There are many terms to describe wines and the taste of the wine. When you hear them tossed around and you don’t know what they mean you can get lost in the conversation. What is interesting is that after you get into the world of wines, you’ll find yourself using the terms too. Word of warning. Don’t let yourself get bogged down on the terms. Drink the wine and enjoy it. Here are the most commonly used terms and what they mean:

  • Austere: The wine is kind of stiff or tight, sort of hard. Hard to tell characteristics.
  • Balance: Describing the relationship between tannin, acid and alcohol. You want to drink a “well-balanced” wine.
  • Big: A strong, perhaps alcoholic wine. It is a good wine that can get better.
  • Buttery: A sort of smooth feel and taste, like butter. Most often seen in white wines which have undergone proper fermentation.
  • Dry: When it isn’t sweet and has low sugar content, its dry. The opposite of Sweet.
  • Flabby: A bland tasting wine that isn’t going to get any better with time.
  • Grassy: Smells like grass. Often seen in Sauvignon Blanc.
  • Hard: A wine that has a lot of tannin and needs aging. A young red wine. The tannin keeps you from tasting the other qualities of the wine.
  • Heavy: A wine that is overpowering. The wine can be too heavy for the food.
  • Nose: The totality of what you smell.
  • Sweet: If sugar remains in the wine it is sweet. It is the opposite of Dry.
  • Thin: A watery sort of wine. Light on taste.

Holding the glass with your hands usually gets it warmed up pretty quickly. But if the wine is too cold, you can warm it up in the microwave. Just make sure that the bottle is open (if heating it up in the bottle) and keep a close eye as microwaves do not warm it up uniformly. This might require you to swish the wine around before drinking it.


Most think that the wine should be at room temperature when drunk. That is wrong and wine should never be served at room temperature. As cool wine warms, vapors rise off the wine. Since your sense of smell plays a big part of what things taste like, getting those vapors into your nose is important. As a test, try drinking a bottle of wine that has been heavily refrigerated. In some ways, it will taste a lot like water, or at least tasteless alcohol. On the other hand, if you serve a little below room temperature, you’ll get the benefit of the vaporizing effect. So one rule of thumb is to serve the wine 1 or 2 degrees below the temperature of the room. But there is a limit as to how warm the wine should be. Generally, the best drinking temperature of wines are cooler temperatures. Below are the temperature ranges that will make the wine stand out.


Improper production, handling or storage will affect the wine’s taste. Many things can go wrong with wine, so if it does not taste right, return the wine. Don’t be shy about it. If at a restaurant just let the waiter know. If from a wine store or online wine merchant, return it as most understand that mishandling of wines will affect their taste. If you ordered online, make sure that the online wine shop has a return policy.


Letting the wine breathe, or the wine breath as is often incorrectly spelled, allows wines to open up their flavor. Some young wines allow you to detect the bouquet and flavors that are, and will be in the wine. But during aging, what was there before is harder to perceive. Aging the wine causes the wine to again open up, as bitter tannin turns to sediment. If it isn’t poured into the glass the bitter tannins will not be tasted, and the wine will develop complex taste. Allowing the wine to breath lets oxygen get to wine. This helps to open it up. Decanting lets the wine breathe, though not as much as aging does. Not all wines benefit from breathing. Also, you can allow a wine to breathe too much. While oxygen helps to open up the wine, it also oxidizes the wine and eventually ruin it. A wine that is over aged isn’t going to get anything from breathing, as it is already passed its peak. As a general rule, breathe time is an hour for young reds, 2 to 3 hours for older fine reds, and less than an hour for complex whites. Some let a wine breathe by opening up the bottle, but not decanting it. This does not work since not much oxygen is going to get down the bottle’s small neck.


Decanting is where you pour the wine out of the bottle into another container, usually a wine decanter that is made for that particular purpose. Properly decanting a bottle lets you get rid of sediment. Gently pour the wine into the decanter. Use light behind the neck of the bottle to see when sediment gets to the neck. Stop pouring as soon as you see the sediment. If you do not have a wine decanter, you can decant the wine using cheesecloth, wire mesh placed in a funnel or coffee filters. Unfiltered wines generally will have sediment, but just because a wine is unfiltered doesn’t necessarily mean that there will be sediment. You should decant all wine that contains sediment, regardless of it being filtered or unfiltered. There are other reasons to decant wine. Some young white wines may have a sulfurous quality which can be removed by decanting. Decanting also lets red wine breathe, giving chemical compounds in the wine a chance to evaporate.


