not be able to distinguish one wine from the next.


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