The Terms You Need to Know to Become an Italian Wine Expert

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As with any industry, the Italian wine industry has a lot of jargon attached to it. This can seem somewhat impenetrable when you first start drinking wine. Someone may tell you to aerate your wine to improve its flavour. You nod along, having no idea what they really mean. Instead, you just pop the cork and pour it as normal.

You need a little help, which is where Xtrawine comes in. We’ve collected a few of the most common terms that have a habit of tripping up people who aren’t too familiar with the Italian wine industry.

Aerate

We mentioned it above, so we may as well make it the first term we cover in this article. Aerating a wine basically involves exposing the wine to the air. This happens as soon as you open the bottle. Particles from the air get into the wine, completely changing its complexion.

This can work to your benefit or your disadvantage. For example, aerating a white wine for too long could lead to it becoming sour. However, some red wines benefit from a few hours of aeration before pouring. The air brings out the wine’s natural bouquet, leading to a more complete experience.

So, you aerate depending on the wine that you’re drinking.

Bottle Age

You’ve likely heard about the need to age some wines before you drink them. Some wines need decades of ageing before they’re brought up to their full potential.

But did you know that there are different ways that your wine ages?

The first of these takes place during the production process. A producer may keep a wine in a barrel for several years before bottling.

Then there’s the bottle age. This doesn’t refer to the year that the wine was made, as you may have expected. Instead, it refers to how long you should keep it in the bottle to allow it to reach its full potential.

For example, let’s say a wine has a bottle age of 10 years. This means you’ll keep it in the bottle for a decade from the date that it was poured into the bottle. Note that this does not always mean from the date that you bought it. A wine may have already bottled aged for several years before you buy it.

There’s also no rule to say that you have to bottle age a wine. You can open and pour it any time that you want. Just know that ageing changes the texture. Again, this can work for or against you. Bottle ageing a wine for the right amount of time leads to the best experience. But leaving it to age for too long reduces the quality of the wine.

Finish

If you’ve read one of our wine reviews, you’ll have likely heard us mention the wine’s finish at some point or another. The finish is essentially the wine’s aftertaste. You get this with most types of food and drink. It’s basically the taste that the wine leaves in your mouth in the minutes after you drank it.

Several other terms can refer to the same thing. For example, some people refer to the finish as the end note. Again, it’s all about the collection of flavours that the wine leaves behind after it’s swallowed.

So, why is the finish important?

It adds another layer to the wine drinking experience. There are some notes in your wines that may not reveal themselves while being overpowered by the more prominent notes. While the wine is still in your mouth, these more prominent notes usually take precedent over the more subtle notes.

In fact, you may miss the more subtle notes entirely if you don’t take time to enjoy the finish. Try it the next time you take a sip of wine. Sit for a minute and allow yourself to explore the flavours the wine leaves behind. You’ll often discover a whole new dimension to the wine.

Structure

A wine’s structure is made up of five key components:

  • Acidity
  • Fruit
  • Alcohol
  • Sugar
  • Tannins

The key to a great wine is finding the right balance between these components. That’s not to say that a wine must have the exact same of each to be good. Several structures exist in the world of Italian wine. For example, tannic wines, naturally, have more tannins that other wines. This often makes them more complex.

Wines with more sugars or fruitier notes may fall onto the sweeter side of things, which makes then ideal for mixing with similar foods. Conversely, dryer wines often go better with less-rich dishes.

Acidity also plays a huge role in the structure. Too much and you have a wine that’s far too sharp for the palette. Too little and you have a wine that leaves practically no sensation behind.

Every wine has its own structure. Your job is to find the structures that suit both your palate and your meal choices.

Terroir

Separate to the wine’s structure is its terroir. This essentially refers to the qualities that the land imbues in the wine. For example, a wine made from grapes grown in volcanic soil will often have a more mineral-heavy quality than other wines.

Several factors go into determining a wine’s terroir. The lay of the land and the soil type are two of the big ones, as is the grape’s exposure to the sun. The regional climate also changes the way that grapes grow, again altering the terroir.

The winemaker’s choices also have an effect, as their growing methods often alter a wine’s terroir.

Incidentally, the existence of terroir is why region plays such a huge role in the Italian wine industry. Every region has its own unique flavours and techniques that change the wines that it produces. The perfect wines offer a great structure, while also representing the land that they came from.

The Final Word

Those are five terms that you need to know if you’re to become an Italian wine expert. But they’re also only the tip of the iceberg. Keep researching the industry to learn more about the terms that should influence your purchasing decisions.

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