Speaking the Lingo, Part 1

Wine language is often an easy target for ridicule – sometimes rightly so. As one Wine Remedy community member remarked, ‘there seems to be such a large gulf between the exaggerated words people use to describe some wines and the reality of what I can taste – just drink the bloody thing!’

Many of you guys have echoed this sentiment, questioning whether we need all the terms and jargon to enjoy wine. I feel that, of course, you can enjoy wine without these reference points – simple wines need few words. Wine language is like any other ‘specialist language.’ The language of sport and music, for example, mixes words rarely used outside its own area: tannin, maceration, merlot; along with some that we use all the time: sweet, length, fine.

It is sometimes difficult to attach these words to the characteristics and sensations that you are feeling when drinking wine. I believe that the reason people get turned off by wine language is the way it can be used without care and to excess, rather than in its inherent nature. Wine language can undoubtedly be imprecise, but it does also have great value in that it enables you to communicate your own perceptions of the wine that you taste while understanding the thoughts and impressions of others.

Ultimately, it depends on how we approach the subject: are we drinking or tasting a wine? It may sound a bit ridiculous – wine is there to drink and enjoy – but tasting wine involves analysing and learning about what you are drinking. This requires a common language to enable us to share our perceptions and thoughts with others – hence the language of wine was born!

Considering the interest I have received from people in the last month trying to make sense of all the jargon, I thought it would be a good idea to prepare a three-part guide which explains some of words used to describe wine characteristics. It’s just a simple glossary of wine terms, but it should hopefully enable fellow wine lovers to get a lot more out of wine tastings and the descriptions given in wine reviews.

Check out Part 2 next week for an introduction to the wine lingo!

James Lawrence

James Lawrence is a self confessed wine obsessive, passionate about discovering and promoting the lesser known wines and wine regions of the world. He is a frequent contributor to decanter.com and runs an interactive, community led wine forum, thewineremedy.com In 2004, he went to study in Bilbao, Northern Spain. Luckily for him, the famous wine region of Rioja was just over an hour away by car. He began to spend a great deal of time there, visiting the wineries in Rioja and speaking to local wine makers. Their passion for the subject and their pride in the wines was infectious. He began to realise what an amazing subject wine is and how wide and complex the world of wine could be. Subsequently James moved into wine retail while finishing his degree, and was hooked. James also enjoys food and travel writing - he lives for Italian and Thai cuisine!

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