It is useful to smell the wet end of the cork before drinking the wine. Sometimes the cork will give you advance notice that there is something off about the wine. Even if there is no visible discoloration or growth along the top of the cork, it does not mean that the cork did not harm the wine, or that there isn’t some other problem with the wine. A bitter or vinegar like smell means the wine is of poor quality.


As wines mature, “crud” will come out of the wine. These sediments are tannic and are not to be consumed. While they are harmless, they do not taste good and affect the taste of the wine. If the wine is laying on its side, the sediment will be visible along the lower edge of the bottle. The best thing to do with sediments is to stand the bottle upright a day or two before you plan to drink it. Then the sediment can fall to the bottom of the bottle. Handle the bottle very carefully and do not shake it. You don’t want to mix the sediment back through the bottle. When you pour the wine, stop before any sediment comes out. If you haven’t placed the bottle upright in advance, you can serve the wine from a cradle that will incline the wine at about a 45 degree angle. If you carefully open and pour, the sediment will stay along the bottom edge of the bottle and out of your glass.


There are many different types of corkscrews and devices that remove a cork from a wine bottle. Some are easier to use than others. The well known and commonly used waiter corkscrew is actually one of the harder types of corkscrews to use. It is used by most restaurants because of the low price, in case it is lost by the waiter, and it gives a more professional look as it is what is expected by the customers. They are useful when pulling a cork from a bottle of wine that is sitting in a cradle. For those that do not want to put a hole in their cork there is the cork puller opener. It has two metal prongs which wriggle back and forth so that the prongs move down the side of the cork. When you hit bottom of the cork the tension lets you pull the cork back up. They have a great “cool” factor but are not very effective. Another great corkscrew is the lever pull type. There are many lever pull corkscrews available and some can even be bolted to a wall or the counter-top. What works best? Any corkscrew that lets you get the cork out easily and smoothly. Find something that doesn’t break the cork off in mid-pull.


When you open an aged bottle, the cork can be discolored or have mold growing on the top. As long as the mold or growth hasn’t gotten into the wine, wipe the cork off with a damp rag and towel dry it before you remove it. After you remove the cork, wipe off the top of the bottle as well. You may see something that looks like glass crystals on the bottom of the cork. This is probably the result of tartaric acid in the form of potassium bitartrate. This is tasteless and harmless.


Most corks are made from cork. Cork is expensive and has its positives and negatives. Perfect because it expands and grasps glass during the expansion process, it also deteriorates and develops mold. Some wineries are experimenting with corks that are from plastic and other synthetic materials. Since the idea of the cork is to keep wine inside the bottle and keep what’s outside the bottle outside, it doesn’t matter what the cork is made from as long as it does its job.


You can tell a lot about the wine without opening the bottle. Besides a moldy cork, the bottle fill level can tell about the wine. If the bottle fill level was low to begin with, common in Italian wines, you don’t have to worry about it. But there are other causes to low fill levels. If the wine was subjected to high heat, the wine can expand and liquid may have been forced out through the cork. Since heat isn’t good for wine, this can be an indicator of poorly kept wine. Other bottle leakage causes are damaged corks or storage in a very low humidity environment that dried out the cork.


If you are going to drink a wine within a year or so, you probably don’t have to keep it in any special place. It should be kept relatively cool and out of the light. For wines that should be aged, keep them at the proper temperature. Make sure that they do not have rapid temperature fluctuations. 55 degrees Fahrenheit is a good temperature, but within 50 to 57 degrees Fahrenheit is acceptable. Wide swings in temperature will harm the wine. Higher temperatures will age the wine faster so it won’t get as complex as it might have. Having too low a temperature will slow the wine’s maturation

If you are going to drink a wine within a year or so, you probably don’t have to keep it in any special place. It should be kept relatively cool and out of the light. For wines that should be aged, keep them at the proper temperature. Make sure that they do not have rapid temperature fluctuations. 55 degrees Fahrenheit is a good temperature, but within 50 to 57 degrees Fahrenheit is acceptable. Wide swings in temperature will harm the wine. Higher temperatures will age the wine faster so it won’t get as complex as it might have. Having too low a temperature will slow the wine’s maturation

About 60 percent relative humidity is the perfect level. This helps keep the cork moist. The wine will oxidize if the air gets to it. If the cork drys out it can shrink and let air in. This is another reason to keep the bottles on their sides. The wine itself will help keep the cork moist. If you are thinking about the refrigerator, wines prefer humidity and refrigerators are designed not to be humid.

