Learning the (wine) lingo

Decoding wine doesn't have to be hard.
Decoding wine doesn't have to be hard. Photo: Jessica Shapiro

 In theory, the language of wine labels, reviews and well lubricated wine buffs' discussions should open the way for greater understanding of what's in the bottle.

In practice, unless you're already an aficionado, it is often somewhere on a spectrum that starts at mystifying and runs all the way to risible. Among the most useful features of The 24-Hour Wine Expert are Jancis Robinson's no-nonsense, no-jargon guides to wine language.

For example, in her guide to tasting terms, she explains that finish refers to "the duration of the aftertaste; a wine is said to have a long finish, or be long, if it lingers on the palate, but is short if there is no, or hardly any, aftertaste". 

<i>The 24 Hour Wine Expert</i> by Jancis Robinson.
The 24 Hour Wine Expert by Jancis Robinson. 

Grassy wine "smells of fresh green grass, typical of sauvignon blanc"; oxidised wine has been "exposed to too much oxygen, or air in general, and thereby loses its fruit and freshness and is on the way to vinegar". 

When it comes to more general wine terms, Robinson explains that the much-bandied word varietal is "the adjective from variety; used chiefly to describe wines made from a single stated grape variety", and that vintage is the "wine term for the single year in which a wine was harvested, as opposed to a non-vintage wine, which may be made from a blend of wines made in more than one year".

The examples given here are pretty straightforward and give an idea of where the book is pitched. But Australian drinkers who are already up to speed with such terminology may still like to stash this book in their pockets to help decode the European wine labels we increasingly see in bottle shops and on restaurant tables.

If you don't know your first-growth Bordeaux from your Burgundian grands crus and village wines, or if you're looking for an easy-to-read rundown on Euro rieslings, Robinson sets it all out as clearly and succinctly as she does with the terms above.