Wine Tasting Terms


ACIDITY
One of the primary components of a wine's taste. Acidity must be finely tuned if a wine is to have

AROMA
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.

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

BALANCE
A harmonious interplay among the many components of a wine, including Acidity, Tannins, Texture and Oak.

BIG
Robust, intense, full-bodied, and high in alcohol.

BODY
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.

BOTRYTIS CINEREA (boh-TRI-tis sin-EHR-ee-uh)
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.

BOQUET
A term (seldom used today) that refers to a wine's smell, particularly the Aromas that wines acquire as they age. See also Nose

BRISK
See Crisp

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

BREEDING
A quality of finesse and Balance, without heaviness or coarseness. See Elegant

BUTTERY
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.

CLEAN
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.

CLOSED
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.

COARSE
Crude, simple, and lacking finesse. See RUSTIC.

COLOR
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.

COMPLEX
Having depth and subtlety of flavor.

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

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

DULL
Flat, lifeless, lacking crispness, and ultimately boring.

ELEGANT
Having complexity and finesse without being aggressive or heavy.

FAT
See BIG.

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

FRUITY
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.

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

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

LEES, LEESY
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.

LIFT, LIFTED
A pronounced and invigorating sensation on the palate.

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

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

MALOLACTIC FERMENTATION
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.

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

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

NOSE
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.

OAKY
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.

OPEN
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.

OXIDIZED
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.

PROPRIETARY
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.).

RANCIO
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.

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

RESIDUAL SUGAR
Unfermented sugar that remains in a finished wine.

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

SILKY
Smooth; light in texture and mouth feel.

SNAPPY
See CRISP.

SOFT
Lacking harshness; smoothly textured.

STRUCTURE
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.

TANNIC, TANNINS
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.

TART
See CRISP.

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

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

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

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.

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

VELVETY
Soft, thick, and smooth on the palate.

VEGETAL
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.

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