This is one of the most confusing words out there — for wine drinkers and wine professionals alike. “It is really hard for wine professionals to determine what customers mean when they say ‘dry’ because the technical meaning is completely different from the taste perceptions of the customer,” says Talitha Whidbee, owner of Brooklyn’s Wine Vine.
So what does it mean? Technically speaking, “dry” refers to a wine without residual sugar. You may be surprised to know that the overwhelming majority of wine is dry.
Tip: Say “dry” when you want to make sure a white or sparkling wine isn’t a dessert wine.
Just as a wine without residual sugar is dry, a wine that contains residual sugar is “sweet.” Sweet wines are often dessert wines.
Tip: Say “sweet” when you’re looking for a wine that is sweet like honey fruit juice; avoid saying “sweet” when you’re looking for a wine with fruity flavors (see: fruit-forward).
“Off-dry” is used to describe a wine with some residual sugar, but less than you would find in a true dessert wine. Prosecco and Moscato are often referred to as “off-dry” because they contain a hint of residual sugar.
Tannins are compounds found in grape skins that add complexity and structure to a wine. They create that puckering sensation in the back of the mouth. High-tannin, or tannic, wines will leave your mouth literally dry, without saliva. Low- or medium-tannin wines like Pinot Noir offer a more gentle sensation.
This is the tart or sour element of a wine. Often citrusy, acids (unlike tannins) leave your mouth salivating, the same way orange juice or lemonade does. Phrases like “high acid” refer to mouthwatering wines, like Riesling, while “low acid” might be used to describe richer varietals like Chardonnay or Viognier.
Tip: It can take some time to get familiar with these wine words. Until you do, use the words you know. “It always helps if you can identify any commonality between a wine and a food you enjoy,” says Whidbee. “Words like strawberry or peaches or grapefruit let us know exactly what you want.”
We use body to talk about the weight of a wine on the palate (how it feels in your mouth). “Full-bodied” wines richly coat the palate like cream, while “light-bodied” wines feel like skim milk or water on the tongue.
A wine’s oak or oakiness refers to the flavors and aromas a wine gets from oak aging, usually in barrels. These include vanilla, toast, caramel, smoke, chocolate, coffee, and tobacco.
Often confused with the word “sweet,” a fruit-forward wine is dominated by fruit or “fruity” flavors. Say “fruit-forward” when looking for a wine that’s bright, lush, and dominated by fruitiness, as opposed to oak or herbal qualities.
Use earthy if you like the dirt or barnyard aromas found in many wines. Think fresh-cut grass, moss, or a pine forest.
The rocky or saline quality inherent in some wines, minerality encompasses non-fruit, non-spice elements of a wine. Recall the smell of a hot driveway in summer, or a wet sidewalk, and you’ll get the idea.
Frizzante and Spumante
Frizzante and Spumante are two wine words most associated with Italian sparkling wine.
Do you know what the difference is between these two words?
Both frizzante and spumante describe the level of effervescence (i.e. the strength of the bubbles) in a bottle of sparkling wine. Wines labeled ‘frizzante’ are what we call gently sparkling, while wines labeled ‘spumante’ are more effervescent and fully sparkling.
Frizzante wines have between 2.5 and 3.5 bars of atmosphere/pressure while Spumante wines are usually between 5 and 6 bars. Frizzante wines are known as ‘Perlant’ in French and as ‘Perlwein’ in German.
Prosecco is probably the most well-known frizzante wine style, though Prosecco wines can also be made fully sparkling (spumante). Asti Spumante is the most well-known Italian Spumante style of wine.