White wines – what are those weird words on the label all about?

Wine itself is rarely difficult to digest, but do you ever find yourself wondering what on earth’s going on in the tasting notes?

It used to happen to me all the time. I’d take my first swig, think “YES, a good one” and turn the bottle to find out what’s behind all the deliciousness.

Only to be hit by a mumbo-jumbo deluge of strange words I didn’t understand.

Limpid… Botrytis… Lanolin…

Words like these are one of the main reasons I ended up doing so much research into wines and becoming the “connoisseur” that I am today. I’m curious like that, like to know why things taste the way they do.

And if you’re anything like me, you’ll have wondered what these extraordinary expressions mean yourself.

So if you’re planning to crack open a white or two now that the weather’s finally heating up, and you want to know exactly what’s going on in your bottle, take a quite tour of the terminology of white wines with me….

Deciphering dry white wine terminology

Dry white wine has risen in popularity over the last decade and it’s about to hit its busy season now that the sun’s finally out.

So if you’re partial to a Sauv or Chenin Blanc or a Pinot Gris, but you’ve got no idea how to interpret the strange words on the label of your favourite bottle, here’s a glossary to help!

Buttery – this is all to do with texture, and means you should notice a rich, creaminess to your glass (usually because of the presence of lactic acid from barrel fermentation).

Floral – no prizes for getting what sorts of flavours this word indicates. But it could be referring to anything from acacia to apply blossom, elderflower to jasmine, even lavender and carnations!

Hazelnut – both hazelnut and honeysuckle flavours are typically found in Chardonnays grown in Meursault.

Limpid – the sign of any good white: complete transparency. Think clear water, with a little bit of colour!

Melony - contrary to what you might think, this word isn’t only used to mean “it tastes like melon”. More often, it means that there are ripe flavours going on, often tied in with exotic fruits, like pineapple and guava. You see it on Chardonnay labels all the time.

New wood – you’ll have noticed vanilla notes in plenty of dry whites, and it’s down to the aromas that come from barrels made of new oak.

Understanding aromatic and sweet white wine words

At the opposite end of the scale from the likes of your dry Furmints and Chablis, you’ve got the sweeter wines, like Auslese Rielsings, Moscato and Sauternes. These are the ones that are so sweet they’ll stick to the sides of your glass like the oil in your car’s engine.

But how do wine writers explain those textures and flavours? Here are five simple terms that’ll help you decode the label on your next bottle…

Botrytis – when winemakers reduce the amount of water in their grapes, they encourage “noble rot” to increase the sugars. Botrytis cinerea’s another name for noble rot, and it’s basically just a beneficial mould that makes the wine naturally sweeter.

Gold – gold always sounds good but what does it mean? Generally it’s about detecting the ripeness, sweetness and maturity of the wine from its colour. The more mature the wine, the more amber the gold colour will become.

Heady – just as simple as it sounds, this term means that the wine’s concentration of richness will literally go to your head!

Honeyed – no, this doesn’t mean honey’s been poured into your glass on the sly. It’s simple that the richness and ripeness of the wine is such that it smells like bees have been involved in the making!

Lanolin – ever noticed a distinctive whiff of oil on your glass of sweet white? That’ll be down to the sulphur compounds and yeast influences and – done right – it’s a good thing!

Spotted an even weirder word on a label that I haven’t covered here? Drop an email to hello@myvirtualconnoisseur.co.uk, tell me what it is and I’ll do my best to enlighten you!

Bottoms up!