Wine Terms & Descriptors

Whether just getting into the business, or returning from a hiatus; this class is a refresher for the hospitality professional as well as the last part of the beginners classes on wine. A better understanding of some common wine terms will assist you in all of your studies, as well as with your guest interactions.

Basic Concepts of Wine

Wine is a complex topic, made even more so by the number of languages, legal terms and science disciplines you encounter while studying this wonderful elixir. Hospitality professionals can separate themselves from their peers when promotion time comes and the casual enjoyer of wine can own the wine shop shelves with just a little theoretical knowledge on some key principles in the wine world.

We can focus our studies on the main concepts to maximize our studying effort and make the material easier to digest. What grape grows in which geographical location, and what does it taste like? For example, Pinot Noir grows in Burgundy, France as well as Sonoma County, California. The wine from California is most often more fruit-forward, with the Burgundian style being slightly lighter and drier. Geography can have a big impact on the finished wine, as warmer climates will have more fruit and a fuller body style while cooler climates will have more non-fruit character with usually higher acidity.


Geography isn't the only thing we can hone in on, as the method in which the wine is produced can greatly influence the finished offering. Lets take a look at a few key terms to get started with in regards to the wine making process and the way it impacts the way the wine tastes in the glass. 


Malolactic fermentation and oak treatment are concepts that are integral to making a great recommendation to your guests. Malolactic fermentation leaves wines with a buttery and toasted aromas and flavors, important to point out to Chardonnay drinkers.

Oak treatment is another deliverer of toasty aromas and flavors to wine, and some reds can have strong traces of this production treatment. While talking about oak treatment at the table to your guests  is not always advised, having a working knowledge of the topics is important. 

Why are these two factors so important? Because consumers of wine either enjoy these characteristics very much, or not at all. This is why asking the proper questions of your guests prior to making a recommendation is so important. It is the road map of their preferred tastes, and when matched with your product knowledge, leads to a great suggestion and sale.


Tannin can be a tricky thing to discuss at the table with a guest, and it is not usually recommended unless you have not only a great understanding of the topic, but a great way to explain it as well. Not many people can articulate what they do an do not like about wine, let alone a complex topic like tannin levels. Just remember that white wines should rarely have tannin, thin skin grapes like Pinot Noir have lower tannin levels and thicker skin grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon have higher tannin levels.


Heavier dishes can be accentuated by wines with tannin, while lighter dishes become overpowered by it. Guests looking for wines that are "light body" and "smooth" will most likely enjoy wines with lower tannin levels. These are generalizations, as there are definitely some exceptions, so knowing the wines you recommend is important. 


The video below reviews some of the key terms and descriptors that you will need to know before moving onward in this education series. 

Geography has a major impact on the finished wine, and matching the growing conditions with the proper grape variety is an important part of wine production. 

Proximity to bodies of water can greatly influence a wine region, as some areas would simply be too hot or too cold without the moderating influence of water. As the curriculum progresses, climates impact on the finished wine will be talked about a lot, so grasping maritime versus continental climates are a good start at this point. 

Maritime vs Continental.png

We are focusing on big concepts that we need to be familiar with here, such as malolactic fermentation, tannin, continental and maritime climates; as along with some of the basics already covered, will necessary for you to grasp as you  move onward to the next section.

Always keep in mind that there are some topics in the wine world we don't bring up with our guests. They are terms we use when learning about the chemistry and viticulture process, and are best left for the study group. As service professionals, we would never want to say something disparaging about a wine that one of our guests may enjoy. Terms like horse hair, cat piss and blood are best left for the casual conversation amongst friends or colleagues, and not our guests. 


At this point in the progression, you should have a good grasp of how wine is generally made, the differences between old world and new world and some key concepts such as MLF, ageing wine in oak and how tannin impacts wine (and the wine drinker).

If you are ready for more, move onto the Wine & Spirits for Hospitality Professionals course. The Credenza is a good stop off if you are looking for additional information as well.