Twelve concepts you should know to know about wines, learn what you like and unmask the imposters

"Aromatically complex", "with well-worked tannin", "noble personality" ... These are some of the terms we find in a real wine label, chosen at random. But what the hell do they mean?

The truth is that the world of wine is dominated by experts in marketing. Many terms that can be used correctly to describe a wine have been transformed into empty expressions, which serve little more than as an advertising claim.

Even the worst table wine boasts of “Combine youth and structure”, and is that the paper holds (almost) everything. Yes, as the good of Bo Diddley, you cannot judge a book by its cover, let alone we must rely on wine labels. But this does not mean that they do not throw some clues.

What really matters

The first thing we should be clear about when talking about wines is the difference between objective and subjective terms.

The objective indications They are the really useful ones to know some of the characteristics that a wine will have without having to try it, because they are regulated and they are more complicated to manipulate. We talk about aspects such as grape varieties, the vintage or the winemaking method, which are what they are.

The tasting is, in essence, an exercise in memory, which can only be exercised over time

The subjective indicationsHowever, they are also present in all labels, especially known as tasting note. This should not be anything other than the description of a specific wine after having performed the corresponding organoleptic examination, the tasting; and the terms under which this is done are not as ambiguous as it might seem.

"The first wine is drunk and enjoyed, but tasting is another story," he explains to Direct to the Palate Nacho Balbín, responsible for purchases in Lavinia. "Understanding the tasting as an organoleptic and technical analysis, it can be done for work or leisure."

Direct to the PaladarAuge and fall of the cellar or how a successful wine "had the brilliant idea of ​​destroying its identity"

And in a position like Balbín's Tastings are very serious. “You have to be clear if the information on the label (not so much the part of marketing, if not regulated) and technical data sheets that the winery can make available to the professional correspond to our valuation and the price, ”explains Balbín. “We must avoid being given a cat as a hare. That's why you have to try taste in the most technical and objective way possible".

In the end, as Balbín points out, tasting is, in essence, an exercise in memory, which can only be exercised over time: “You have to have a good olfactory agenda, retain in memory and remember vividly the aromas of the more things better: flowers, fruit, food, chemicals ... everyday things and not so everyday. If we identify the aromas and know where they come from or how they have been produced, we will know read the life of the wine in front of us, guess how it has been produced, aged, etc… ”

The language of wine

The tasting has its own language, but it is a evocative lexicon, which serves to convey the sensations that the aroma and taste of wine cause in the taster. And this makes it a field very given to manipulation: After all, it is impossible to regulate a subjective assessment of the aroma and flavor of a wine.

Each person is different and has different olfactory and taste receptors

Obviously, the company that sells a wine is not going to make a tasting note that indicates negative characteristics, even if you have them. But even among independent critics, winemakers and sommeliers - let alone when we meet simple amateurs - the subjective terms can lead to equivocation of all kinds.

“If the time comes that we have to share our conclusions or keep a record of them, we will face the limitations of language, memory and subjectivity ”, says Balbín. "And yes, there is a lot of poetry."

The reality is that, as the expert explains, each person is different and has different olfactory and taste receptors. “There are not two people who taste exactly the same, because there are not two noses or two languages ​​exactly the same, ”he concludes. "Tasting is an objective technique with an inevitable subjective burden."

Essential wine dictionary

There are numerous books and articles that exhaustively collect the different words that are used to define a wine, which They tend to be innumerable.

It is not our goal to offer a endless glossary, which can be found with a simple internet search, but collect the most important concepts that we must take into account when choosing or valuing a wine, indicating, in addition, if they are more or less ambiguous (and, therefore, more given to be used deceptively).

Objective terms

Grape variety

The wine is made exclusively with grapes, so the type of grape (or the mixture of these with which it makes a wine, what is known as “multivarietal” wine or coupage) is one of the most important clues we are going to find. It is usually indicated on the label, although specifying it is not mandatory by law, nor do all ODs require it.

It is estimated that there are some 15,000 different grape varieties. Each of them can exist in the form of several hundred slightly different clones, although they usually share general characteristics.

With the same grape you can make very different wines, but it is a essential feature to distinguish between families of each type of wine.


