Some critics are so over-the-top in the phraseology they use to describe wine that their reviews serve to stymie, rather than stimulate, wine enjoyment.
That said, even some of the most common descriptors for wine – fruity, sweet and dry – can be misunderstood.
Let’s begin with “fruity.” Often, when someone hears that word, there is an assumption that the wine in question will be sweet. After all, isn’t virtually all fruit sweet?
In actuality, a wine is said to be fruity when its most prominent flavors are reminiscent of fruit flavors such as cherries, berries, peaches or apples. The wine itself could be completely dry (which we’ll define in a moment), yet still taste fruity.
Among white wines, the “fruity” description is commonly applied to Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Pinot Gris. Among reds, you’ll hear it uttered most commonly when Pinot Noir or Zinfandel is being consumed.
Now let’s deal with “dry.” A dry wine is one that has no sugar remaining following fermentation. But in common usage, the word is mistakenly used to describe a wine that may be somewhat lacking in fruit flavors – often, a wine that has spent a good amount of time aging in oak barrels.
The best example is Cabernet Sauvignon, a variety that can take years for its mouth-puckering tannins to subside. Those tannins, along with the oak influence, can create a sensation that many would (and do) describe as dry. But the actual definition of a dry wine deals strictly with its lack of residual sugar.
Finally, there’s “sweet.” Can a dry wine be perceived as sweet? Yes. Can a fruity wine be perceived as sweet? Yes.
But the only truly sweet wine is one that possesses some residual sugar following fermentation. It may be a little, such as in California renditions of Riesling or Kendall-Jackson’s ubiquitous Chardonnay, or it may be a lot, such as in dessert-style wines or Port.
Use terms such as fruity, sweet and dry correctly, and you’ll soon find it easier to describe the types of wine that you really like.