What Do Wine Tasting Terms Mean?

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When we hear sommeliers, wine enthusiasts, or retailers using wine tasting terms it can sound superfluous, snobbish and perhaps a little silly sometimes. Even if you are interested in understanding them, it can be a confusing and daunting task.

Take my word for it though, it isn’t a secret language the wine pros use. We all know that words have specific meanings, but their definitions can be flexible. So in essence, wine terminology attempts to find a common meaning for describing the flavour, aroma and texture of wine.

I have already written on this topic of wine terminology a few times: How to Become a Pro in the Wonderful World of Wine Tasting and How to Improve Your Wine Experience Without the Jargon to mention just two of them.

I am revisiting this topic because I still hate the idea of people not describing the wine they’re drinking – in their own terms – for fear of saying the wrong thing.

I hate the idea of people not describing the wine they’re drinking – in their own terms - for fear of saying the wrong thing #greenacresirl Click To Tweet

Below I list a number of common tasting terms (or lingo) that you may have experienced. I hope this post can help demystify them into their everyday meaning.

21 wine of the tasting terms/words

Body

Wine can be light, medium, or full-bodied in terms of its weight and fullness on your palate. Think light milk, full fat and cream.

Bright

Brightness suggests a certain lightness, vibrancy and drinkability in both red and white wines.

Corked

Signifies a type of flaw that can come from a cork, but also from other places. It makes a wine smell a little funky, like wet cardboard and tends to kill the fresh fruit flavours.

Crisp

It describes pleasant acidity in a wine. It also suggests a certain softness and lightness that’s refreshing. In comparison, a crisp wine certainly is less acidic than a zesty wine (see below).

Dry

Simply means the absence of sugar, not absence of flavour. You can have a full-flavoured, fruity wine that’s also dry.

Earthy

In positive terms, it can describe the pleasant, clean smell of freshly turned wet earth. In negative terms, it can be used to underline mixed-up flavours and aromas that are not clear-cut.

Fat

Means a wine is high in alcohol with no acidity. A fat wine isn’t refreshing.

Floral

Floral is when an aroma can be likened to that of a flower. They can be intense (rose/honeysuckle), or can be subtle (summer blossom), or slightly aromatic (sometimes Prosecco).

green acres wine tasting team

Fruity

In wine terms, fruity is used for easy-drinking wines that aren’t too complex or demanding. In other words, the wine is simple but good.

Green

Green usually describes a wine that displays signs of un-ripeness. It’s mostly used in a negative context suggesting an unpleasantly strong acidity and lack of fruit.

Jammy

Jammy tends to be a negative descriptor for a wine. It suggests that the grapes were overripe when harvested, causing them to lack tension or freshness. This can happen in warm growing regions.

Lemony

This term is used to describe ripe, fresh and lively acidity. Lemon is a positive descriptor that signals refreshment but not zest.

Mineral

Unfortunately, minerality became fashionable as a descriptor, and is now almost meaninglessness due to overuse. To some, it’s like the smell of rain on earth or stone. Usually I would only use it to describe a fresh, crisp Chablis.

Oaky

The most common flavour associated with oak is vanilla, but other warm, rounded, spicy flavours also fall under this heading. Oaky notes can be subtle or overt, depending on what type of barrel (oak) has been used.

Spicy

This refers both to the taste and aroma of wines. It usually has to do with notes of pepper, spice, or ginger on the nose and palate.

Tannic

Tannins can dry out your mouth with a sort of astringency (think very strong black tea). They usually soften over time, but some grapes have a naturally lower tannin level.

Tight

Describes a wine that’s not expressing as much flavour or perfume as it should. Usually because it’s still young and it needs to open up (be exposed to air) more.

Toasty

If a wine is described as toasty, it displays pleasant, roasted flavours and aromas that have seeped into the wine from barrel storage.

Tropical

The term is most often used for white wines. It is a collective term that refers to the aromas and flavours of fruits like mango, passion fruit, lychee and pineapple. Fruit salad anyone?

Velvety

This term is used when a wine has very soft tannins and, usually, a good amount of oak. Velvety wines feel soft and rich on your palate.

Zesty

Zesty implies an aromatic intensity and a mouth-watering freshness that’s driven by high acidity. If not qualified with a specific fruit, zesty usually refers to lemon.

Image by Wokandapix from Pixabay

Now You Know Some Wine Tasting Terms

Needless to say, I am only scratching the wine terminology surface here. As anybody studying for their WSET exams will attest to.

The thing is, there is a lot of information about wine to absorb- its quality, flavour, and origin. All such information is irrelevant for many people who just want to enjoy a glass of wine. However, it can also be very intimidating for beginner wine drinkers to describe and discuss what they are experiencing.

Having a basic knowledge of wine words and wine terms will allow you to enjoy a wine tasting more. That wine tasting may be at home, at a party or even a wine tasting event.

You may have heard some of the terms I’ve explained above before, and others may not ring a bell at all. My recommendation is to keep your mind open when you hear and use the basic wine tasting terminology.

If you would like to order wine or discuss any terms mentioned in this post please email me or ring us on  +353 (0) 53 91 22975. Enjoy the the wine your with.

#maskup – Talk Soon – James.

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