14 important Wine Words
If you’ve ever gone wine tasting and heard all these different wine terms, words and phrases, but had no idea what any of it meant, don’t worry about it, you’re not alone. We have created an extensive list of 14 common wine terms that can be used to describe a wine’s aroma or taste. These terms should make it easier to understand the next tasting – and make you sound like a pro!
On the nose (aka when you smell the wine)
A lot of your experience with a glass of wine is dependent on the smell. The smell (aroma) of the wine is usually a great indicator of what you’re going to taste. Often times, it is the wine’s aromas that give you an indication if there is a fault in the wine.
When an aroma doesn’t offer a lot of aromas, and even flavors, the wine can be described as being closed. In most cases, this is simply because a bottle is freshly opened. If you leave the wine to open up inside the glass for a few minutes, the aromas tend to be more prominent.
One of the flaws that one can find in wine is known as cork taint. Fun fact, this is one of the flaws you’re able to smell almost instantly. The compound that affects the wine is known as TCA, which is a fungus that grows on the cork and creates an extremely unpleasant aroma. You call tell whether a wine has cork taint if you smell dampness, wet-cardboard or wet dog aromas in the glass or on the cork.
On the palate (when you sip the wine)
Acidity is a key component in wine in adding both structure, age ability and freshness to a wine. When trying to figure out whether a wine is high in acidity or not, you can compare it to lemon juice. Acidity often causes the same feeling in your cheeks, as with lemon juice. So, if you feel yourself pucker after a sip, the acidity is high!
This term says exactly what it means! When the wine and its flavors take over your mouth, even after you swallow, the wine can be described as being big.
Of the tell-tail signs a quality wine is the balance of all the wine’s elements. There’s a lot going on in each bottle with so many elements playing their own part; acidity, sugar, alcohol, flavors and so on. But the moment one of those elements stick out unpleasantly, the wine is not balanced and quickly diminishes its quality.
Many wine-lovers base their wine preference on how much body wine has. Essentially, the wine’s body refers to how big the wine feels in your mouth. This can be described as being “light-bodied, medium-bodied or heavy-bodied.” A huge contributor to the body is the alcohol content; the higher the alcohol, the greater the perception of body.
Essentially, most wines fall between two brackets: simple or complex. Simple wines tend to be the cheap-and-cheerful, easy-drinking wines. They don’t offer tremendous aromas, flavors and structure. When a wine is complex, however, the wine is constantly evolving and you find different aromas and flavors every time you try it. This is also usually a sign of quality wine.
Elegant is a great description for a wine that is tasty, without anything overwhelming your palate. These wines tend to have higher acidity, be lighter in body and don’t have too many fruit aromas. Although these wines are great to drink within the first couple of years of release, these wines aren’t great for long-term ageing.
This is not a term that should be used out loud in the wrong company, as it has a serious negative connotation. When a wine is flabby, it means there is a lack in the wine; usually in acidity. Another common term is flat and means there is no vibrancy to it.
When a wine is grippy, this refers to the tannin element in the wine (see tannin below.) When the tannin in the wine is prominent, the wine dramatically dries out your mouth, especially around your gums. When that happens, feel free to call the tannins in the wine grippy.
Wine is a highly complex beverage, with hundreds of different aromas and flavors that can be present in a wine. To make it easier to find some of these aromas and flavors, they are grouped into particular categories. One of those categories includes herbaceousness (or when in wine is herbaceous.) This means that the wine has different herb aromas and flavors, like thyme, rosemary, mint, eucalyptus and also some aromas of vegetables, like green pepper and asparagus.
Another great term to use, especially with specific varieties, is jammy. If you’ve ever cooked or stewed fruit, that smell and taste of the fruit is completely changed and has a jammy element to it. The same goes for wine. Often times, when the grapes are left for long periods of time on the vines, the tend to over-ripen and become jammy. Many wine lovers consider this to be a wine fault, but others love it. You’ll find that this is very common with Zinfandel from California and with a few Australian reds too. This is definitely not a European trend.
Tannin essentially comes from the skins, twigs, leaves and oak barrels that contribute greatly to the body, flavour and age ability to a wine. This is not something to use to describe a white wine, as they rarely have contact with these elements. To test whether a wine is high in tannin, think about how dry and bitter the wine tastes. It sounds unpleasant but is a very necessary and delicious part of great red wine.
Although there are many, many more descriptions, terms and explanations, these are some of the most well-known ones. These will greatly enhance your next wine experience as you truly get to experience, understand and describe the wine better.
Wine tasting is not drinking, and it’s certainly not an excuse for a boozy night out. Wine is made to be enjoyed, tasted, and appreciated; this is the heart of wine tasting.