Wine for the confused

After watching the John Cleese wine documentary last night, I was inspired to write a blog in order to help wine newbies better communicate their likes and dislikes when seeking help selecting a new wine to try. Let’s face it, wine has the reputation for snobbery, which can intimidate anyone just joining the wine drinking ranks. My goal is to help everyone that enjoys wine find a basic vocabulary to explain what they’re searching for or trying to avoid with the next bottle purchase.


Mouthfeel is a term we hear a lot in the wine industry. A big mouthfeel will envelop your entire mouth as you drink the wine.

Oftentimes, in white wine, there is a creamy component that gives it that full mouthfeel. A white wine that lacks that creamy sensation will instead leave you with a crisp, clean finish, the opposite of a big mouthfeel. Ever had a California Chardonnay that tasted like butter? That’s your creamy, full mouthfeel white wine.

By aging the wine in oak barrels, winemakers can impart a buttery quality to the wine as well as create that creamy texture in your mouth as you drink it. Not as common but becoming more trendy, are Chardonnays aged in stainless steel tanks rather than oak barrels. These wines can be described as having a crisp finish, one that doesn’t envelop your entire mouth.


Tannins are another important way to describe a sensation you feel as you drink wine. Tannins are found predominately in the grape skins, seeds, stems and, to a much lesser extent, the flesh.

White wines are made without skin contact, in order to keep their pale color, but if these wines are barrel aged, the wood in the barrels can impart some tannins into the wine. Rosé and red wines are produced by using short to extended contact with the skins, seeds and stems, thus adding tannins to these wines.

When you drink a red wine that seems to grab you by the back of the throat or makes you pucker, that’s the tannins! Some people enjoy that big tannic feel in their mouths and others prefer a softer tannin that doesn’t make its presence quite as dramatically know.

As a general rule, the tannins in wine are boldest in the wine’s youth and tend to soften as the wine ages. Some red varietals, such as Cabernet sauvignon, have bigger, bolder tannins than others, like a Gamay noir. Exposing a wine to air by decanting it can help to soften the tannins a bit too.

So, like I’ve said before, don’t be intimidated when you go wine shopping and try using some of your new vocabulary to explain what you’re looking for to the wine steward at your local shop. They are there to help you find the best wine for your meal, price and palate!

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