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A Wine Taster's Glossary
Wine tasters love to talk about wine, and they often use terms and descriptions that can be a bit confusing or intimidating to beginners. "Winespeak," as wine writer Hugh Johnson refers to it, is not really all that esoteric once you know some of the descriptive terms, what they mean and how they are used in talking or writing about wine. Is the wine sharp, or round? Is it earthy or buttery? Does it have finesse? Becoming familiar with some of these and other terms helps in understanding what a wine is like, makes it easier and more fun. Listed below are some of the words frequently encountered at wine tastings or in publications that cover the subject.
Vinegary taste or smell that develops when a wine is overexposed to air.
All wines naturally contain acids, which should be in proper balance with fruit and other components. Sufficient acidity gives liveliness and crispness and is critical for wines to age.
The flavor impression the wine leaves after it is swallowed. Also referred to as the "finish" of a wine. Fine wines have a lingering finish, or aftertaste.
The smell of a wine, especially young wines.
A term for wines with pronounced aroma, particularly those redolent of herbs or spices.
The "puckerish" quality of high tannin content, which has the effect of drying out the mouth. Many young red wines are astringent because of tannin.
Somewhat hard, with restrained fruit and character.
Harmony among the wine's components -- fruit, acidity, tannins, alcohol; a well-balanced wine possesses the various elements in proper proportion to one another.
Powerful in aroma and flavor; full-bodied.
Usually considered a fault in but characteristic of such wines as Amarone and certain other Italian reds.
The weight and texture of a wine; it may be light-bodied or full-bodied. Often refers to alcohol content.
A mold that attacks certain grapes, producing honeyed sweet wines like Sauternes and late-harvest Rieslings.
The complex of aromas that develops with age in fine wines; young wines have aroma, not bouquet.
Similar to good bloodlines and handling, as in racehorses; the result of soil, grapes and vinification techniques that combine to produce depth and distinctive character in a wine.
Term used to measure the sugar content of grapes, grape juice (must) or wine. Grapes are generally harvested at 20 to 25 Brix, resulting in alcohol after fermentation of 11.5 to 14 percent.
Term for dry Champagne or sparkling wine.
Descriptor for rich flavor and smoothness of texture, somewhat akin to the oiliness and flavor of butter. More often refers to oak-aged white wines than reds; many Chardonnays and white Burgundies are said to have buttery aromas and flavors.
Wines with unusual thickness of texture or tannins that one almost "chews" before swallowing.
Fresh, with no discernible defects; refers to aroma, appearance and flavor.
Young, undeveloped wines that do not readily reveal their character are said to be closed. Typical of young Bordeaux or Cabernet Sauvignon, as well as other big red wines.
Rude or harsh in flavor; clumsy or crude.
Mature, with good follow-through on the palate, satisfying mouth-feel and firm aftertaste.
Multifaceted aroma and/or flavor. Most wines considered great exhibit a combination of flavor and aroma elements.
Heavy, pruney flavor; also said of wines from very hot growing regions or wines that are overripe.
Smelling of cork rather than wine; due to a faulty cork.
Fresh, brisk character, usually with high acidity.
Having layers of persistent flavor that gradually unfold with aeration.
Light fragrance, flavor, and body.
Mature. A well-developed wine is more drinkable than an undeveloped one.
Elegant, refined character that sets the wine apart on its own.
Opposite of sweet; somewhat subjective in that tasters may perceive sweetness to varying degree.
Lacking liveliness and proper acidity; uninteresting.
Not revealing flavor or aroma; closed; typical of wines that are too young or too cold.
Smell or flavor reminiscent of earth. A certain earthiness can be appealing; too much makes the wine coarse.
Refined character, distinguished quality, stylish, not heavy.
A term used on Champagne labels to indicate not-quite-dry; not as dry as Brut.
Full of body and flavor; fleshy.
Distinctive balance; fineness; elegance and flair.
Aftertaste, or final impression the wine leaves; it can have a long finish or a short one (not desirable).
Taut balance of elements; tightly knit structure; also distinct flavor.
Dull, lacking in liveliness; wine without sufficient acid.
How the wine tastes.
Fatness of fruit; big, ripe.
Dry, mineral character that comes from certain soils, mostly limestone, in which the wine was grown; typical of French Chablis and Loire Valley Sauvignon Blancs (Sancerre).
Aroma suggestive of flowers.
Developed ahead of its peers; also, when the fruit is prominent, it is said to be forward.
The "grapey" flavors of wines made from native American grapes, Vitis labrusca.
Aroma and/or flavor of grapes; most common to young, light wines but refers also to such fruit flavors in wine as apple, black currant, cherry, citrus, pear, peach, raspberry, or strawberry; descriptive of wines in which the fruit is dominant.
Full proportion of flavor and alcohol; big, fat.
A wine made from unripe grapes that is tart and lacking fruit flavor.
Firmness of flavor and structure.
Stiff, with pronounced tannins; undeveloped.
