15 Wine Tasting Terms to Know Before Your Visit to CGT

 In CGT Blog

15 Wine Tasting Terms to Know Before Your Tasting

Going wine tasting without knowing the most-used wine terms can be like watching the sequel of a movie without first seeing the original. Sure, you may enjoy it, but there’s a good chance you’re going to be a little lost.

Don’t worry: You don’t need sommelier-level knowledge to enjoy a tasting experience at Chateau Grand Traverse. We’re here to help and happy to answer your questions, but having a basic understanding of the following wine terms can improve your wine tasting experience.

Wine Dictionary Terms to Know 

Before hopping into the terms that help describe the taste of a wine, there are also a handful of terms you should know to better appreciate the work that goes into each wine.


The acidity balances the sweetness and bitter elements of a wine, which ultimately dictates if it tastes fresh, tart, or sour. Rieslings, which are popular in northern Michigan, are high in acidity. That’s why these wines tend to be more tart. Chardonnay grapes tend to be lower in acidity.

Early Harvest

An early harvest wine is made using grapes picked earlier in the harvest season, resulting in a wine that’s dryer and contains a lower level of alcohol.

Late Harvest

One of Chateau Grand Traverse’s most popular wines is our Late Harvest Riesling. As its name suggests, the Riesling grapes for this wine are picked later in the season. More time on the vine equals sweeter grapes, which results in a sweeter profile. Many enjoy late-harvest wines after dinner or with a dessert.

Wine Legs

You might see someone at your tasting swirling the wine to the top of their glass and examining how it falls down the edges. Those strings of droplets are the wines’ legs, sometimes referred to as “tears.” Wine legs don’t dictate the quality of a wine. They do give you more information, though. Higher alcohol wines, for instance, tend to produce more legs. More legs can also mean higher sugar content, which can prepare you for a sweeter wine.

Master the Basic Wine Tasting Dictionary

These wine descriptors will not only let you appreciate your wine tasting more. They’ll also make you sound pretty impressive around friends and family at your tasting.

Sweetness Levels

The amount of residual sugar, the unfermented natural sugar from the grapes left in the wine for you to taste, dictates a wine’s level of sweetness. Know these terms to best describe that sweetness:


Most wines considered “dry” have about one gram of residual sugar. Higher quality red wines tend to feature less residual sugar in the final product. While dry wines aren’t sweet, you can still pick up on fruit flavors, in addition to more interesting profiles, like vanilla and caramel.


When you double or triple the amount of residual sugar found in a dry wine, you get what’s referred to as “off-dry.” Most off-dry (also called semi-dry) wines tend to be made with white grapes, like Riesling. They tend to have 2-3 grams of residual sugar.


As the amount of residual sugar increases, so does the sweetness. The sweetest wines can have up to 28 grams of residual sugar and are typically designated as dessert wines. Most conventionally sweet wines, though, have 4-8 grams of residual sugar, enough to give it a sweet profile. Anything higher than 8-10 grams would typically be considered a dessert wine.


The body describes how “light” or “heavy” the wine feels on your palette. That feeling is a combination of the wine’s alcohol level, acidity and amount of residual sugar.


Light-bodied wines are refreshing on a hot summer day. They typically feature higher acidity and lower alcohol, and leave a memorable tingling sensation on your tongue after a few sips. These wines, including our 2017 Grü Vin Grüner Veltliner, tend to be described as zesty and crisp.


Medium-bodied wines tend to be lighter reds that can be described as spicy, but also tart and soft. White wines typically aren’t ever considered medium-bodied, but rosés, including our 2019 Pinot Noir Rose Vin Gris, certainly fall in that category. Medium-bodied wines are quite versatile when it comes to pairing with a variety of foods.


Intense. Bold. Rich. These are a few words used to describe full-bodied wines. These wines are higher in alcohol content (14% ABV and higher) and provide more texture to your palette. That’s why full bodied wines, like our 2016 Merlot Reserve,  pair well with fattier dinners, like steak. These are almost exclusively red wines.


A wine’s finish, or aftertaste, is the most prevalent factor a taster references when determining if a wine is good or bad. These are the most common finishes you’ll experience during a wine tasting:

Bitter Finish

Bitter doesn’t always mean bad. The tannins (another important term that describes the texture and complexity of a wine when it’s in your mouth) found in red wines can sometimes leave an unpleasant aftertaste. But when you pair a red wine with a bitter finish with fattier foods, it can create a delightful sensation on your palette.

Spicy Finish

Think about the sensation of sniffing wasabi and then tasting it for the first time. That would be the extreme side of a wine with a spicy finish. It wakes you up. It’s a tad peppery and often described as sharp. Cabernet Sauvignons and Gewürztraminers are known for spicy finishes.

Tart Finish

Higher acidity wines with more residual sugars tend to have a tart finish. You will find more of these wines in northern Michigan because the grapes that produce tart finishes thrive in cooler climates. The best leaves that tingling sensation in your mouth for several seconds after each sip.

Put Your Wine Tasting Terms Knowledge to Good Use

Now that you’re equipped with some basic wine terms, it’s time to put your knowledge to the test. Come to Chateau Grand Traverse for a tasting and then enjoy a glass on our patio – complete with breathtaking views! Want to learn more about our wines ahead of your visit? We can help with that, too.