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The First Name in South African Wine

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Tasting vocabulary

Your tasting vocabulary

Before we get into a great deal of detail, here is a helpful little cheat sheet. Learn these few words and what they mean, and you’re about halfway to understanding wine tasting. It’ll also make wine tasting more enjoyable for you, because you’ll understand what the staff are talking about when introducing the wines. 

Remember that we at Perold Wine Cellar are there to help you, and we are accustomed to guiding everyone—from rookie to veteran—through the wine tasting experience. Don’t be afraid to ask questions! They’re there to help you learn and have a good time.


The word “varietal” simply refers to the type of grape used to make the wine.


“Tannins” are a compound that occurs in wine. They are responsible for the dry taste of red wines. It’s the same kind of taste that you’ll find in strong tea. The word is typically only used to describe the dry mouth-feel of a red wine: most white wines don’t have noticeable tannins on the palate.


Some wine is matured in oak barrels. In white wines, this is responsible for a richer flavour, and will bring out caramel, vanilla, straw, and buttery flavours. It also makes the wine a deeper yellow colour. Not all white wines are matured in wood, but almost all red wines are matured in barrels. The longer the wine is wooded for, the more complex the flavour: you’ll detect spice, smoke, and other rich, deep notes.


Wines are affected by the kind of climate the vines grow in. Rainfall and temperature can make a big difference. “Terroir” refers to all the environmental factors that go into the grape, including the soil type, geological factors, climate, elevation, and even what other organisms are growing nearby.


Pay attention to the colour of the wine: it can tell you a lot. In red wines, it is a clear indication of age. Younger reds are a bright red or purple, while aged reds take on a brownish hue. In whites, it can indicate whether the wine was matured in wood or not. The wood gives white wine a yellower colour. Rosé wine colour is affected by how long the skins of the red grape are left on before the liquid is separated. A subtle, pale pink might only have had under an hour of skin contact, while a deeper pink indicates a longer skin contact time.


The “nose” of a wine refers to the scent you can pick up – florals, spices, wood, and any other elements. Once you refine your nose, it’ll tell you a lot about what you’re drinking before you even take a sip.