All elements -- fruit, acid, tannin -- in perfect balance
Rough, biting character from excessive tannin or acid.
High in alcohol, very full-bodied
Aromas reminiscent of fresh grass or hay; grassy, as in certain Sauvignon Blancs; also the green pepper character of some Cabernets.
Reminiscent of herbs, such as mint, sage, thyme, or of eucalyptus.
Without flaws, typical and straightforward, simple but not great.
Smell or taste reminiscent of honey, characteristic of late-harvest wines affected by "noble rot" (Botrytis cinerea).
Interweaving of subtle complexities of aroma and flavor.
The viscous rivulets that run down the side of the glass after swirling or sipping, a mingling of glycerin and alcohol.
Refers to wines light in alcohol but also to texture and weight, how the wine feels in the mouth. Lightness is appropriate in some wines, a defect in others.
Crisp, fresh, having vitality.
Fine wines should have a long finish, or aftertaste; see Length.
Rich, opulent, and smooth; most often said of sweet wines but also intensely fruity ones.
Wine that has oxidized; has brown or amber color and stale odor.
Fully developed, ready to drink.
A wine with chewy, fleshy fruit; sturdy and firm in structure.
Smooth and soft, with no harshness.
Wines with the smell of mold or rot, usually from grapes affected by rot or from old moldy casks used for aging.
Vigorous fruit, powerful body and flavor; robust.
Stale, dusty or rank aromas.
Great; of perfect balance and harmonious expression. The so-called "noble" grapes are those that produce the world's finest wines: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Riesling (some would also include Syrah, Nebbiolo and Sangiovese).
The smell of the wine; it may have a "good nose" or an "off-nose," meaning defective odors.
Nutlike aromas that develop in certain wines, such as sherries or old white wines.
Aroma and flavor that derive from aging in oak casks or barrels. Characterized by smokiness, vanilla, clove or other spices. Should not be overly pronounced.
Not quite dry, a perception of sweetness too faint to call the wine sweet.
Off-flavors (also off-aromas or off-nose)
Not quite right; flavors or odors that are not correct for a particular type of wine; opposite of clean; defective.
Revealing full character.
Flat, stale or sherrylike aroma and flavor; spoiled as the result of overexposure to air.
A light sparkle.
Full, opulent flavor, body and aroma.
Mature, fully ripe fruit.
Full-bodied, powerful, heady
Harsh edges, biting, unpleasant.
Smooth and well-developed flavor, without angularity or rough edges.
Biting acid or tannin.
Refers to finish, or aftertaste, when it ends abruptly.
Smooth, sinuous texture and finish.
Opposite of complex; straightforward.
Aroma and flavor sometimes associated with oak aging.
May refer to soft, gentle fruit in delicate wines, or to lack of acidity in wines without proper structure; used on a label occasionally to indicate low alcohol.
Sound, well structured, firm.
Sharply acidic or vinegary
Wines with bubbles created by trapped carbon dioxide gas, either natural or injected.
Having the character or aroma of spices such as clove, mint, cinnamon, or pepper.
Slight prickle of carbon dioxide, common to some very young wines; frizzante in Italy.
Firmly structured; taut balance tending toward high acidity.
Unyielding, closed; dumb.
Robust, powerful, big.
The way a wine is built; its composition and proportions.
Big, flavorful, full-bodied wines are said to have "stuffing."
Bold, vigorous flavor; full-bodied; robust.
An anti-oxidant used in making most wines; the fermentation process creates minute natural amounts.
Yielding in flavor; a wine that is readily accessible for current drinking.
Usually indicates the presence of residual sugar, retained when grape sugar is not completely converted to alcohol. Even dry wines, however, may have an aroma of sweetness, the combination of intense fruit or ripeness. Considered a flaw if not properly balanced with acidity.
A natural component found to varying degrees in the skins, seeds and stems of grapes; most prominent in red wines, where it creates a dry, puckering sensation in young reds of concentrated extract; mellows with aging and drops out of the wine to form sediment; a major component in the structure of red wines.
sharp; acceptable if not too acidic.
Dense and heavy in texture.
Lacking body and flavor.
Past its peak of flavor development; old.
Astringent or hard; wiry; tannic.
A scent imparted by aging in oak.
Smooth and rich in texture.
Firm, lively fruit, strong body; assertive flavor.
Having the smell of vinegar; see also Acetic.
Volatile, Volatile Acidity (VA)
Smells of acetic acid and/or ethyl acetate, quite disagreeable when excessive though a tiny amount may enhance aromas.
Thin, lacking in flavor.
Lacking grip typical for the wine; without character
Aromas or flavors reminiscent of hay or grasses; not necessarily unpleasant unless exaggerated.
Strong, powerful, full-bodied, forceful.
Excessive aromas of wood, common to wines aged overlong in cask or barrel.
A bready smell, sometimes detected in wines that have undergone secondary fermentation, such as Champagne; very appealing if not excessive.
In simple wines signifies youthful freshness; in finer wines, refers to immaturity, wines as yet undeveloped