The element that most influences the wine, even more than the grape variety, is the method that is used to elaborate this. For starters, there are many types of wine: red, white, pink, sparkling, generous ...

It is of little use to have the best grapes in the world if wine making is botched

Winemaking can be divided into three stages: in the first one, you get the must of ripe grapes, through traditional pressing or other methods; then the must is fermented by yeasts they consume sugar and produce alcohol, forming new wine; the third stage is the aging or maturation of this (which we will talk about later).

Today the wine making methods They are very studied and greatly influence, more than any other variable, the final result. It is of little use to have the best grapes in the world if the winemaking process is bungling.

It is impossible to stop at the amount of details that influence this process, but its lowest common denominator is rigidly regulated in association with the origin of the wine, Which brings us to the next point.


If we plant the same grape variety in different areas and make the wine following an identical method We can obtain similar results, but surely not the same.

According to European regulations, wines are classified into three categories according to their level of geographical protection

"A Tempranillo grape grown and made exactly the same in very hot weather or in a colder one, will result in a simpler and less acidic wine in the first case than in the second, where the acidity would bring balance and freshness to the whole", Balbin explains. “Being of the same grape variety would be two very, very different wines ”.

The origin of the wine is, after the grape variety and the winemaking method, the objective characteristic that most influences the final result of the wine, and It is subject to strong regulation.

According to European regulations, wines are classified into three categories according to their level of geographical protection, but also to the degree of demand in their manufacturing process: table wines, which are not included in any protected geographical area; local wines, made in a delimited area and with certain cultivation characteristics; Y wines with designation of origin, whose quality and characteristics are essentially or exclusively due to its geographical origin, with its inherent human and cultural factors.

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Denominations of origin have become the best known feature, and to which more importance is given to a wine, above even the variety. We ordered a Rioja or a Ribera, not a Garnacha, a way that is not always the most appropriate to choose a wine.

Although the origin is important, it is not always the most important, just one more variable to consider: there are wines without denomination much better than others that do.

“Although the reality is that can give clues, we do not speak discriminatory of quality (renowned winemakers make table wines), but that the more specific they are geographically, the more they indicate or presume their typicality, ”says Balbín.


We talk about territory -o terroir, if you are a snob- to distinguish particularities of specific places located in the same area: the influence on wine of the specific place where the grapes are grown.

The "territory" refers to all the physical environment of the vineyard: the soil, its structure and mineral content; the water in the ground; the elevation, the inclination and orientation of the vineyard, and the microclimate, the regime of temperatures, sun, humidity and rainfall.

There are certain characteristics of the territory that are indicated on the labels that are, a priori, positive

As it explains Harold mcgee In The kitchen and food, each of these aspects of each particular place can affect the growth of the vine and the development of its fruits.

There are certain characteristics of the territory that are indicated on the labels that are, a priori, positive, such as the slope of the slope or altitude, that hinder the growth of grapes and make them tastier.

Another positive characteristic of a wine is that the grapes come from a single farm, with characteristics much more controlled than the wines of several farms. Wine also influences the quality of the age of the vines: An old vineyard produces little grape but, a priori, of higher quality. It is a feature that is usually highlighted on the label.

These features are increasingly object of greater regulation. “In Spain at the institutional level, progress is being made in this direction - Wines of Payment, Cavas de Paratje, Unique Vineyards ... - but we still have a journey compared to our French neighbors, where these concepts are fully regulated and standardized in the labeling ”, Explains Balbín.


The aging of the wines, and the conditions in which this is done, has a significant influence on the final result of the wine. As McGee explains, the new wine has a raw flavor and a strong and simple fruity aroma. When the wine rests after fermentation, a series of slow chemical reactions, whose result is the development of balance and complexity in taste. It also influences the place where the wine ages.

Wines with more aging are, in general, more expensive to produce, but do not mean that they are better

The Law of the Vineyard and the Wine establishes that the wines can use certain denominations according to the aging conditions, which also depend on the indications of each regulatory council in the appellations of origin. The most common indications are that of young, upbringing, reserve or large reserve, from less to longer aging, but its specific characteristics vary depending on each DO, which sometimes add intermediate denominations such as "harvest" (for "young") or "oak" (between "young" and "aging").

