5 Basic Characteristics of Wine

The 5 building blocks of wine — basics that will help you know what you like, and love!

Happy Friday, friends! Today I’m talking about the 5 basic characteristics of wine. These 5 building blocks helped me to break down wine and find what I like, and love! Ratings can be helpful, but truly the best way to learn about your taste is to understand the characteristics of wine and then choose what you like, as that is what’s most important…

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Since many people don’t like sweet wine you can just think of this as “dryness,” instead! Often, the very first impression of a wine is its level of sweetness. The perception of sweet starts at the tip of our tongue, so focus your attention on the taste buds on the tip of your tongue as you start to taste.

The type of sugar in wine is called residual sugar or RS. Many dry wines can have a lot of sugar in them, even dry reds like Cabernet. When you hear people describing the level of sweetness they will use terms like bone dry, dry, off-dry, sweet, and very sweet. (Sometimes dryness can be confused with tannin, so read more on that below…)

Sweetness is like:

  • A tingling sensation on the tip of your tongue.
  • A sight oily sensation in the middle of your tongue that lingers.
  • The wine has a higher viscosity, so you’ll see wine “tears” forming on the side of the glass. (Although this is also an indicator of high alcohol.)

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Acid is a vital component of wine, helping to make it taste fresh, but also helping to preserve it. Acidity can be sensed as sourness, but acidity in alcohol makes it tart and zesty. Tasting acidity is often confused with the taste of higher alcohol, because when you take a sip, you will feel a tingling sensation on the front and sides of your tongue. If you’d rather choose a wine that is more “rich”, then you need a wine that is less acidic.

Acidity is like:

  • A tingling sensation that focuses on the front and sides of your tongue, like pop rocks.
  • A fresh but sour sensation.
  • A mouth-watering feeling, like you bit into a green apple or a lemon.

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Tannin is often confused with dryness because tannin does dry the heck out your mouth! It is usually found in the skins of the grapes and in the oak that many wines are aged in. Tannin tastes like you put a wet black tea bag on your tongue and left it there for a few seconds. It tastes herbaceous and is often described as astringent. Despite all this, tannin is that element in your wine that adds texture, complexity and balance. And, it makes your wine last longer!

Tannin is like:

  • You feel a bitter taste in the front and sides of the tongue, and a grip on the sides of your mouth.
  • Your tongue feels dry, and after you swallow you feel a lingering dry feeling in your mouth.
  • It tastes a bit like drinking a cup of hot black tea or coffee. 

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Wine is often characterized by its main fruit flavors, so looking out for fruit flavors in a glass of wine can help you better define what you like. For instance, you often hear the taste of red fruits like red cherries and strawberries used to describe Pinot Noir, while black fruits like black currant and blackberry are used to describe Cabernet Sauvignon. Additionally, the level of fruitiness that you taste in a wine leads to very different growing regions. Hotter climates like Australia, South America, allow for grapes to develop the fruit longer, and therefore lead to fruiter wines.

More on fruit:

  • Red Wine: look for red fruits such as redcurrant, cranberry, raspberry, strawberry, red cherry; and plum or dark fruits like blackberry, blueberry, blackcurrant, and black cherry.
  • White Wine: look for green fruits like lemon, lime, green apple, red apple, gooseberry, pear, and grape; citrus fruits like grapefruit, peach, and apricot; and tropical fruits such as banana, lychee, mango, melon, passionfruit, and pineapple.
  • Dried Fruits: in many wines you can also taste dried fruits like fig, prune, raisin, kirsch, cooked or baked fruits, or stewed or preserved fruits.
  • You may likely easily taste a few different fruits in a single glass of wine.

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There is a wide range of body in wines — light, medium and full-bodied wines are all very common. Body is a snapshot of the overall impression of a wineused to describe the general weight, “fullness” or overall feel of the wine in your mouth. Body is made up of many factors, from the varietal, to the origin, the vintage, and the amount of alcohol. ABV (or Alcohol by Volume) adds body — you can improve your skill by paying attention to where and when it’s present. Wine with high ABV will have a higher viscosity, which is seen in the legs on the side of the glass. The higher the alcohol in a wine, the weightier the mouthfeel, and the fuller the body.

Ask yourself:

  • How does the wine compare to other wines you’ve tasted? Lighter? Bigger?
  • How long does the finish last in your mouth after you’ve swallowed the wine? 5 seconds? Or up to 30-40 seconds?
  • Is the wine full-bodied up front but then drops off at the finish?


I know many of you probably knew some of this, but hopefully you guys found something in here that was new or interesting — please let me know any feedback!

Also, remember identifying the characteristics of wines comes with practice. So there is your excuse to go have a glass of wine! I hope everyone has a wonderful weekend!

xx — BB

2 comments on “5 Basic Characteristics of Wine

  1. Excellent presentation for quick grasp of basics.

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