Monday, October 11, 2010

Snobs VS Geeks: A breakdown of some wine terminology

I wanted to talk about a number of terms people hear in the wine world but thought it very important to make a quick distinction. The distinction between a “Wine Snob” VS a “Wine Geek”. The two can sometimes seem like same thing but they are very different and both are influential in the wine world.

The world of wine can be many things. Unfortunately it is mostly known for the “wine snobs” that we all seem to love so much. They are the ones you see at the store dropping names of Cult Wines like Screaming Eagle, Silver Oak or Cakebread and are more than willing to pay for it as long as people around them know what they are drinking. They are as concerned about he trophy names as the wine. This is the person that looks down on others and judges what they drink based solely on price and while I like to poke fun at them they intimidate people, keeping them from exploring the world of wine. None of us should be the “Wine Snob”. Our mind should be open each time we taste a wine, and we should remember that there is a reason for every style of wine.

Geeks can seem like snobs, but have a very different attitude. A real wine geek will be as excited over finding a new value priced wine for the next party as they would be about finding a first growth to lay down for a number of years. Geeks have a lot of wine knowledge, but still understand that in the wine world one can never understand everything, know every region, chateau, or new style of wine. The wine geek may still talk of old world wines VS new world wines but will understand that the lines between them are fading. We watch the battle and embrace it because it results in better wines for all of us. A wine geek will never judge what others around are drinking, and is usually too involved in their own glass to care. They share knowledge, ask questions and listen to others opinions.

Having said all that here is a list of wine terminology to help navigate the world of wine. Please don't use it to be a snob.


An approachable wine offers an overall pleasant sensation at first sip. A synonym for approachable is accessible. Approachable’s antonyms are closed or dumb. A closed or dumb wine has little aroma or flavor to encourage the taster to explore further. A wine can be closed or dumb because the wine is over the hill or, conversely, has yet to reach maturity.


Body is the weight of the wine on your palate. The best way to figure out a wine's body is to compare it to different types of milk. A light-bodied wine will feel about as weighty as skim milk in your mouth, a medium-bodied wine will feel more like whole milk, and a full-bodied wine will feel similar to half-and-half.


A blend or special lot of wine.


While most of us pay attention to that first burst of a wine's flavor, wine pros spend as much time savoring the last sensation. The reason: The longer a wine's flavor lasts in your mouth (called its finish), the better the wine. The way to discern a wine's finish is by retronasal breathing (it sounds more complicated than it is). To do this, take a sip, hold the wine in your mouth, swirl it around, and swallow, keeping your mouth closed. With your mouth still closed, breathe out forcefully through your nose. Notice the sensation. If the wine has a long finish, you'll still be able to taste and smell it. If the finish is short, you'll notice very little, if any, flavor.


Mouthwatering, Refreshing, Zingy. These are just a few ways to describe a wine that's crisp. Wine's crispness comes from acidity, since acids are natural components of grapes. However, some grape varieties (such as Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinot Gris) are inherently high in acidity, while others (like Chardonnay and Zinfandel) are low. Climate, too, is critical―the cooler the climate, the more acidity in the wine and the crisper it will be. Try a Sauvignon Blanc next to a Chardonnay and notice the difference in the way your mouth reacts under the back of your tongue.


High alcohol, unbalanced wines that tend to burn with "heat" on the finish are called hot. Acceptable in Port-style wines and desirable to some extent in the finish of a wine but never from front to back.


When you swirl wine in a glass, legs are the rivulets of wine that coat the inner surface of the glass above the wine, then run slowly back down. Myth has it that the wider the legs, the better the wine. This is not true. The width of legs is determined by a number of factors, including alcohol content, the amount of glycerol, and the evaporation rate of the alcohol. The most important point to remember is this: Legs have nothing to do with the quality of a wine. A synonym for legs is tears. Wine snobs are fond of saying a wine has good legs, but legs or tears are more indicative of viscosity and not necessarily of quality.

MERITAGE: (rhymes with heritage)

A term, used by California wineries, for Bordeaux-style red and white blended wines. Combines "merit" with "heritage." The term arose out of the need to name wines that didn't meet minimal labeling requirements for varietals (i.e., 75 percent of the named grape variety). For reds, the grapes allowed are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petite Verdot and Malbec; for whites, Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon. Joseph Phelps Insignia and is an  example of a wine whose blends vary each year, with no one grape dominating. For more information along with proof of correct pronunciation you may go to:


While the word nose can be used as a synonym for aroma or bouquet, those two terms are technically speaking, different. Aroma is the correct term for the scents that are associated with a young wine. A young red wine, for example, might have the aroma of cherries. Bouquet describes the more complex aromatic compounds that evolve after a wine has been aged for a considerable period of time. In an older red wine, that simple cherry aroma will disappear, and a multitude of smells will take its place. Rieslings possess some of the most gorgeous noses in the world.


Describes the aroma or taste quality imparted to a wine by the oak barrels or casks in which it was aged. Can be either positive or negative. The terms toasty, vanilla, dill, cedary and smoky indicate the desirable qualities of oak; charred, burnt, green cedar, lumber and plywood describe its unpleasant side.


Tannin is extracted from grape skins during fermentation. A natural preservative, tannin can feel astringent if the grapes were harvested too early. But when grapes are allowed to hang on the vine until they have fully matured, tannin gives wine a sense of structure. Some grape varieties naturally have more tannin than others. Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah, for example, have a lot, while Pinot Noir has little. And here's a good tip: If wine seems to have a lot of tannin, serve it with a filet or a creamy, soft cheese. The fat in meat and dairy products coats the palate, which makes a tannic wine seem velvety.

Never hesitate to explore wines. The terms above are just tools to help you let someone know exactly what you are looking for in a wine. They are a means towards more effective communication that will allow a sommelier or steward in a wine store help you find the bottle you are looking for with less confusion.

If you have a favorite story about a "wine snob" please share it.  Snobs can be as funny as they seem to be intimidating.

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