Ever wondered what you’re supposed to look for when you get a glass of wine poured out for you? And no, ‘getting drunk’ is not the answer. If you’re like me, hopelessly inadequate in the expansive world of Old and New World wines and prone to mild panic attacks when the sommelier looks at you expectantly after you’ve taken your first sip, this guide is for you. We speak with James Halliday, a respected wine critic and vigeron (read: winemaker) in Australia’s Yarra Valley wine region, to come up with a failproof guide to sounding like you know something about wines.
Don’t worry, we’re not about to launch into an extensive background on varieties of grapes, label identifications and the difference between oak and steel barrel ageing. Instead, Halliday shares with us five simple terms to use when you’ve been cornered with the dreaded “So how do you find the wine?” question.
The term ‘length’ refers to how long the taste of the wine persists or lingers on your palate after you have swallowed (or spat, if tasting professionally) the wine. The length of the wine can be described as long, moderate or short and the general consensus is that the longer the wine length, the higher the quality.
So you’ve given your glass of wine a gentle swirl (like everyone else around your table) and you notice little vertical lines, or legs are they’re known by wine experts, of the wine trickling down the inner walls of your glass. Yes, they have legs but what do they mean? Well, the thinner the legs, the higher the alcohol content. That’s all.
This refers to the harmony between how acidic, fruity or oaky etc. a wine is. Everyone has a personal preference of how balanced they prefer their wines to be so don’t be afraid to have an opinion. There isn’t a right or wrong answer.
When we talk about the texture of a wine, we’re essentially discussing the mouthfeel or tactile sensations felt on the palate after tasting. The main contributors to a wine’s texture are tannin (often associated with the concept of the wine appearing dry), alcohol and sugars. The younger the wine, the more tannic it usually is.
Synonymous with ‘body’, the structure of a wine refers to the overall ‘weight’ or ‘fullness’ of the wine’s mouthfeel. Full-bodied wines are round and powerful while the lighter ones appear more lean and delicate on the palate.
There you have it, five simple terms to namedrop at your next dinner date or social gathering but you have be warned, the more you know, the higher your standards get. Soon, supermarket wines aren’t going to cut it anymore.
James Halliday is a constant part of the star-studded line-up of the Margaret River Gourmet Escape, one of Australia’s biggest food & wine festivals. With 40 years of wine knowledge under Halliday’s belt, it comes as no surprise that he is one of Australia’s most renowned wine experts.