Bone Dry—Some wines that are considered bone dry are: Muscadet; Loire wines based on the Sauvignon grape such as Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé, and Sauvignon de Touraine; most champagne and other sparkling wines labeled “brut”; proper Chablis from Northern France; Germany’s “trocken” wines.
Dry—Dry is the biggest category, though within it there are variations, with cheaper versions tending towards medium dry. Some wines that could be considered dry are most Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon, Verdelho, Colombard; white Burgundy; Loire wines labeled “sec” and based on the Chenin Blanc grape, such as Vouvray and Saumur; white Rhône and Provence wines such as Hermitage Blanc or Châteauneuf-du Pape Blanc; most white Bordeaux labeled “sec”; most white “vin de pays”; Soave, Verdicchio, Pinot Grigio, Pinot Bianco, and most white “vino da tavola”; white Rioja; Germany’s “halbtrocken” wines and some of its lightest “Kabinett wines; Fine and Manzanilla sherry.
Medium Dry—Some wines that are considered medium dry are: Riesling, Viognier, Gewürztraminer, Chenin Blanc, Pinot Gris; most French wines labeled “demi sec”, especially Vouvrays, and Coteaux du Layon; most Alsace wines; Frascati; the majority of German wine exported and certainly those labeled Kabinett, Spätlese, or Halbtrocken; Dry Amontillado or Dry Olorose sherry; white port.
Medium Sweet—Some wines that are considered medium sweet are: Most wines labeled Late Harvest; most French wines labeled “moelleux”; “vendange tarduve” wines from Alsace; Asti, and most Moscato: Moscatel de Setúbal; Tokay from Hungary; German Auslese and Mosel Beerenauslese; most white Zinfandel and other blush wines; commercial Amontillado sherry; most Madeira.
Sweet—Some wines that are considered sweet are: Most wines labeled “botryized” or “Selected Late Harvest”; Sauternes, Barsac, Monbazillac, Saussignac, Ste. Croix du Mont; French Muscats; German Trockenbeerenauslese; most Recioto and Passito; Vin Santo; California Muscat; commercial Oloroso sherry; Malmsey Madeira.
Very Sweet—Some wines that are considered very sweet are: Spanish Moscatel; Australian Liqueur Muscat and Tokay; Cream and Pedro Ximénez sherry; a host of fortified wines.
Bone Dry—Some wines that are considered bone dry are: Red Loires such as Bourgueil, Chinon, and Samur Rouge; typical Médoc and Pessac-Léognan; Hermitage; Italy’s great reds such as Barolo, Barbaresco, Brunello di Montalcino, and Chianti Classico.
Dry—About eighty-five percent of all reds.
Medium Dry—Some wines that are considered medium dry are: Most varietal Merlot and Pinot Noir; some California Cabernet Sauvignon, much Zinfandel; Châteauneuf-du-Pape; Lambrusco; Fresia; most German reds; Australian Shiraz; South Africa’s beefier reds; most inexpensive branded reds.
Medium Sweet—Some wines that are considered medium sweet: Sangria; sparkling Shiraz; Recioto della Valpolicella; most Brachetto; California’s late-harvest Zinfandels.
Green or Tart—A wine with too much youthful acidity: Gros Plant Nantais from the Loire; Coteaux Champenois (the still wines of Champagne); many English wines; Luxembourg’s wines; many 1996 Burgundies; Vinho Verde from Portugal.
Crisp—A complimentary term for a white wine with refreshing acidity: Most New Zealand wines; almost all Loire wines, no matter how sweet they are; Mosel wines; Chablis and lots of other white Burgundy; lots of other well-made whites from slightly warmer regions.
Flabby or Flat—A wine with not enough acidity: It is much more difficult to generalize here as it depends on individual wine makers’ skills but southern Rhône, North African, and other wines made close to the Mediterranean shores tend to flab (including old-fashioned Spanish wines such as Monastrell). You will sense a sort of drabness in the overall impact of the wine and find yourself still looking for the refreshment that would have been provided by a bit of acidity as the wine goes through the mouth.
