Now that you understand the very basics of wine – how each color is produced – it’s time to start understanding how wine is described. Before getting into the complex science of tasting descriptors we’ll look at three very basic wine concepts, all of which you can determine by feel, to help you deepen your knowledge of wine. Tasting is a little intimidating but feeling? It’s easier and you’ll be a pro in no time!
It’s All In Your Mouth
Sure, tasting starts with the nose, but that’s harder than it looks. And like with anything else, it’s nice to gain a little confidence so we’ll start with something easier – how wine feels in your mouth. By the end of this post, and with a little practice, you’ll be able to tell someone if a wine is light or full bodied, understand how an acidic wine feels, and identify if a wine has noticeable tannins.
Rock Your Body
Body in wine could best be described as heft. The fuller bodied the wine, the more heavy, and thicker, it will feel in your mouth. The best comparison to feeling a difference in body would be the difference in heft between water and oil. While both are liquids, water feels much lighter in your mouth than oil.
Another great comparison is milk. The fat content is what gives milk its body — the more fat, the fuller-bodied the milk. Skim milk, with no fat, would be the lightest body possible with body increasing from 1% to 2% and beyond. Heavy cream is the fullest body milk.
When you sip a wine and take it in your mouth the thickness and heft will tell you about the body with a pinot gris being lighter bodied and an oaked chardonnay being full bodied.
Pro-Tip – if you like acidity in wine you should check out cool climate wines which have higher acidity due to the climate.
Feel it for yourself!
Food & Wine Magazine’s Wine-Tasting Workout suggests feeling the different types of milk to train your mouth to identify body.
Give Your Wine A Litmus Test – With Your Tongue
Acidity is a quality in wine that is easy to feel if you know what you’re looking for. It is the zip, zest, or bite in a glass of wine. Acidity does things to the tongue and if you know what to feel for, you’ll be able to identify acidity in no time.
Acidity makes the front, tip, and sides of your tongue tingle while also giving your mouth a wet feeling similar to that when eating an apple. Think about the way orange juice can quench your thirst – it’s acidic but also very refreshing.
Citrus is acidic but don’t think about the flavor – this is all about the feeling. The feeling you get when drinking orange juice or eating pineapple? These are the same feelings you will get when drinking acidic wines. Cranberry juice is also acidic, if that’s more your bag than citrus juice.
Feel It for Yourself!
Food & Wine Magazine recommends tasting a variety of citrus juices from low to high acid to get a sense of lower to higher acidity.
Tannins – The Mystery Solved
People know that wines have tannins but there are so many myths and misconeptions that tannins have been a mystery for as long as people have been drinking a wine. We’ll get you understanding and identifying them quickly. You’ll use the front of your mouth and the top of your tongue as an alert that a wine has higher tannins.
Tannins are a compound found in the skins of grapes, leaves, seeds, and bark.
When wine is made, the longer these parts are left in contact with the grapes, the more tannic the wine. Tannins are found in more than just grapes – nuts with skins, black tea – and have a distinct feel. They are what make wine taste dry. They are bitter and also dry out the front of your mouth (forcing you to pucker a little, maybe) and the top of your tongue. But it’s not a bad thing. This is the quality that makes red wines pair so nicely with a marbled steak.
Red wines, because they are left in contact with the skins for prolonged amounts of time, are more tannic than white wines. But white wines, all wines in fact, do have tannins.
It can be difficult to explain tannins and often we end up saying they taste bitter, or feel dry. But to seal the deal and make sure you never forget: play around with black tea. Black tea is essentially 100% tannins.
When you drink it, you get that same dryness at the front of the mouth and top of the tongue that some describe as “astringent”. It does the opposite of acid and dries out the mouth instead of making you produce more saliva. A watered down black tea would be an example of how a less tannic wine would feel and a strong cup of black tea, with less water or steeped longer, gives the best example of tannic wine.
Tannin Allergies & Sensitivity
While these days everyone has a food sensitivity, or so it seems, there are some people who are allergic to tannins and others who are sensitive to the compound.
Symptoms connected to issues with tannins range from headaches and joint pain to GI disruptions. People who have experienced these from coffee and tea will likely experience them to a lesser extent from wine and chocolate because the concentration is lower but still may experience some discomfort.
As someone sensitive to tannins I cannot drink black tea but moderately tannic red wines, when balanced with dairy, often do not cause a reaction – but you should always consult with your doctor when you have a sensitivity or allergy.
Feel It For Yourself
Wine & Food Magazine suggests steeping a few cups of tea for varied amounts of time in order to experience tannins from lower to higher amounts.
From now on when you enjoy a glass of wine, take some time to think about how it feels in your mouth. Is it zesty or not? Does your mouth feel wet? Or dried out like your skin after you rinse it with some alcohol? Does the wine feel light or like it’s thick and heavy? Once you can identify these different feelings, you’ll also start to figure out what you like and will be able to request wines at the shop or a restaurant. Let us know your preferences in the comments: how acidic do you like your wine? Tannics or no? And what about body – do you like a light wine or one that is heavier?