9 wine words to learn now!

Wine can be a language in and of itself. Learn to speak it like a pro with this easy guide to commonly used wine terms.


Now, this might not mean what you think it does. We aren’t speaking about whether or not a cork was used to seal the wine, but rather whether the natural cork used has tainted the wine. This occurs due to fungi that create a chemical compound called TCA. Tragically, a corked wine is a ruined wine. If you open a bottle and it smells like a wet dog or a mouldy newspaper, without a hint of the fruit, then it's best to pour it out and find another.

Cool and warm climate

Everything about where the grape is grown affects the wine it will become. This includes the climate of the region. Cooler climates generally produce lighter-bodied wines, while warm climates result in wines that are more full-bodied. The Cederberg, Hemel-en-Aarde and Cape Agulhas are cool-climate wine-producing areas, while Franschhoek and the Swartland produce warm-climate wines.


Have you ever noticed the drying sensation in your mouth you get after taking a sip of wine? This is due to the tannins, which come from compounds in grape seeds, stems and skins. The longer these are left to soak with the juice after pressing, the higher the tannic content of the wine. These tannins add colour and complexity to wine and are also antioxidants. The higher the amount of tannins in the wine, the better it will age. 

Old world and new world

Old World wines are those produced in countries that have a long history of winemaking such as France, Spain, Germany, Hungary and Italy. They adhere more strictly to time-tested traditions and intensive regulations. These wines tend to be lower in alcohol and gentler on the palate. New World wines are from countries such as the United States, Chile, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, where the climate tends to be warmer and winemakers are more experimental. New World wines are largely more fruit-forward, full-bodied, and are likely to be higher in alcohol.


This French word refers to the complete natural environment in which a wine is grown, such as the climate, soil composition, and topography. Depending on where the grapes are grown, the same varietal can thrive or fail. Grapes grown in Stellenbosch and Elgin are subject to vastly different conditions and one can taste the difference in the wines produced from the area. Certain terroirs lend themselves to certain kinds of grapes, for example Semillon in Franschhoek and Chenin Blanc from the Swartland.


Acidity is a critical element of creating complex flavour and enhances other flavours inherent to the wine, much as it does for food. When pairing keep in mind that an acidic wine, such as a Blanc de Blanc bubbly, will pair especially well with fatty foods, such as soft cheeses or even fried chicken and French fries.


For the past two millennia, winemakers have used oak to impart colour and flavour to their wines. This technique first came into widespread use in ancient Rome but is now an integral part of the vinification process for certain styles and varieties of wine. The longer wine is oaked for, the darker its colour becomes. The flavour is affected by the vanillin compound in the wood, which as the name implies, tastes like vanilla. However, too much time spent in the oak can overpower the fruity notes of the wine. 


Wines can have a very different mouthfeel depending on a variety of factors. These are categorised into light, medium, or full-bodied wines. The difference can generally be discerned by moving the wine around in your mouth and paying attention to the texture. Alcohol content also plays into this: as a rule, lower-alcohol wines such as Riesling or Prosecco have a lighter body. Pinot Noirs are most often medium-bodied, and wines such as Merlot or Chardonnay will feel weightier in your mouth, meaning they are full-bodied wines. 


When you first start drinking wine, it smells and tastes like… well, wine. But as you try more bottles and cultivars, you’ll start to detect familiar aromas and flavours – vanilla, stone fruit, blackberries, even leather. These tasting notes aren’t the product of secret ingredients but rather a combination of soil, setting, and the techniques used by the winemaker, such as oaking the wine or blending different grapes. For example, the herbaceousness of Sauvignon Blanc can be attributed to chemical compounds called methoxypyrazines, while the floral notes of Gewürztraminer come from alcohol compounds that can also be found in perfumes. What our senses detect is unique to each of us and is linked to our experiences and memories, so the next time you pick up a hint of grass, gooseberries, or dark chocolate, don’t be afraid to tell your fellow drinkers what you’re enjoying in your glass.