The 5 features of wine and how to taste them

The 5 features of wine and how to taste them

Ever wondered what you should be looking out for when picking a wine? We’ve definitely all been there! Thankfully there are some common features that are easy to understand when picking your next favourite drop. We’ll look at the five most common features that will give you a better chance of getting (and understanding!) what you love.

The best part about wine is everyone has a different experience and different tastes, but that is exactly why it’s hard to rely on wine rating websites, apps, or even people in your local bottle shop. This means the best way to learn is to go back to basics, find out what to look for in a wine and classify their fundamental traits - this way you know what you like best. To understand the basic features of wine you need to learn how to taste wine properly, so let’s dive right in!

The 5 basic features of wine

  1. Sweetness
  2. Tannin
  3. Acidity
  4. Fruit
  5. Body


Also known as the level of dryness. Often the first impression of a wine is its sweetness - and that starts from the tip of your tongue, which immediately detects if the wine is one with plenty of sugar, or plenty of rich and ripe fruit flavours. There might be residual sugar from fermentation, from grape sugar incompletely converted to alcohol. Alcohol itself is also a sweet liquid, so higher alcohol wines can give the perception of a ‘sweet’ taste. Tasting sweet notes is a tingling sensation on the tip of your tongue, even dry wines can have a hint of sweetness to carry a larger impression of body.

How do you taste sweetness in wine?

  • Tingling sensation on the tip of your tongue.
  • Slight oily sensation in the middle of your tongue that lingers.
  • Wine has a higher viscosity; wine ‘tears’ on side of glass slowly.
  • A bone-dry wine can often be confused with a wine with high tannin.

This is often a misunderstood feature of wine. It is often referred to as the level of dryness in a wine as tannins are known to dry your mouth, some critics say the charming phrase ‘like sucking on a sponge’ - but if you’ve had a young but deep red, you’ll know what they mean! So what are wine tannins? Tannin in wine is the what adds the bitterness. It is the presence of phenolic compounds, for the sciencey people out there. This compound is found in the skins and seeds of the grapes as well as wood such as oak, which can also be added to the wine through the aging process. Why would you add tannins to wine you ask? Well tannin adds balance, complexity, structure and also plays a big part in making a wine last longer.

How does a high tannin wine taste?

  • Tannin makes your tongue and inside of your cheeks have a sensation of drying out.
  • Tastes bitter on the front inside of your mouth and along the side of your tongue.
  • After you swallow you feel a lingering bitter/dry feeling in your mouth.
  • Tannin can often be confused with the term ‘dry’, because it dries your mouth out, but when it comes to wine, ‘dry’ refers to its sweetness.


Wines with high acidity can be called tart or zesty. For example, red wines are generally described as having more ‘tart’ features, whereas white wines are often described to have features similar to lemon or lime juice, aka ‘zesty’ features. A common mistake with acidity is tasting higher levels of alcohol. It is also common for wines grown in cooler climates to have a higher acidity.

How to tell a wine's acidity:

  • Your mouth feels wet, like you bit into an apple.
  • Tingling sensation that focuses on the front and sides of your tongue.
  • If you rub your tongue to the roof of your mouth it feels gravelly.


You will read about wines having many flavours or notes. A wine is often described by its main fruit flavour and tasting for fruit flavours in a wine can help better pick your preferences. Additionally, different growing regions can have an effect on the level of fruitiness that you taste in a wine.

Questions to ask when tasting fruitiness in a wine:

  • Red Wine: does it have red fruits such as raspberry, or dark fruits like blackberry and blueberry?
  • White Wine: can you taste lemon and lime or peach and yellow apple?
  • Can you name 3 different fruits easily?
  • Do you find it difficult to pick out a single fruit flavour?
  • Does a wine give you stronger impressions of other flavours such as grass, bell pepper, black pepper, or olive?


Light, medium or full-bodied wine? We’ve all heard these terms thrown around but what do they actually mean? Body can be the result of many factors, for instance wine variety, where it is from, the age (vintage), the alcohol level and how it is made. Full-bodied wines are big and powerful. In contrast, light-bodied wines are more delicate and lean. Medium-bodied wines fall somewhere in between.

Questions to ask when tasting body in wine

  • How does the wine compare to other wines you’ve tasted? Lighter? Bigger?
  • Does the wine taste ‘full’ up front, but then drop off at the finish?
  • How long does the taste last in your mouth after you’ve swallowed? 5 seconds? 30 seconds?

There you have it! Now is time to put your new insight into tasting wine to the test - so open a bottle for educational purposes :)

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