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10 Wine Terms That Don’t Mean What You Think They Mean

Pssst. I have a secret to tell you.

Wine isn’t that mysterious. No, really, it isn’t.

I know it comes with its own weird language, and the more you learn the less you know, and those dudes in restaurants with the perfectly pointed pocket squares and corkscrew holsters can be super intimidating, but really, we’re all just frontin’. Those weird terms we throw around? wine termsThey don’t mean what you think they mean, we just like to use them because they make us sound super smart and then we can justify the thousands of hours we studied in order to get that dinky little pin you see stuck to our suit collar. Still, at the end of the day, even the snootiest somms and dorkiest wine enthusiasts just want everyone to enjoy wine as much as they do. In that spirit, here are 10 wine terms that may not mean what you think they mean. Use them in good health, and may you henceforth discuss your bottle of grapey deliciousness with the confidence and respect it (and you) deserve.



Corked –

Corked is one of those terms that has become the go-to description for just about any wine that seems “off” or stale or riddled with floating bits of actual cork. In reality, corked wine is tainted by TCA, a chemical that makes the wine smell like wet dog, or your parent’s mildewy basement. There is no saving a corked wine. Dump immediately and mourn the appropriate amount of time (which is however long it takes to open another bottle)

Oaky –

Though I have been accused of referring to an over-oaked wine as smelling like “the bottom of a hamster cage,” oaky in wine terms refers not to wood chips (yum!) but rather to much more pleasant aromas and flavors like vanilla, butter, toast, and even caramel of crème brulee-like notes.

Dry –

Dry wine seems like an oxymoron, right? “Dry” in this case refers to the level of residual sugar a wine has. During the winemaking process, fermentation turns the sugar in grapes into alcohol. Depending on how much of that conversion takes place, you have more or less residual sugar and a corresponding level of perceived sweetness. Capice?

Sweet –

Same issue as dry, but this word deserves an extra mention because I literally cannot count the amount of times someone has asked me to recommend a “sweet red wine” and sugary sweet syrupy deliciousness is almost never what they mean. Unless you really want a red that is cloying and candy-like, try asking for a “fruit-forward” wine or one that is low in tannins, aka “easy drinking.”

Full-Bodied –

Say “full-bodied” and I think of some reclining Greek goddess clothed in little but a toga and a smile. When it comes to wine, that same voluptuousness applies. Think about a wine’s body in terms of fat levels in milk: full-bodied wines feel sort of like half and half in your mouth, medium-bodied wines coat the palate similar to 2%, and light-bodied wines are thin and almost airy, sort of like skim.

Acid –

Acid in wine is essential. We’re not talking about the soul-eating burn you get after eating too much chili, acid in this case is more like the character a spritz of lemon gives to your salad or pesto. The right level of acidity gives wine its life, it makes it dance around on your palate – it gives the wine movement. Too much acidity, though, and the wine edges towards tart and sour, too little and the wine falls…

Flat –

Flat wine lacks acidity, and therefore is a big fat fail in the complexity and character departments as well. In other words… boo.

Floral/Flowery –

The first time I heard a wine referred to as flowery, I fully expected to take a sip and encounter a heavy undercurrent of Chanel No. 5. Flowery to me meant perfume, or soap, or my Great Aunt Agatha’s weird perfume that stuck to you for hours after you got a hug. Really, a floral wine has a faint essence of flowery notes, like if you were drinking the wine out in the garden and the wind carried the flower’s scent past your nose as you sipped. It’s not only pleasant, it’s kind of magical.

Chewy –

This term conjures up decidedly Hannibal Lecteresque mental image, and I’m afraid my explanation may not help. Chewy wines have an abundance of glycerin, which occurs in wines that are highly extracted, especially in great vintages. Chewy wines are also often called “fleshy” (I warned you), and you can almost feel yourself biting through the viscous liquid as you slurp it down. Some people hate chewy wines – I adore them. They have character and density and, love it or hate it, they make a very definite impression.

Tight –

Tight, tightly knit, austere, hard – all of these can be used almost interchangeably to describe a wine that is severely introverted. Tight wines are like the girl in the back of the class who never talks and wears the same outfit all the time and you feel like she would be a total party animal of she just shook out her bun and smiled once in awhile. Depending on the varietal, vintage, and quality, a wine that is hard or austere may just need some time in the bottle to mature and open up, a little splash around a decanter (the wine lover’s version of mouth to mouth), or it may be doomed to a life as a lonely wallflower.




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About The Author
Alana Luna
Alana is a freelance food and wine writer currently living in Las Vegas, NV. She is a lifelong hospitality enthusiast, having been born into the industry and raised in restaurants (and perhaps the odd bar or two…). Prior to writing full time, Alana worked on the Las Vegas Strip where she was lucky to learn from some of the leading wine professionals in the world while tasting some of the very best bottles wine country (in the broadest sense of the term) has to offer. Above all, she believes in the power of a really good story, and stories involving food and wine are her very favorite tales to tell.

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