Wine is an alcoholic drink made from the fermented juice of fruit (usually grapes).
The taste of a good wine can be described as an interplay of sweet, sour, bitter and even spicy elements—though the taste varies depending on things like the color of the wine, the grape it's made from, and the price point of the bottle.
Cheaper wines for example, can have a sharp and unpleasant taste, almost like vinegar!
This article will look at the different kinds of wine produced and the ingredients and processes that are responsible for the range of unique taste experiences that wine generates.
How would I describe the taste of wine?
Wines come in very explicit varieties based on the type of fruit (or grape) used to make the wine, and these different types of wine create distinctive taste and sensory experiences.
Red wines and white wines are made from different colored grapes.
Wine can be described as sweet and cold or fresh and dry or light and zesty. However, these descriptions will peg you as an amateur wine drinker—not that there’s anything wrong with that!
However, experts, connoisseurs and enthusiasts describe wine by what it does in the mouth of the taster. This is quite distinct from what the wine tastes like. The term mouthfeel refers more to the texture of the wine, and is unique to each type.
In general though, red wine is deeper, richer, and fruiter in flavor, whereas white wines offer a lighter, more crisp taste. You can find sweeter or drier wines in each category.
Where does the taste of wine come from?
The flavors in wine come from the grapes used to make it. The flavors in grapes are divided into primary, secondary, and tertiary flavors, and taste references include aromas because these are more diverse than the flavors and are largely responsible for the tasing experience.
- When we refer to primary flavors, we are referring to the type of grape used in the wine making process, and which are the source of the fruit, flower and herb aromas in the wine.
- When we refer to secondary flavors, we are talking about what happens during the actual process itself. Secondary flavors refer to aromas that are creamy, bready, woody, mushroom and buttery.
- Tertiary flavors (nuttiness, vanilla and coffee, for example) originate from the maturation process, and develop with age, and these are the most complex and subtle flavors of all.
The wine industry and wine culture have a dialect unique to wine tasting, and expertise in wine tasting and analysis is highly valued in the industry.
The language of wine tasting
If you've ever heard people discussing the taste of wine, you may have heard terms like "nose," "body," and "structure." These words are just a few examples of the language used by wine experts to describe the multi-sensory experience of tasting wine.
The description of a wine’s taste will include references to its texture, color, and smell. This is also why many wine drinkers will swirl the wine in their glass first – to release the chemical compounds and make them available to the nose.
Some more examples of vocabulary that is used to capture and convey the complexity of the taste of a wine include:
- Rich and rounded – means full bodied, smooth and pleasant, fruity and sweet
- Tannic – means bitter, but will be described as astringent or firm if the wine is well balanced
- Legs – a wine has legs if it forms droplets of wine around the inside of the glass when swirled
- Angular – a reference to a wine that is not soft, and usually high in acidity
- Complex – means to change flavor as it is tasted
- Backbone – a wine has backbone it is full bodied and balanced
- Acidic – used to describe a wine that is refreshing and crisp
Why do people like wine?
Our love affair with wine goes back thousands of years, and wine drinkers still have favorite wines which are based on type, vintage, region (where the wine is grown), age and vineyard.
Wine can be divided into five basic categories, but these categories are further divided (into full bodied or light bodied wines, for example). Many wine drinkers have a preference for a particular type of wine.
- Red wines are often popular with people who enjoy hearty, rich food like steak or lamb, as the wine complements these flavors. Popular red wines include merlot and cabernet sauvignon.
- White wines are more popular with those who enjoy seafood or chicken, as these dishes don't have as strong of a strong flavor and so are better complemented by a light, crisp wine. People who enjoy white wines generally like chardonnay, riesling, or pinot grigio.
- Rose is a wine not made from a particular style of grape, but through a process that involves very short contact with the red grape skins. Rose is a light, summery wine, generally consumed by people who also like white wines.
- Sparkling wines, which include the champagnes, are made with a second fermentation process involving sugar and yeast. These are typically enjoyed on celebratory occasions, like New Year's Eve.
- Fortified wines are the heavier and sweeter dessert wines. These are often consumed as a digestif with or after dessert, and generally only by people who like sweetness in a wine.
In general, people enjoy wine for the taste, the alcoholic properties, and the sense of luxury and relaxation that comes with drinking a good bottle of wine.
We do seem to drink more wine as we get older—and it also seems to take time to develop a taste for it. When we do, we usually begin choosing our preferred wines.
Who might not like wine?
There are of course people who don't like wine, and this may be due to the taste, the alcoholic properties, or because they simply don't like the sensation of having drunk wine.
Some adults don't enjoy red wine because it tastes harsh, with tannins often being listed as a culprit. While tannin is an important flavor in wines, there are now many wines on the market that are lower in tannin and thus not as bitter or unsophisticated.
Other people may not like wine because it is too alcoholic for their taste. Wines with an alcohol content of around 10-12% are perfect for most people, but those who don't drink alcohol or don't enjoy the sensation of being drunk may not like wines that are higher in alcohol. If you're concerned about high alcohol content, beer could be a better choice than wine.
Lastly, people may not enjoy wine because they simply don't like the taste. There are many types of wine though, and sometimes it's just a case of finding one you do like. For example, those who enjoy sweeter wines like riesling may not care for chardonnay or pinot grigio.
How is wine usually sold?
Wine is sold in bottles, flagons, casks, corked bottles (sparkling wines), Tetra Paks and now even in cans.
The typical glass bottle is 750ml, but this can vary. The piccolo, for example, holds 187ml, and the half bottle holds 375ml, while the larger magnum holds 1.5 litres.
Tetra Paks and cans have become popular (and safer) ways to take wine on picnics and camping trips.
How is wine usually served?
Wine is either served at room temperature (in the case of red wine) or chilled (for white or sparkling wines).
Ice is very rarely used, and never with red wines because it changes the taste of the wine. Ice is really only used if the wine or champagne is part of a cocktail.
Wine is typically served in wine glasses, with styles of glassware adding to the wine experience. As camping, glamping and picnicking have gained in popularity, so have wine cups and wine beakers made from metal or plastic.
Wines are not served with garnishes unless they are part of a cocktail.
In restaurants, wine service ranges from the wine that is poured quickly at the bar, to silver service wine waiters who wait for customers to taste and approve a wine before commencing to serve. Fine diners also enjoy wine and food pairing advice (and will follow it very seriously!).
When is wine typically consumed?
Wine is associated with many occasions, from celebratory occasions to foodie culture. It can be consumed outdoors as well as indoors, during camping trips as well as city high life, and for celebrations of any kind.
It's very common to enjoy wine with certain foods—especially a nice bottle of red wine with a steak. It's also common to enjoy a bottle of champagne at weddings, or simply at home after work to relax.
Is wine the right drink for you?
There are many different types of wine, and each one has a unique flavor that can be enjoyed by different people. In general, red wines are tannic and full-bodied, while white wines are fruity and acidic. Sparkling wines are sweet and bubbly, and perfect for celebrations. There are also dessert wines.
My advice is to sample a few different types and see what you enjoy. And if you find wine isn't for you, don't worry—there are plenty of other delicious beverages to enjoy!