Wine Tasting Terms

by winenews on Oct.23, 2008, under Tips & Terms

Most of the words professional “wine people” use about wine are standard and widely accepted terms for delineating particular characteristics.   This specific language helps those who are in the wine business to communicate with one another and understand complex concepts without the need for tedious explanation.

The full spectrum of wine language includes terms that are too technical and obscure for people with only a general interest in wine to understand.   However, there are words that can aid you in understanding wine books, reviews, and wine people in general.  Many of these terms are related so be sure to review the capitalized terms used in some of the definitions.


One of the primary components of a wine’s taste. Acidity must be finely tuned if a wine is to have BALANCE. If a wine has too little acid, it becomes DULL; if it has too much, it becomes too tart or sour on the palate. Controlling acidity, both in the vineyard and in the winery, is a large part of the winemaker’s job.


A specific smell in a wine. One might speak of the “floral aroma” of a Riesling, for example. Contrast this with the more general term NOSE.


Having a pronounced and specific impact on the olfactory sense. Herbal, floral, or spicy are some descriptors for aromatic wines.


A harmonious interplay among the many components of a wine, including ACIDITY, TANNINS, TEXTURE, and OAK.


Robust, intense, full-bodied, and high in alcohol. Synonym: FAT.


The richness and viscosity of a wine, which is usually tied closely to the amount of alcohol in the wine. Among reds, Cabernet Sauvignon typically has more body than Pinot Noir, for example. Body also affects both the COLOR and the MOUTH FEEL of a wine.


Pronounced boh-TRI-tis sin-EHR-ee-uh, this is a desirable fungus (also called “noble rot”) that can attack grapes left on the vine past ripeness. Many late-harvest and dessert wines are affected by botrytis. Botrytized wines have added extract (those substances that contribute to the character and flavor of a wine) and, consequently, are richer, with a distinctive honeylike taste.


A term (seldom used today) that refers to a wine’s smell, particularly the AROMAS that wines acquire as they age. See also the more current term NOSE.




A term designating a sparkling wine or Champagne that is bone-DRY to the taste.


A quality of finesse and BALANCE, without heaviness or coarseness. See also ELEGANT.


Having the taste of butter. Actually, the compound that can give wine a buttery taste is the same one that is found in butter. Wines that have undergone MALOLACTIC FERMENTATION are commonly found to have buttery flavor qualities.


This is one of the most important characteristics of good wine. Modern technology has made it possible to avoid the dirt and spoilage that used to plague the winemaking process. Well-made wines should always be clean.


There are times in a wine’s maturation process when it seems to retreat into itself. Its aromas close down and flavors become tight and restrained. Usually, in a few months, the wine will open up again. See OPEN.


Crude, simple, and lacking finesse. See RUSTIC.


A quality that is sometimes overlooked by novice wine drinkers, a wine’s color gives an indication of its BODY, its VARIETAL makeup, and the methods of its production. Ideally, no matter what its hue, a wine should be limpid and clean-looking, with no murkiness.


Having depth and subtlety of flavor.


This refers to fresh, fruity ACIDITY, which is a highly desirable quality, especially for white wines. Synonyms: SNAPPY, TART, and BRISK.


In wine parlance, “dry” is the opposite of “sweet.” A dry wine has little or no residual sugar after fermentation.


Flat, lifeless, lacking crispness, and ultimately boring.


Having complexity and finesse without being aggressive or heavy.


See BIG.


The way a wine tastes after it has been swallowed; the lingering effects of a wine in the mouth.


The taste of fresh fruits — particularly grapes. This is a characteristic of well-made young wines. New World wines are often characterized as being fruitier than their Old World counterparts, although many European wines are now being made in a fruitier style.


An HERBACEOUS flavor that is often characteristic of Sauvignon Blanc. Attractive as part of a whole, but overbearing when too pronounced.


Another characteristic that is desirable in a small quantity. Subtle herbal flavors are frequently associated with Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc. Contrast VEGETAL.


The lees are the dregs (mainly yeast and grape pulp) that remain on the bottom of the wine’s fermentation tank. Aging a wine “on the lees” usually gives it a richer, more complex, “leesy” taste, especially in white wines.


A pronounced and invigorating sensation on the palate.


With flavors lasting a long time in the mouth after the wine has been tasted.


Having a soft mouth feel, with rounded flavors in BALANCE.


A secondary fermentation that converts malic acid to lactic acid. Not all wines undergo malolactic fermentation, but those that do acquire a softer, more buttery quality. Also called MALO, for short.


The way a wine feels (as opposed to tastes) in the mouth; e.g., thin, oily, sumptuous, or viscous.


The foam in a sparkling wine. A very fine, tight mousse structure is considered desirable.


A shorthand term for the combined effects of a wine’s smell in the glass. A large part of any wine’s appeal lies in its nose. See also the related but now seldom used term BOUQUET.


The flavors of wood, toast, and vanilla, which come from fermentation in good oak barrels. A judicious use of oak can add complexity and polish, but overuse (especially in American and Australian Chardonnays) has been much commented on by wine writers in recent years.


Wines go through various stages during maturation. When a wine is at its most generous, affording easily accessible aromas and flavors, then it is said to be open. See CLOSED.


A spoilage condition caused by excessive exposure to air, oxidation causes a wine to brown and lose its fruitiness and freshness. Deliberate exposure to oxygen is, however, part of the character of some wines — Oloroso Sherries, for example. See RANCIO.


A wine that has been given its own distinctive name, such as Flora Springs Trilogy or Caymus Vineyards Conundrum. Proprietary wines are often blends, which do not legally qualify to be labeled as a single-varietal wine (Chardonnay, Merlot, etc.).


A desirable quality similar to oxidization that adds a nutty, earthy complexity. It is brought about in certain fortified wines and brandies by exposure to air or heat.


The dried-grape flavor that appears in wines made from overripe fruit.


Unfermented sugar that remains in a finished wine.


Simple, unassuming, and lacking in finesse or pretension. Rusticity can be charming in certain less expensive wines but is undesirable in expensive bottles.


Smooth; light in texture and mouth feel.




Lacking harshness; smoothly textured.


A very important element of any wine, especially reds. A good Cabernet Sauvignon, for instance, should have a firm backbone of ACIDITY, upon which all of its other characteristics hang. This backbone gives the wine structure and indicates that it will age well. Without structure a wine is flabby, shapeless, lacking in promise, and ultimately flawed.


Characteristic of young red wines, tannin manifests itself as an astringent, puckery feeling in the mouth. It can be a product of the grape’s pits, stems, and skins, or of the oak in which the wine is stored. In an ideal scenario, the tannins eventually soften and allow the fruit and VARIETAL character of the wine to show through.




A French word that refers to the influence that the combination of soil, climate, and situation have on the flavor of a wine.


The physical structure of a wine’s BODY. Wines can be thin, viscous, grainy, or silky. See the related term MOUTH FEEL.


A wine made completely or predominantly from one grape VARIETY. Often used erroneously to refer to a grape variety.


A specific type of grape. Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Blanc, for example, are grape varieties. The wines made from these grapes are called VARIETAL wines.


The particular flavor of the grape VARIETY used in making the wine. Definitely a desirable characteristic.


Soft, thick, and smooth on the palate.


Smelling or tasting of vegetables. This could manifest itself in a number of ways, all of them unattractive. Some of the more common vegetable likenesses that crop up are bell peppers, asparagus, and broccoli. Contrast HERBACEOUS.


A vinegary taste brought about by the presence of acetic acid and ethyl acetate. Acceptable in small amounts but very undesirable in large quantities.

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