The aging time of a wine greatly influences its organoleptic characteristics. Wines with more aging are, in general, more expensive to produce (since they must remain longer without going on the market), but they do not mean that they are better. There are those who prefer young wines to wines with a lot of maturation, and there are good and bad examples in all ripening categories.

Alcohol content

The alcoholic graduation of wine is another objective feature of wine that always appears on the label, but does not give too many clues. It usually moves between 10 and 15 degrees: whites and pinks are between 10 and 13, and reds between 12 and 15. Only special wines, which have reduced or increased alcohol, move away from these parameters, but these usually have differentiated denominations, as in the case of fortified wines, as are the jereces or port, whose method of elaboration is very different.

Subjective terms


Acidity is a term that could be considered relatively objective, since a wine has a certain acidity, which it is measured in its pH, but that in a tasting it becomes a fundamental organoleptic characteristic, whose assessment is still subjective.

The acids present in the grape, especially the tartatic and the Malic, which represent 90% of the total, help prevent the growth of undesirable bacteria during fermentation, a process in which other acids are generated, such as lactic, succinic and acetic.

Acids are an important component of the taste of a wine, then, along with the polyphenols, counteracts the sweet taste of ethanol, but they must be present in their right measure.


The tannins and others phenolic compounds present in the grapes provide an astringent sensation to the wine, and give it body and weight. It is said that a wine is “astringent” when the tannins are too present, which causes a rubbing sensation between tongue and palate, since saliva coagulates and lubrication is lost in the mouth.

To Rome

Is the set of olfactory sensations that come off the wine, which in turn enhance the taste of it. Although only positive aromas are usually highlighted, there are also negative ones. Your listing is virtually endless, but we could distinguish several large groups of these: fruity, floral and vegetable (derived from the grape), bakery or lactic (derived from the fermentation process) and wood or spices (derived from the aging process).

Knowing how to distinguish what is aroma from what is taste in the mouth is an important step to start tasting

The definition of aroma is tremendously subjective and requires a great workout to be an expert in capturing all the olfactory nuances that a wine gives off, making it a land paid to flipadism, also in tags. Now, correctly identified aromas give many clues that help us differentiate wines and educate our taste.

“A lot of the sensations we perceive when we drink are aromas, not flavors, even if we don't realize it,” says Balbín. “We smell the wine in the mouth, retronasally. That is why it is impossible to taste cracked, with a stuffy nose. Colds the food does not know anything because we are unable to smell ”.

In the expert's opinion, know distinguish what is aroma What is taste in the mouth is an important step to start tasting.


The taste of a wine is closely linked to its aroma, but different nuances are perceived in the mouth to those who capture our sense of smell, for better and for worse.

The four main flavors that are distinguished in wine are acidic, sweet, salty and bitter, but within these there are, again, infinite nuances. In the mouth you can perceive if a wine has needle -a slight picorcillo on the tongue, typical of young wines, which is usually considered positive-, whether or not it is fatty or is more or less soft.

Other terms applied to flavor are more equivocal. It is said, for example, that a wine is "Deep" or "complex", when it presents a wide range of nuances in the mouth, but no label will describe a wine as "austere", a word that is used to designate wines that lack nuances, perhaps because of their excessive youth.


It is said that a wine is "balanced", "Structured" or "elegant" when the aromas and flavors are adjusted correctly and there is nothing that separates the whole. It's about words that It doesn't indicate anything until we tasted a wine, Well, no winemaker or sommelier will indicate that the wine you are trying to sell is not balanced.


Pairing refers to type of food that fits with each particular wine. The labels usually indicate what type of food best accompanies the product, but even the worst table wine has its favorite foods, which perhaps go better with any other wine that is simply richer.

Of course, there are foods that fit better with different wines, but It is a land full of myths and preconceived ideas, which are not always justified, as the reds go with the meat and the whites with the fish. This is not always the case, and each specific wine and dish should be analyzed to choose satisfactory combinations, which depend, like everything else, on the taste of each one.

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