Guest Post by Etty Lewensztain
Etty Lewensztain is the owner of Plonk Wine Merchants, an online shop focused on small-production, artisanal and altogether great cheap wine. The food- and wine- obsessed Los Angeles native cut her teeth in the wine biz running a marketing campaign to promote Chilean wine in the United States, and is certified by the esteemed Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) and the American Sommelier Association. Plonk Wine Merchants specializes in hidden gems from around the globe and every bottle in the store is priced below $30. Follow Plonk Wine Merchants on Twitter @ PlonkOnline.
Ever find yourself sitting at a chic restaurant, staring at the sommelier with puzzled eyes wondering what in God’s name he means when he tells you that the bottle of red burgundy you’re about to drop 95 bucks on is mineral-driven, fleshy and polished?
Every industry has its own brand of quirky jargon, but the wine world takes the cake for its esoteric vernacular that is virtually unfathomable to the average Joe. Want to sound like an industry insider when you go wine tasting with friends? Need some go-to wine descriptors to casually bust out next time you’re trying to impress a date at a wine bar? Read on to get the scoop on the most obscure adjectives the wine pros use when they talk shop.
The term austere is typically used to describe something strict, stern, severe or stark. A wine with this character, such as a peppery Grüner Veltliner from Austria, can come off as being closed or tightly wound, aromatically speaking, as well as piercingly acidic. An austere or tight wine can benefit from some time spent in a decanter, which will soften the wine’s crisp edges and will enable some of the fruit flavors to come forth.
Wines that are brawny or muscular typically contain a lot of tannins, which attribute structure and longevity to the wine and act as the wine’s skeleton or backbone. Tannins are compounds found in the skins, seeds and stems of grapes, as well as in oak barrels, and cause a sensation of mouth-puckering dryness or astringency. The terms brawny and muscular are almost always associated with full-bodied red wines and can also connote high alcohol.
The terms broad and fleshy refer to a wine’s luscious texture as it moves across the palate when you take a sip. High-alcohol wines tend to appear more fleshy or voluptuous than low-alcohol wines since alcohol contributes body and viscosity to a wine. Wines that are described as broad also tend to be low in acidity, which makes the wine feel horizontally expansive across the tongue as opposed to sharp and angular, which are sensations typically caused by high acidity. Viognier from the Northern Rhone in France, for example, is a wine that often gets labeled as broad, fleshy or even fat.
The word brooding is usually attributed to something that’s threatening or menacing, but when used to depict a wine, the general implication is that the wine is dark in hue and densely concentrated. Wines described as brooding are almost always red, and typically express dark fruit flavors such as blackberry, black cherry and black currant. This term is also used to describe a wine that expresses other “dark” notes such as dark chocolate, black licorice, tar or tobacco.
A wine described as chewy or jammy is usually made from extremely ripe fruit, resulting in a rich texture, high alcohol content (ripeness implies high sugar content in the fruit, which then gets converted into alcohol) and a dense concentration of sweet fruit flavors. Chewy wines also tend to come from warmer climates, which can cause the fruit to taste stewed or cooked; think raspberry jam as opposed to fresh raspberries. A classic example of a chewy wine is a full-bodied Australian shiraz.
When used as a wine modifier, elegance implies that a wine is relatively light or sprightly on the palate, as opposed to clunky, chunky or heavy. Elegant or polished wines also tend to feel round, soft and satiny in the mouth. A few commonly used synonyms for elegance or polish, as they apply to wine, are finesse, grace and delicacy.
This one requires some imagination! Wines described as feminine or pretty tend to be floral, intensely aromatic or perfumed, dainty, delicate, light- or medium-bodied, low in tannin and relatively low in alcohol. Sound like any women you know?
Minerality in wine is one of the most cerebral and challenging concepts to grasp. A wine described as mineral literally expresses the mineral elements of the soils on which it was grown. For instance, a chardonnay grown in the region of Chablis in Burgundy will typically contain very distinct notes of chalk or sea shell since the Kimmeridgian soils found in this region of France contain a large percentage of marine fossils that are high in limestone and chalk. Calling a wine “mineral” is a major compliment, as minerality implies complexity, depth and sophistication. Minerality is also an expression of terroir—the French term for a wine’s authentic sense of place.
Wines that are described as precise, linear or focused have the opposite texture of wines that are described as broad, fleshy, blousy, unctuous or fat. Think of a freshly pressed and starched button-down shirt as opposed to a cozy, fluffy worn-in sweater. Precision and linearity imply a high level of acidity in the wine, which serves to hold the wine together and keep it tightly knit in the mouth. Wines of this nature are also called taut or lean (think lean meat as opposed to fatty meat).
High-toned wines that have lip-smacking levels of acidity and lively citrus flavors such as lemon, lime and grapefruit are often described as being racy, bracing or nervy. These types of wines work wonderfully as palate-whetting aperitifs since acidity is very appetizing. Think txakoli from Spain’s Basque coast, New Zealand sauvignon blanc, or muscadet from the Loire Valley in France.
If you liked this post, stay tuned for the next installment of Etty’s 3-part guest series.