Common ‘Wine Terms’—and What They Really Mean

Posted on Posted in Wine

Sometimes talking about wine can seem like dancing about architecture: impossible. Many people don’t quite know what they want or are looking for in a wine, and worse still, they may not use the right language to convey their meaning.

Corked wine – Wines become corked when they get infected by a bacteria called TCA (Tri-Chloro Anisole). It imparts a musty, cardboard-like flavor. Some people describe it as ‘wet dog’ or ‘moldy basement.’ TCA can affect a wine to varying degrees—sometimes a corked wine will display ‘earthy’ aromas that are not entirely unpleasant to the drinker, but the lack of fruit aromas and flavors is a good indicator that the wine has Cork Taint. Even though a corked wine has a defective aroma and flavor, it will not harm the drinker. Any wine regardless of its quality or price can be corky. There are several faults that can ruin a wine, and TCA is only one of them.

Fruity wine – This can be perceived as dry-floral or sweet-floral. Dry wine refers to a wine that has no residual sugar. But again, a fragrant or ripe white can be perceived as being sweet (even though the wine is fermented
dry). Someone might refer to a soft and fruity wine like Pinot Noir as sweet, and the same person might consider a tannic Cabernet Sauvignon as dry. Some guests refer to ‘dry wine’ as being tannic (or a wine that dries their mouth).

Tannic wine – This is a common phrase used in most restaurants. Tannin is the harsh (and sometimes bitter) element in red wine, derived from grape skins, pips, stems and from aging in oak barrels. It acts as a preservative and is essential for a wine’s long-term aging. Tannins vary depending on the individual grape varietal. Pinot Noir, a thin-skinned grape, will always have lower tannings than Cabernet Sauvignon, a thick-skinned grape. Even if a wine has a lot of tannins, it can be round and soft (like most California Cabernet Sauvignon).


By Amanda Woodward, Sommelier at Wally’s Beverly Hills