While people often mistakenly call wines they find 'fruity' sweet, that's not really what this term refers to. In wine language, 'sweet' actually pertains to vinos that contain residual sugar, which relates to the wine grape's natural sugars that are leftover after fermentation stops. Think: dessert wines. There are, of course, technical parameters and percentages to determine sweetness classifications, but they aren't usually present on the label and are best left to wine professionals!
When it comes to wine terms, this is one that is bandied about whole lot, and many people — amateurs and professionals alike — get it wrong. In fact, it's difficult for wine professionals to determine what people mean whey they say 'dry', because its technical definition is often miles away from what the drinker's taste perceives.
That said, from a traditional perspective, 'dry' refers to wine without residual sugars, and the vast majority of wines these days fall on the dry side.
Note: If you want to make sure the white or sparkling wine you're ordering isn't 'sweet', ask for one that's 'dry'.
'Off-dry' is the word you want to use to describe a wine with some residual sugar, but less than what's typically present in a dessert wine. It tends to have a sweet note, but it doesn't dominate the flavour. Moscato and prosecco are common examples of 'off-dry' wines.
In a fruit-forward wine, the overall flavour and aroma of the wine is (as you might have guessed) dominated by 'fruity' notes, and this phrase can be applicable to red, white and rosé wines.
Common descriptors for fruit-forward red wines are 'berry', 'cassis' and 'cherry', while fruit-forward white wine labels might say 'melon', 'apple' or 'lychee', among many others. Rosé wines with fruit forward qualities usually feature labels that say 'melon', 'strawberry' or 'watermlon', when describing the wine.
Note: If you want a wine that's lush and bright (as opposed to oak-driven or herbal), fruit-forward is what you're after.
You've no doubt heard the words 'full-bodied' or 'robust' tossed around (and maybe even argued about them with your friends mid-pour) in relation to 'body', but very few people use the word correctly. 'Body' refers to the weight of the wine on the palate (how heavy it feels in your mouth).
This is determined by the alcohol content, sugar, tannin and acids (oh, we'll get to those). 'Light-bodied' wines tend to feel watery on the tongue (think pinot noir and pinot grigio). 'Medium-bodied' wines sit between watery and intense (like sangiovese and riesling), while full-bodied wines are thick and coat the palate (most shiraz wines and chardonnay).
You know that puckering, lip-smacking sensation you get in the back of the mouth after drinking a wine? That relates to its 'tannin' content. Put simply, tannins are compounds found in the grape skin and give the wine its structure and complexity.
'Tannic' or 'high-tannin' wines usually leave your mouth feeling drier than the Sahara Desert (so long, saliva), while low or medium-tannin wines are much gentler on the tongue (think: pinot noir).
'Oak' or 'oakiness' in wine refers to the aromatic and flavour qualities the wine gets from oak ageing (typically in barrels). Common descriptors for oak include: toast, coffee, caramel, vanilla, chocolate and tobacco, among others.
It sounds weird to say, but wines that have flavours and aromas mimicking soil (yes, really), wet leaves, pine forest or fresh-cut grass, all fall under the 'earthy' category. Wines commonly associated with earthy notes include pinot noir, merlot, grenache and some suavignon blancs. This is a hard one to pick up on if you're not a professional, as most wines have an 'earthy' element, but it's still a good word to have in your arsenal.
'Acid' or 'acidity' is a naturally occurring component of every wine. In wine tasting, 'acidity' refers to the tart, fresh and sour qualities of the drop, and this is usually evaluated against how well the acidity balances out the wine's sweetness and bitter, tannic elements. Often called 'citrusy' or 'crisp' on wine labels, 'high acid' wines like riesling teld to leave the mouth watering, while a 'low acid' variety like chardonnay generally doesn't.
Quite an apt word for the end of this article, no? All jokes aside, a wine's 'finish' is its last impression on the palate after the wine has been swallowed. It can be short and crisp, or go for a minute or longer, unfolding even more flavours before eventually fading away. As a general rule, longer finishes are usually evident in higher quality wines. A 20 to 30 second finish is good for the average bottle, and anything reaching 45 seconds is considered to be quite a powerful, carefully crafted drop.