The essential terms you need to know when choosing wine

If you are browsing the shelves of your local supermarket or searching the web for a good quality wine the choices can seem endless. So it is normal to get frustrated and wonder what to get. The answer is completely subjective, each person has a different style and preferences when it comes to wine. Only by understanding some basic information about wine you can learn what works for you and what does not. The essential characteristics that define each variety are sweetness, acidity, tannin level, body, and flavor. The best way to narrow down your choices is by trying and experimenting with different wines. You can do this on your own or choose a wine club to help you out. If you are new to wines and have no idea where to start you can probably benefit more from joining one of the best wine clubs for beginners. They can send you bottles of wines or wine samples where you can zero in on what you like. Whichever way you choose to explore wine these are the general characteristics you should keep an eye on:

Dry, Off-Dry, and Sweet

The terms Dry, Off-Dry, and Sweet refer to the taste the wine leaves in the mouth due to the amount of sugar that is left in the wine after the fermentation process. During the winemaking process, the sugars from the grapes are converted into alcohol using the fermentation process, the longer the sugars ferment the less residual sugar will be left in the wine, making the wine more or less dry. Every wine that has below 1% sweetness, is considered dry. Wines with sweetness above 3%, are categorized as off-dry, or semi-sweet wines. And wines with 5% sweetness or higher are sweet wines. Dessert wines are not that common they have a sweetness level of 7 to 9%. 1% sweetness equals 10 g/L residual sugar or a little less than 2 carbs per 5 oz serving.

Tannic and Smooth

Tannins are plant-derived polyphenols derived from the skins, stems, and seeds of the grapes that are used to produce the wine. Tannins give the wine body and structure and can make the wine feel more aggressive. Higher tannic wines can feel dry, bitter, and astringent. Some grape varieties have naturally higher tannin levels, so they are often used to make full-bodied wines. Higher tannin wines tend to age better than those with lower tannin. They are the opposite of tannic, meaning that the wine has a bitter quality to it. Smoother wines are not too tannic and not too acidic. Smooth wines are easier to drink, they have fruity flavor palates that are easier to pick out than some of the more floral or oaky flavor notes.


Acidity is a natural component of the wine that shapes the taste and balances out the sweetness and bitterness of the wine. Higher acidity levels make the wine taste tart, sharp, or sour. However, low acidity can make the wine flat, flabby, or overly alcoholic. When it comes to acidity It is all about balance. All wines range from 2.5 to about 4.5 pH. Red wines have a higher acidity compared to white wines. The average acidity of red wine is between 3.5 and 3.8, and 3.1 to 3.4. for white wine. The different types of acid can also have an impact on the wine. The most common acids used in wines are Acetic acid, citric acid, tartaric, malic acid, and lactic acid.


The term wine body refers to the weight and richness of the wine. Several factors can have an impact on the wine’s body such as grape variety, alcohol level, and even sweetness level Each type of wine can fit into one of these three categories: light, medium, or full-bodied. A common comparison is milk, light-bodied wines are like water, medium-bodied wines are like skim milk and full-bodied wines are like whole milk or cream. Light-Bodied wines have an alcohol percentage under 12.5 percent, Medium-Bodied wines boast an alcohol percentage between 12.5 and 13.5 percent, and Full-Bodied wines have an alcohol percentage over 13.5 percent. Light-Bodied wines can taste smooth, sharp, or spicy. Full-bodied wines taste rich with oak flavors of vanilla, cedar, and baking spice to wines.


Oak is often used in the winemaking process to vary the color, flavor, tannin profile, and texture of the wine. Fermenting or aging wines in oak barrels gives the wine a woody profile with flavors like coconut, vanilla, and Christmas spice. After a barrel has been used two or three times, it is considered to be neutral and will no longer give aromas or flavors to the wine, but it will contribute to the texture and help to soften the tannins of the wine.


The term buttery in reference to wine can refer to the flavor, smell, texture, or some combination of all three. Buttery flavors in wine come from the process of malolactic fermentation, in which the tangy malic acid in the wine is converted into a softer, gentler lactic acid. Aging the wine in oak barrels can also emphasize the buttery notes. Just like any other wine characteristic, the buttery notes in the wine need to be balanced not overwhelming the taste but still giving it a decent cream-like smooth texture.

Fruity, Earthy, Funky, and Floral

Depending on the dominating flavor a wine can be fruity, floral, funky, earthy, or some combination of them. Fruit-forward wines tend to be bright, sweet, and easy to drink. The fruit flavor can vary with each grape variety. White wines can have notes of tropical fruits like pineapple, mango, kiwi, leechee, passion fruit, citrus notes of lemon, lime, grapefruit, orange, and citrus zest, or stone fruit notes of nectarine, peach, apricot, apple, and pear. Reds have heavier flavor notes like cranberry, cherry, strawberry, raspberry, plum, black currant, and blackberry. Earthy wines have more savory qualities like dried herbs, leather, tobacco, tar, or even dirt. The term funky is usually used to describe old-school or natural wines. Floral wines have aromas like rose, violet, or orange blossom that can be remarkably appealing and intoxicating.