Wine Jargon: Wine Tasting Part I


In today and Thursday’s final installments of wine terms (see The Growing Process and The Wine Making Process), we focus on wine-tasting. Can anything be more annoying than hearing snooty tasters use all those descriptives about what’s in their glasses? Well actually, they’re not snooty at all. It’s just that what they’re saying seems odd to those of us not as familiar with the language.

So, let’s pull back the curtain and take a look at some of these terms. Maybe you’ll see that they actually make sense.

  • ACIDS: These add juiciness and crispness, and can also help lengthen the FINISH or AFTERTASTE. Acids also help preserve the wine during aging, and are part of its overall balance and structure.
  • AFTERTASTE: What lingers on your palate after you’ve sipped and swallowed. The “finish after the finish.”
  • AROMA: The “nose” or smell of a wine.
  • BACKWARD: Usually describes a younger wine that seems less developed than expected for its age.
  • BALANCE: Wine is “in balance” when its acids, fruit, and tannins are harmonious, and no single element stands out.
  • BIG: A full, rich, often ripe and extracted wine possessing full tannins and abundant fruit. Can also refer to a higher level of alcohol.
  • BLOWS OFF: Frequently used to describe the dissipation of an unwanted aroma.
  • BODY: The sense of weight or fullness of a wine on the palate. Often stated as “full-bodied,” “medium-bodied,” or “light-bodied.”
  • BOTTLE BOUQUET: The AROMA that develops in an older wine after it has been aged to maturity in the bottle.
  • BREATHE: Process of allowing the wine prolonged contact with air. Usually done by decanting, but often just by allowing it to sit in a glass for an extended time.
  • CHEWY: Rich, heavy, viscous, and full-bodied.
  • CLOSED: The temporary condition of being particularly reticent in aroma and/or flavor.
  • COMPLEXITY: A combination of richness, DEPTH, flavor intensity, focus, BALANCE, harmony, and finesse.
  • CORKED WINE: Wines with “cork taint,” a musty, moldy-newspaper AROMA and/or almost no flavors. Caused by TCA (trichloroanisole) infecting the cork, then transmitting it to the wine. It can occur regardless of the wine’s quality or price. The sensory threshold of TCA varies widely with people.
  • DECANTING: A process for separating the sediment from a wine before drinking, by slowly and carefully pouring it from its bottle into another container. Also used to oxygenate a young wine that’s CLOSED.
  • DEPTH: The complexity and concentration of flavors.
  • DUMB: A phase that young wines undergo when their flavors and aromas have not developed. A synonym of CLOSED. The cause and duration of this phase is a subject of controversy, with no scientific explanation.
  • EARTHY: Can be a positive or negative attribute. At its best, a pleasant, clean quality that adds complexity to aroma and flavors. The flip side is a funky, barnyard-y character.
  • ELEGANT: Smooth wines with grace, balance, and beauty.
  • EXTRACTION: Richness and DEPTH of fruit in a wine.
  • FINISH: The taste or flavors that linger in the mouth. A finish may be long, medium, or short.
  • FLABBY: Soft wines, lacking acidity on the palate. They may have a difficult time standing up to food.
  • FLESHY: Soft and smooth in texture, with very little tannin, yet with a CHEWY consistency on the PALATE.
  • FLINTY: An extremely dry white wine such as sauvignon blanc, whose AROMA is reminiscent of flint or rock.
  • FRESH: Having a lively, clean, and fruity character. Young wines should be fresh. Old wines, maybe not so much.
  • FRUITY: Having the aroma and taste of fruit or fruits.
  • GRASSY: A signature descriptor for sauvignon blanc, and a pleasant one unless overbearing and pungent.
  • GREEN: Tasting of unripened fruit. Also used by some to refer to a vegetal or bell pepper streak in the wine.
  • HERBACEOUS: The taste and smell of herbs, or even tobacco. Often used as a more friendly description of vegetal.
  • HOLLOW: A wine that lacks DEPTH at its center.
  • HOT: The taste or FINISH of a high-alcohol wine; one that tends to burn the palate on the finish.
  • INTEGRATED: All of the wine’s components are woven together almost seamlessly.
  • LEAFY: The slightly HERBACEOUS or vegetal quality reminiscent of green leaves.
  • LEAN: Made in an austere style, or otherwise lacking in fruit.
  • LEGS: The viscous droplets that form and ease down the sides of the glass when the wine is swirled. Way overrated!
  • LENGTH: The amount of time the aftertaste lingers in your mouth. Can be a synonym of FINISH.
  • LUSH: Wines that may seem a bit sweet, or taste soft or viscous, but otherwise are in BALANCE.

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