Part of the fun of exploring the world of wine goes beyond
simple tasting into an actual discussion with others. As you
begin to develop a more sophisticated palate, you’ll want to
discuss your experience with friends, family or even members
of a wine group. In order to do this you must be familiar
with the appropriate terminology used by the experts to
describe the characteristics of both red and whites.
Here is a
list in alphabetical order of some of the most important and
commonly used descriptive words and their meaning.
A quality in the flavor of the wine that is reminiscent
of citrus fruit. Tart, slightly acidic and crisp. Refreshing
even. You might find this prevalent in certain white wines.
Especially some new world product like those in New Zealand
and South Africa.
The flavors in wine are made up of a combination of
“elements”. These are fruitiness, sweetness, acidity, tannin
and alcohol. A wine can be described as “well balanced” when
all of the elements are in harmony and no one is
overwhelming or overpowering.
The term “body” is used to describe the experience of
lightness or heaviness in your mouth. This is especially
important when planning to pair a certain wine with a
specific food dish. A wine which is light has a more
delicate character and would normally be paired with foods
that are softer in character. These include most fish
dishes, veal and many cheeses. By contrast, wines which are
considered full bodied are an excellent accompaniment to
hearty stews, roasts and grilled food. You could also choose
a medium bodied wine which works well with meat and fish, as
well as some cheeses and surprisingly dark chocolate!
Wines that will be described as “big” are bold, rich and
full bodied often with an alcohol content of 13 ½% or more.
Cabernet Sauvignon and those fruity California Zinfandels
would fall into this category as well as most red wine
product from Australia.
A blend is a wine that is made of a several grape
varieties blended together to create a finished product. For
example, one of your favorite Italian bottles might be a
blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet and Merlot. These different
grapes give the wine a unique personality and flavor and add
layers to the taste. Champagne, which is one of the most
coveted and costly wine products in the world, is a blend of
three grape varietals. These are Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier
and Chardonnay. Each of these grape varietals has its job in
providing layers of elements which compound flavors into a
harmonious beverage with delightful depth.
The process of tasting a wine means more than just
sipping or (heaven forbid) gulping! When we “taste” wine we
examine a number of things including the color, the flavor
and the bouquet which is the scent or aroma of the wine.
Swirling and then sniffing the wine is done so that the
senses can detect flavors and elements. You might smell
chocolate, coffee, cherries, raspberries, pineapple or oak.
This element of wine tasting is also known as the “nose”
Often the more a wines “lies down” or ages, the more
complex it becomes. This is also true of wines that are more
expensive. These wines will have layer upon layer flavors,
aromas and what is known as characteristics. Often these
will change, develop and evolve the longer the wine is
exposed to air. That is why some wines actually improve when
they are allowed to “breathe”.
Wines that have very little or no sugar are referred to
a dry. You’ll know when you’ve tried a dry wine when your
mouth feels dry after having a sip. Unlike most other
beverages, water, juice, soft drinks that may quench a
thirst, dry wines give a more “puckered” feeling in the
Better wines are known to have a lengthy finish. That is
a taste and a sensation that you feel long after you have
swallowed. This is known as a long finish. Wines that
disappear from your palate immediately after you take a sip
are known as wines with “no finish” These would be less
expensive and probably inferior quality product.
A wine is said to be intense when the nose or bouquet,
as well as the flavor is powerful. Intense wines have loads
of flavor. These can be reds or whites. The word intense is
similar to the word “big” as mentioned previously, but big
wines are most often used by the experts when describing red
wines. However, if you’re “knocked out” by the flavor of the
wine red or white, you could then call it intense.
As previously mentioned, there are a number of steps
used in “tasting” wines. Some people will hold their glass
up to the light to examine its true color, then they swirl
it around in the glass so oxygen helps release the “esters”
bringing out a true flavor. Lastly, the smell and (of
course), the taste. When you swirl a wine around in the
glass or tip the glass to take a sip, look for clear
“strands” that will hug the inside of the glass. In bigger,
bolder, fuller bodied or intense wines, these “strands” are
known as “legs” If you see them you can then say, “this wine
has good legs”
Length is similar to finish, but the judging of length
also happens during the slow process of tasting the wine.
The discussion of length is really all about impression.
What kind of impression does the wine make on you during the
initial taste and after you have tasted.
Is just really another word for bouquet.
Most wines are aged in oak barrels and the distinctly
woody flavor remains and affects the wine long after it is
bottled. A good example of “oak-in-ess” occurs in many
Chardonnay wines. Here the oak flavor can be quite
prevalent. However, in some cases, winemakers will actually
add oak chips to the wine to flavor it. This generally
occurs in cheaper wines. When oak chips are added, in most
cases, the flavor of oak becomes quite intense, a little
like chewing on a 2 X 4. Strongly oaked wines have actually
fallen out of favor recently, especially with women buyers
who find the flavor too overwhelming. They are now more apt
to choose a fresher more citrus-y wine. Sauvignon Blanc or
unbaked chardonnay (Chablis) are now the popular choice.
However oaked wines still have their place. Some people
enjoy the heavy oak-in-ess with BBQ’s ribs and chicken.
(appellation in France)
Wine products can be heavily regulated to monitor
quality. These regulations are created by governments to
determine the place where grapes where grown. In France this
is known as “appellation”.
This refers to all wines which have bubbles. These
products include wines from all nations. Champagne is the
leader, of course. Most other countries have a version of
this popular wine product as well and this carbonation may
occur naturally during fermentation, (as in Champagne), or
added later. As a footnote, only products with grapes grown
in a specified region in the Champagne region of France,
(appellation in this case), can be officially named
Champagne. All other products are simply known as sparkling
Tannin is the element of taste of flavor or sensation
that occurs in red wine. Wine that is tannic causes a kind
of puckering effect on the palate. Some wines will lose this
element over time as they mellow, while others may never
lose it. Those that never lose it are seen as a less
desirable product by the experts. They are described as
A French word that refers to the place where the grapes
of a particular wine are grown. The important elements here
are soil, sunshine, rainfall and overall environment.
Terroir refers to the “somewhereness” of the grape.
Varietal is an agricultural term that refers to the type
of grape or variety of grape used to produce a certain wine.
Example, chardonnay is a varietal, as well as pinot noir and
This is the year the wine was made. For example, the
year 2000 was an excellent vintage for Bordeaux wines.