Cloying or Too Sweet—A wine that is too sweet for the acidity: Cheap, very sweet wines of all sorts, either sweet white Bordeaux such as poor quality Sauternes or Barsac or the sweetest representatives in a range of branded wines.
Tannins are one of the most obvious, and sometimes, even pain-inducing ingredients in many red wines. Tannins usually find there way into a wine from the pipes (that is, the seeds), grape skins, and stems, or develop as a result of the wood in which the wine has been stored—or sometimes both. The sensation that tannin produces in the mouth is perhaps even more crude than any we have studied so far. As the wines mature, the tannins in the wine become less evident and the taste seems much softer. The fruit-based flavors start to emerge in subtle and complex forms.
A wine’s weight is a measure of how much alcohol and extract it has. A full-bodied wine has an alcohol content of at least thirteen percent. A light wine will probably be less than ten percent alcohol and is much flimsier. It’s difficult to describe how you assess weight but it’s actually quite easy to do. Simply, by looking at the wine you can get a clue and, with practice, when you smell it you often get quite a strong hint. It is when the wine is in the mouth when the wine sends its strongest “guess-the-weight” message. It really is the physical sensation of how heavy the liquid feels in the mouth.
Cleanliness: A wine is described as clean if it has no obvious faults. Your nose is by the far the best judge of it. If after the first sniff you feel you still want to go on, then the wine is clean. Now that technology is available, fewer than one percent of all bottles available in the international marketplace exhibit a winemaking fault. The most common fault, corkiness, has nothing to do with inept winemaking; it is simply the chance result of a tainted cork. Common smells you might find in wine that are not so pleasant are:
TCA-This is a smell given off by wines, stoppered by a tainted cork. Such a wine will smell musty, moldy, and just plain horrible.
Sulfur Dioxide-This smell catches the tip of the nose or the back of the throat like a recently struck match or a solid-fuel stove. This smell lingers over wines that were treated to a high level of sulfur at some point.
Rotten Eggs/Rubber-This smell is sometimes found in red wines which have been made in hot climates without enough access to oxygen.
Brettanomyces-This is a mousy, horsey smell that can be even more pronounced on the palate and is the result of bacteria that may linger in old wood or less-than-spotless cellars.
Oxidation-This is a fault in light wines and makes them taste and smell flat and stale. You can recognize oxidized wines because it goes brown.
Acetic/Vinegary/”Pricked”-A wine that has gone over further than oxidation and already started to turn to vinegar as well as smelling like it.
Volatile Acidity-This is present when a wine is obviously unstable or just about to become so.
Carbon Dioxide-If a wine looks, and smells grassy and cloudy, it is probably refermenting.
Cardboard-This is a sign that the filter pads had been changed to frequently.
Geraniums-Shows that a wine has been coarsely treated with sorbic acid
Balance: A wine is all balanced out if all its components blend into the whole with none standing out. A wine could be out of balance because it has too much acidity, because it is too sweet, because the tannin is too evident, or because the alcohol dominates the flavor. There is no single sensation that can help you make up your mind about whether or not the wine is balanced; you simply have to weigh up all the individual components. All good wines should be balanced by the time they are ready to drink, but a wine that seems to have a great future ahead of it may well be unbalanced in its youth simply because it is too tannic at that stage in its evolution.
Length: Another sure sign of wine quality is length, or what tasters call the finish of the wine. If, having swallowed or spat out a wine, you’re still aware of its flavors lingering in your mouth and nose—in a good way, of course—then the wine must have been well made. A mouthful of great wine can seem to hang for minutes, if not hours, after the liquid has gone. This is why, in terms of total amount of pleasure given, expensive wines are not always poor value compared with lesser liquids whose impact is lost once they are swallowed. Each mouthful just lasts and lasts.
The white crystals that you may find at the bottom of your wine bottle are harmless solids that are precipitated by the maturation or storage of the wine. These harmless solids are usually little crystals of tartaric acid. In white wines these fragments can look suspiciously like sugar or glass particles. If these tartaric acid crystals are eaten they weill in fact taste very acidic.