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A Short Guide to the 5 Basic Characteristics of Wine

We’ve all heard a million and one ways to describe wine, earthy, oaky, zesty – the list goes on. Well today, we’re taking it back to basics, helping you understand the 5 main profile defining characteristics of wine. These five characteristics are, sweetness, acidity, tannin, alcohol and body.

Sweetness

The sweetness of wine comes from the residual sugar, this is the left-over sweetness when not all the grape has been fermented in to the alcohol. It is one of the most distinguishable characteristics of a bottle, as it is a flavour we’re all familiar with. Whilst everyone’s sensitivity to sweetness is different, we all experience this flavour immediately, making it one of the most basic characteristics of wine.

Sweetness is also the main factor contributing towards the calorie count of a glass. A very sweet wine would have a lot more calories than a bone dry one – sorry to anyone with a sweet tooth!

Sweetness is a basic taste.

Acidity

The acidity plays a big part in how tart or sour a wine is. Unripe grapes have high acid levels, but that drops as they ripen. Grapes grown in cooler climates often contain higher acidity because there’s less warmth and sunshine available to increase the grapes’ sugar and pH levels.

Most acid in wine comes from grapes, these acids include, tartaric, malic and citric. When it comes to pH level, wine usually sits anywhere between a 2.5 and 4.5pH on the scale.

Lemon juice in its natural state is very acidic.

Tannin

Tannins are natural compounds, existing inside a grape’s skin, seed and stem. Tannin AKA polyphenol is released from each grape as they soak in their juices, immediately after the grape’s been pressed. Because white wines ferment without grape skins, ‘Tannin’ is mostly used when describing red wines. However, Tannin can also be absorbed from oak barrels, so it can be found in white wines, but with much less intensity.

When looking out for tannin in your wine, you’ll want to focus on the texture of your tongue. A high level of tannin removes proteins from the tongue, drying your palette. If you were wanting to describe the wine you were sipping to be high in tannin, you’d call it ‘tannic’. Tannic wines work well to cleanse the palette of rich, fatty meat and cheese.

Tannin is produced by grapes when making wine.

Alcohol

Don’t worry, we hadn’t forgotten one of the key characteristics of wine, alcohol! The alcohol in the wine we drink is a chemical called ethanol. When producing wine, fruit (usually grapes) are put through a process called fermentation to create alcohol. With the time taken to ferment playing a key role in the final alcohol percentage.

Whilst also contributing to the wine’s texture and viscosity, the alcohol also plays a part when it comes to the aroma. With it carrying the wine’s scent from the it’s surface to your nose. Remember to drink responsibly though, premature taxis are never ideal!

ABV% ranges from anywhere below 10% – over 15%

Body

Finally, the Body. The sweetness, acidity, tannin and alcohol are the four factors working together to make up the wine’s body. When describing the body of a wine, we talk about them being either light, full or medium bodied. Light bodied, or ‘lighter’ wines generally hold more acidity, less alcohol, tannin and sweetness. Whereas, full bodied, or ‘bolder’ wines have the opposite properties. They are less acidic, higher in alcohol, are more tannic and sweeter.

‘Body’ is made up from the other 4 characteristics.

Now we’ve covered the 5 basic characteristics of wine, you’re well on your way to becoming a wine pro. Who knows, perhaps you can impress the guests at your next wine fuelled get-together. If you’d like to learn more about what we do at Club Vino, then please get in touch. We’d love to hear from you!

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