Guide to glassware

* Red-wine glasses are wider around, allowing more open surface area for the wine to "breathe." Exposing the wine to air is also the idea behind swirling the wine in a glass.

* White-wine glasses are a bit narrower than their red-wine counterparts, which means the wine isn't exposed to as much air. Also, there's less contact between your hand and the bottom of the glass, so chilled wine doesn't warm too quickly.

* Tall, thin champagne flutes are like an extreme form of the white-wine glass, helping the champagne retain its bubbles by reducing the surface area and limiting hand-holding to the long stem.

* Other variations include glasses designed for young white wines, dry sparkling wines and sweet sparkling wines. Generally, though, watch for edges that curve slightly in, which are used for fragrant wines because they hold onto aromas; and the especially broad bowls of red-wine glasses that direct the wine to the tip of the tongue.

Deciphering descriptions

Talking with wine shop owners always makes me wish I'd taken French or Italian instead of Spanish. But often, even my English wasn't up to par.

Buttery? Fleshy? It just tastes like red wine, right? And even if you know what tannins are, how do you know you're tasting them when you've never noticed them before?

Well, turns out it takes a lot of sipping - and, in my case, chatting - to learn the jargon of tasting terms.

To get started, take some notes. Get one of those blind wine-tasting kits, get together with some friends, and try several examples of one varietal to notice the subtle differences. And take a look at this primer.

Acid: a tart or sour taste created by high acidity levels

Balance: when the fruit, tannin, acidity and alcohol levels are equal, or one doesn't stand out above the others

Body: a wine with weight and texture on the tongue is described as having "body" or being "full-bodied"

Bright: a lively wine with intense flavors; usually describes whites or roses

Buttery: a creamy taste that rolls over the tongue, it's the result of lower acidity levels

Complex: a wine with many levels of flavors and aromas; the older a wine, the more complex, typically

Crisp: a refreshing, flinty taste of acidity

Dry: these wines have no hint of sweetness

Finish: a wine's taste after it lingers on the palate

Fleshy: a rich, fatty taste from a wine's body and texture

Jammy: a strong berry taste

Mouth-filling: a weighty feeling caused by intense levels of fruit, tannin, acidity and alcohol

Nose: a wine's aroma

Opens up: after they're poured and allowed to breathe, some wines develop flavors that weren't there immediately after uncorking the bottle

Smooth: wines with mild tannins and low levels of acidity

Tannin: found in the seeds and stems of grapes, bitter tannins cause the dry and puckered feeling many notice after drinking red wine; they're typically stronger in young wines and more mellow in aged wines

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