April 05, 2021 3 min read

At Tooth & Nail Wine Company, we are serious about our wines and winemaking—but we have no tolerance for elitism or snobbery. We make wine for the many, not the few! 

If you are a seasoned wine drinker, you will appreciate our intense Tooth & Nail red blends or our “once-in-a-lifetime” Amor Fati wines. If your fine wine journey is just beginning, you’ll love our elegant Stasis white winesand the approachable Cabernet Sauvignon from our new Tooth & Nail “Squad” line. 

Either way, there are some crucial “need to know” wine terms that you’ll want to master along the way, because they will enhance your wine tasting experience (just promise not to use them pretentiously!). 

1. VARIETY / VARIETAL

Here’s one a lot of people get wrong… 

Wines are made from different grape “varieties” such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. These grapes are known to have “varietal” qualities. 

In other words, variety is the noun, and varietal is the adjective. Yet many so-called experts (even sommeliers!) still call Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay a grape “varietal.” Nope! They are grape varieties, not grape varietals

Let’s practice:

  • Pinot Noir is a grape variety.
  • A wine made from Pinot Noir is a varietal wine.
  • A Pinot Noir will have varietal characteristics (often called varietal aromas or varietal flavors) 

2.NOSE / AROMA / BOUQUET

“What’s the nose like?” No, not the nose on your face, the nose on the wine! Yes, it’s strange, but that’s how the term “nose” is often used in wine appreciation—as a way to describe what you are smelling with your actual nose. Don’t question it, just go with it.

So what are you smelling? “Aromas” and “bouquet,” and, yes, they are different. Aromas come from the fruit itself, while the “bouquet” comes from the post-fermentation winemaking process as well as bottle aging.

Let’s use a Chardonnay wine as an example. The grape will naturally impart aromas evocative of tropical fruits, stone fruits and other fruits. If the wine is aged in oak barrels, it may begin to pick up secondary characteristics, such as vanilla and butterscotch—these are part of the “bouquet.”  Additionally, as the wine ages in the bottle, the fruit aromas may begin to fade while the bouquet will evolve into all sorts of interesting directions. 

A general rule of thumb: Use “aromas” when describing a wine in its youth, and then “bouquet” for a wine that has some bottle age on it. 

3.VINTAGE

This one is simple: The vintage signifies the year in which the grapes for the wine were harvested. 

In other words, our 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon was made from grapes harvested in the fall of 2018. Most fine wines have the vintage prominently displayed on the label, because this date of originis considered essential to communicating an essential aspect of the wine.  

However, you will sometimes encounter the term “non-vintage” or “NV” to describe a wine. This typically means that the wine is a blend of two or more wines from different vintages. 

4.BLEND

A wine “blend” is typically used to describe a wine composed of different grape varieties. For example, our Tooth & Nail “The Fiend” is a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah.  

It’s important to note that even varietal wines—say a wine labeled Cabernet Sauvignon or Zinfandel—may have small amounts of other varieties blended into them. 

But the term “blend” typically implies a wine composed of multiple grape varieties, and which does not carry a varietal designation. Wine blends often carry fanciful names, such as our very own “The Stand” and “The Possessor.” 

5. TANNINS

You will often hear the term “tannin” associated with red wines. When a wine is perceived to be high in tannins, it is often described as “tannic.” 

Tannins are natural polyphenols found in plants, seeds, wood, fruit skins and more. To the taste, they are bitter; texturally, they can be described as astringent. If you’ve ever bitten into an apple seed or an unripe pear, you know the sensation! 

Well, the same is true of grape skins and seeds. And since red winesare fermented on the skins and seeds, they extract tannins along the way. Wine can also pick up tannins from aging in oak barrels. In addition to shaping the mouthfeel of a wine, tannins also act as a preservative that can help a wine age gracefully. 

The bottom line: Tannins provide a sensation of structure and fullness to red wines, sometimes with a nice puckering or “dry” sensation on the finish. When tannins are overdone or out of balance, the wine may taste overly astringent. When managed well, however, they bring absolute magic to the mouthfeel. 


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