Cards of Wine

Basic Wine Characteristics

Wine Types

Different grapes, yeasts, and methods create different wine types:

Red Wine, White Wine, Rosé Wine, Sparkling Wine, Dessert Wine, and Fortified Wine.

See previous chapter What is Wine?.

How to Describe Wine

There are many ways to describe wine (rich, fruity, zesty, oaky, big), but there are 5 basic profiles defining the characteristics of wine:

1. Sweetness

Dry Wines contain very little sugar (2-8 grams/liter).

Medium Wines have some residual sugar (8-12 grams/liter).

Sweet Wines contain from 50 to 200 grams sugar per liter.

2. Acidity

High acidity. Medium acidity. Low acidity.

High acidity gives a wine a crisp and fresh taste.

Low-acid wines taste more smooth and round.

3. Tannins

High tannins. Medium tannins. Low tannins.

Tannins are present in red wines, almost never in white wines.


High alcohol. Low alcohol.

The majority of wines have between 8-15% alcohol.

5. Body

Light bodied. Medium bodied. Full bodied.

Light bodied wines (light as water) are easy to drink.

Full bodied wines have more tannins and are more heavy (mouth-filling).

Sweetness (Sugar)


The sugar in wines comes from the grape juice. Since most of the sugar is converted into alcohol during fermentation, wines are normally dry.

Sugar Levels in Wine...

Wine Types

Dry Wines contain between 2 and 8 grams sugar per liter.

A wine becomes dry when the yeast converts all sugar into alcohol.

Medium Wines have some residual sugar (8-12g per liter).

A medium-dry wine tastes a little sweet because the yeast has not converted all sugar into alcohol.

Most medium-dry wines are white or rosé wines such as Riesling or White Zinfandel.

Sweet Wines contain from 50 to 200 grams sugar per liter.

Sweet wines can be produced from grapes that are extreme high in sugar (late harvest) or by killing the yeast before it has consumed all the sugar in the grapes.

Examples of sweet wines are Sauternes, Vermouth, and Ice Wine.



Acidity gives a wine a fresh taste. It makes your mouth water.

Acidic wines taste refreshing and crispy.

Low-acid wines taste smooth and round.

Acidity Levels in Wine...

In medium (off-dry) and sweet wines, acidity balances the taste of sweetness avoiding unpleasant extra sweet taste (e.g. Riesling).

Acidity does not come from the skins but from the grape juice and ranges from 2.5 to about 4.5 in the PH spectrum.

The most common acids in wine are tartaric acid, malic acid, and citric acid.

Acidity is a key factor in long-term aging, but it is forbidden to add acid during winemaking (it is not forbidden in the New World).

Examples of high acidic wines are: Riesling, Pinot Noir, Chablis, most Italian wines.



Tannins are small bitter particles found in trees and plants.

In wines they come from grape skins, stems, seeds, and oak barrels.

Tannin Levels in Wine...

What do Tannins Taste?

You cannot taste tannins but you can feel them:

Try to chew on: Grape Seeds, Tea Leaves, Walnuts, Banana Skin, or Cinamon, and you can feel a dryness in your mouth and a bitterness on your tongue.

White wines do not have tannins, light red wines (Beaujolais, Pinot Noir) have low tannins, bold red wines (Bordeaux, Barolo) have high tannins.

Tannins (Latin: tannum = oak bark) refers to using bark for tanning animal skin into leather.


The majority of wines have an ABV (alcohol by volume) between 8-15%.

Examples of wines with high alcohol: California and Australia Chardonnay, Amarone, Australian Shiraz, Zinfandel.

Examples of wines with low alcohol: Aperitif Wines, Pinot Grigio, Muscadet, Lambrusco.



Body is about viscosity and mouth-filling.

Body is a description of how the wine feels in your mouth.

Body Levels in Wine...

Light Body

Light-bodied wines are light as water and easy to drink.

In general they have a lower alocohol percentage and a refreshing acidity.

Light-bodied wines are easy to drink without food, and are often served with aperitifs or light food.

Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, Beaujolais.

Full Body

Full-bodied wines have more tannins and are more heavy (mouth-filling).

In general they have higher alcohol, more intensity and more tannins.

Full-bodied wines coat your mouth (viscosity) and feel heavy as drinking cream.

Full-body wines are often served with rich and hearthy dishes to create balance.

Cabernet Sauvignon, Bordeaux, Rioja, Amarone, Oaked Chardonnay, Sauternes.

Alcohol can be addictive. Drink in moderation.

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