Light and vibrations are not considered a good thing for long term storage. Keep your wines in their box if you do not have a wine cabinet or cellar. Make sure that wherever you keep the, they are not affected by the vibrations that can be caused by electrical appliances or consistent opening and closing of doors.      

Not really but generally the size of the bottle matters. A half bottle ages faster than larger bottles. The red Beaujolais Nouveau is meant to be drunk within days. Its a light, fruity wine. White wine is the next least aged wine. But here there is a range from light wines, such as a Sauvignon Blanc or a light Chardonnay, to more ageable complex Chardonnays of good white Burgundies. As a rule drink the the light whites within a few years. The more complex whites can be aged from 3 to 5 years. Dessert wines, on the other hand, should be aged. Most red wines will benefit by aging and some will benefit from long term aging. The ones that you drink now with a harsh taste may very well be fantastic in 5, 10 or 20 years. Some Bordeaux and Cabernet Sauvignon wines can be aged for 30 years.


Tannin is a substance that comes from the seeds, stems and skins of grapes. Additional tannin can come from the wood during barrel aging in the winery. It is an acidic preservative and is important to the long term maturing of wine. Through time, tannin will precipitate out of the wine, becoming sediment in the bottle. As this happens the complexity of the wine’s flavor from fruit, acid and all the other substances that make up the wine’s character will come into greater balance. Generally, it is red wines that are the ones that can be produced with a fair amount of tannin, and therefore the best ones for long term storing and maturation. You shouldn’t drink wine with lots of tannin if it is too young because it may have harsh taste. But after a number of years, what you get is a prized, complex and balanced wine. Remember that red wines get their color from the stems and skins of the grape. This gives the wine tannin and aging capacity. White wines may have no contact with the stems and skins and will have little tannin, though some will have it if barrel aged. Therefore most white wines don’t age well. Even the ones which do get better through time will not last nearly as long as the red wines.


Wine is fermented grape juice. Wine can be made from all sorts of foods. Fruits, herbs and flowers can be used to make wine. Most wine, and certainly all sold by Wine Surprise is made from grapes. And no matter what the wine is made from, there must be fermentation. That is the process that turns sugar into alcohol. If the amount of alcohol is relatively low, the result is wine. If it is high, the result is a distilled liquor. Examples are gin and vodka. Fermentation cannot increase alcohol content past about 16%, for at that level the yeast dies and ends fermentation. Higher alcohol levels are archived through distillation. Distillation is where a lower alcohol beverage is heated and as the alcohol evaporates first, it is collected and the vapor is re-condensed. There are red wines, pink wines (also known as rose or blush) and white wines. Since the inside of a grape is white, red grapes can make white wine. The color comes from letting the juice mix with the skins during the early wine-making process. Red grapes can make white wine but white grapes can’t make red wine. Wines might be fortified, sparkling, or table wines. In fortified wines, brandy is added to make the alcohol content higher (around 16 to 23 percent). Sparkling wines are the ones with bubbles, like Champagne. Table wine (which can also be called still wine) are the most “natural.” Both table and sparkling wines tend to have alcohol contents between 7 and 15 percent.


Most people assume that the longer that you keep a wine, the better it will get. It is a misconception that you must age wine. The fact is, throughout the world most wine is drunk young (within 12 to 18 months after it is produced). While some wines will mature and become better over time, others will not and should be drunk within a few years after it is made. If aged too long all wine will pass its peak and eventually spoil. Even the wines meant to be aged for many years should be drunk before its too late. Wines which are expected to be matured in the bottle before drinking can spoil faster if not properly stored. A famous name on the label is no guarantee that the wine will age well. The more tannins that the wine has, regardless of the brand or label, the better it will age. An average for age-able white wines is between 5 to 7 years. On the other hand, reds can easily be kept for 30 years and longer.

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