Decoding Wine - Misunderstood Wine Terms
Decoding Wine - Misunderstood Wine Terms

Dry? Bold? Luscious? Aromas of delicate elderberry blossom with a hint of animal fur?? WTF? Make sense of it all with our easy-to-understand guide.

One of the things that makes the Wine Gallery team so special is that we're made up of wine professionals as well as every day wine lovers who haven't studied wine in any academic capacity. This gives us the expertise when selecting bottles, but also the ability to talk about them in a relatable way.

Just this week we were having a team chat and Alex (our new sommelier extraordinair) described a wine as "plush". I was confused. What did plush mean? Alex explained "you know round and soft". I was still confused. It sounded like she was describing my wine belly, not what was in my glass. Then we got to the crux of the term, less harsh acidity and tannins... more like milk then like lemonade. Boom! Now we were talking in terms I understood.

This got us thinking what other terms are we always assuming people know? So we've started a list. Here's a collection of everyday wine terms that is often misunderstood. We want it ti grow over time so if you'd would like us to add any, please email us at

1. Dry

Have you ever heard the question from a snooty waiter or adolescent bottle-shop clerk, “Would you like a dry on non-dry wine?"

Ever wonder what it actually meant?

Maybe you know you prefer dry or not dry, but at the same time you were thinking, isn’t all wine can it be dry..what are they really saying?

To make a long story short; a dry wine simply means wine with no sugar in it. So it isn’t sweet. A non-dry wine can mean anything from a little bit of sugar (sometimes called off dry) to a lot of sugar (think dessert wines).

The sugar in non-dry wines can either be left over from the grapes (didn't get turned into alcohol) or added later on in the wine making process.

If it has sugar in it; it will usually say on the bottle how many grams of sugar per litre. Usually, only white wines are called "dry", because most red wines don't have any sugar in them. And most white wines that you come across are actually going to be the dry type.

So there you have it. In a more simple world "Dry wine" would really just be called normal wine, and wine with sugar in it would be called sweet wine. But I guess somewhere along the line someone wanted to sound cool.

One final thing: Sometimes you'll hear wine professionals talk about a wine being sweet without any residual sugar. This is most often the case when the fruit flavours of wine are so strong that they give the impression of sweetness without actually containing any sugar.

2. Length

Often used in the description of the structure of wine. Here, at last, size is everything. The word refers to how long you can taste the flavours of the wine once you’ve taken a sip. A wine with great length is one with pronounced flavours that seem to last and last.

3. Pinot Grigio vs. Pinot Gris

Let's just keep this between you and me.... but for our non snobbish enjoyment purposes, there isn't any real difference that is going to mean much to us.

They are simply the French and Italian names for the same grape variety.

Sure there may be style difference between the two, with the French named 'Gris' being slightly richer and the Italian named 'Grigio' being slightly crisper. But unless you are swirling, sniffing and slurping that wine like a wannabe wine pro.... then you might as well treat them as the same.

So when it comes to Australian made Gris or Grigio, what can we expect? The technical answer is that the winemaker may have tried to mould their wine in either the French or Italian style and has therefore used one name over the other.…. or perhaps it could just be that the winemaker has more of a crush (pun intended) on one of the nations over the other.

4. Sommelier

A sommelier is a French word for someone whose job is devoted to the selection, sale and service of alcoholic beverages in a hospitality or retail environment.

5. Wine Serving Temperature

The main thing to consider is: the cooler wine the less you will be able to taste the subtle flavours. The warmer the wine, the more you will notice the flavours... but also the alcohol taste.

The experts say white wine should be served between 9-13 degrees Celsius (a little warmer than the fridge), and red wine between 17-20 degrees Celsius (a little cooler than average Australian room temp).

But that’s enough with the specifics, below are a few guidelines that should always help you out:

1) If it’s cheap, low-quality wine, you don’t necessarily want to taste all the flavours, so keep it nice and chilled.

2) If it’s white wine, and you want to taste the fruity flavours a little more, try letting it sit outside the fridge for 20 mins before drinking.

3) If it’s red wine and the flavours are a bit too much of a punch in the face. Throw it in the fridge for 30 minutes to calm it down.

4) If it’s boiling hot, grab a beer. Just kidding... Cool that sucker down as much as you want. You don’t want to be tasting subtle flavours while you are dripping sweat anyway.

5) If it's freezing cold outside. You can do two things:

a. Drink some nice hearty warmish red wine while snuggled in a blanket; or if you are lucky next to an open fire. Or.....

b. If you only like cool drinks, pump up the heater to full blast, close all the doors and pretend it’s not winter. (Actually, we don't condone the wasting of energy, please disregard this last point).

6) And last but not least, if you think your glass of wine is too warm, and you want to put an ice cube in it; then go for it. We’re not judging.... ok, maybe just a little.

6. Tannic & Tannins

are compounds contained within the skin and seeds of grapes and have a slightly bitter, drying, mouth-puckering sensation. Imagine drinking a pot of tea that’s been left to infuse for an hour – that’s tannins right there.

When they work in harmony with the other parts of the wine, tannins add complexity to the overall feel of the wine, as well as ensuring it’s not too obviously fruity. If the wine is low in tannin, it will generally feel smooth and supple in your mouth.

Tannins can be positive and negative… If you’re eating a rich piece of protein, tannin (like acidity) can help to cut through some of the richness of the meat. Too much tannin, though, and the wine can seem out of balance and harsh.

Next up: Take our Wine Palate Quiz and match your personal tastes to your top three wine types

Do you know your wine personality? If your answer is no, take our quiz to find out which wines to pick up next and build your box!

Build my box