Wine tasting terms and their meanings

These terms are used by some professionals which help to describe the layers and structure of a wine.

Aroma - what you smell; flavour and aroma are in practical terms indistinguishable because you can only sense flavour as a vapour via the nose

Aromatic - particularly smelly (in a good way)

Astringent - can mean lightly tannic or lead to the sensation of puckering of the inside of the mouth (used mainly for whites).

Balance - this tends to be the most important aspect of wine. A wine is well balanced when the acidity, sweetness, tannin an alcohol all work harmoniously

Body - roughly the same as alcoholic strength; potent wines are full-bodied, whereas relatively weak ones are light bodied, or just light.

Bouquet - Sometimes used for the complex aromas that develops in a mature wine.

Clean - without any perceptible faults.

Crisp - has an attractive but not excessive amount of acidity

Finish - The duration of the aftertaste; a wine is said to have a long finish, or be long, if it lingers on the palate, but is short if there is no, or hardly any aftertaste.

Flabby - uncomfortably low in acidity

Fresh - very like crisp, but with very slightly less acidity and a definite suggestion of youthful fruit

Fruity - generally full of fruit(s) of any sort - by no means necessarily grapey

Grassy - smells of fresh green grass, typical of Sauvignon Blanc

Herbaceous - Smells of green leaves, often found in less than fully ripe Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc and Semillion.

Hot - delivers a warm or even burning aftertaste, generally the result of an excess of alcohol.

Length - see finish

Mature - A wine that has clearly evolved in the bottle to become complex, but has not yet started to become dried out

Mineral - much-used, much-discussed umbrella term for flavours that are not in the fruit, vegetable or animal spectrum but seem instead to be more reminiscent of stones, metals or chemically derived aromas.

Mouth-feel - originally an American term for a wines texture, but now is usually denotes power together with a lack of aggressive tannins.

Nose - the most important bit of our tasting equipment, but tasters also refer to the smell of a wine as its nose, or describe aromas detected 'on the nose'

Oaky - a wine that has been in contact with oak (whether casks, chips or staves) during ageing is known as 'oaked', while the wine that tastes overtly of oak is called 'oaky'.

Oxidised - wine that has been exposed to too much oxygen, or air in general and thereby looses its fruit and freshness and is on the way to vinegar. This is why care should be taken with leftovers to minimise the space above the wine in the bottle. 

Palate - one of the most frequently misspelt words in wine and an umbrella terms an individuals tasting equipment (as in 'she has a seriously good palate') but also more specifically for what happens in the mouth (as apposed to the nose). Wine can make an impact on the front palate at the beginning of the tasting experience in the mouth, on the mid palate, and finally on the back palate. You might also refer to a wines impression 'on the palate'.

Petilant - lightly sparkling

Round - without particularly obvious tannin but not dangerously soft

Short - see finish

Sulphur - the most common antioxidant used for millennia in the production of wine (and juices and dry fruits). Small amounts occur naturally in winemaking and are harmless to most people but asthmatics may well react to sulphur, which is why most wines carry the warning 'contains sulphites'. Heavy concentrations can cause a tickle in the back of anyones throat. Wine producers continue to use less and less sulphur, although many sweet wines may need more sulphur than most to stop the residual sugar fermenting.

Sweet - self-evident

Tannic - pejorative term for a wine that has a bit too much tannin

Tart - a little too much acid

Tears - The streams of liquid you sometimes see running down the inside of a wine glass, especially in higher-alcohol wines.

Vanilla - Commonly associated with the smell of American oak

Weight - just as in humans, a measure of body

Woody - smells of poor quality or badly stored wood, usually oak


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