Wine Glossary


The glossary of terms explains the wine terms wine lovers need to know to maximize enjoyment of their wine tasting experience! Is the wine exuberant, or round? Is it brawny or delicate? Does it have finesse? Becoming familiar with some of these and other terms helps in understanding what a wine is like, makes it easier and more fun. Listed below are some of the words frequently encountered at wine tastings or in publications that cover the subject.

Acidic: Wines need natural acidity to taste fresh and lively, but an excess of acidity results in an acidic wine that is tart and sour.

Acidity: The acidity level in a wine is critical to its enjoyment and to its life. The acids that appear in wine are citric, tartaric, malic, and lactic. Grapes grown in hot years tend to be lower in acidity, whereas grapes from cool rainy years tend to be high in acidity. All of this is very important when pairing food and wine.

Aftertaste: As the term suggests, the taste left in the mouth when one swallows is the aftertaste. This word is a synonym for length or finish. The longer the aftertaste lingers the finer the quality of the wine. Pay attention to it when its in your mouth I always say.

Aroma: Aroma is the smell of a wine before it has had time to develop nuances of smell that are then called its bouquet.

Astringent: Wines that are not necessarily bad or good wines. These wines are harshand coarse to taste, either because they are too young and tannic and just need time to develop, or maybe they are not well made. The level of tannins (if it is harsh) contributes to its degree of astringence.

Austere: Wines that are austere are generally not terribly pleasant wines to drink. Austere wines are hard, rather dry wines that lack richness and generosity.

Balance: One of the most desired traits in a wine is good balance, where the concentration of fruit, level of tannins, and acidity are in total harmony. Balanced wines are symmetrical and tend to age gracefully. This is what you want but it can only be noticed if you pay attention to the wine when it’s in your mouth…meaning don’t just swallow the wine like water.

Barnyard: An unclean, farmyard aroma that is imparted to a wine because of unclean barrels or unsanitary winemaking facilities.

Berrylike: This term implies many red wines have an intense berry fruit character that can suggest blackberries, raspberries, black cherries, mulberries, or even strawberries and cranberries.

Big: A big wine is a large full-bodied wine with an intense and concentrated feel on the palate.

Body: Body is the fullness of a wine that can be sensed as it fills your mouth. Full bodied wines tend to have a lot of alcohol, concentration, and glycerin.

Botrytis: The fungus that attacks the grape skins under specific climatic conditions. It causes the grape to become superconcentrated because it causes a natural dehydration.

Bouquet: As a wine’s aroma becomes more developed from bottle aging, the aroma is transformed into a bouquet that is hopefully a beautiful thing you will experience in the glass. I’ve been known not to drink the wine for a while just because the bouquet can be such an experience.

Brawny: A hefty, muscular, full-bodied wine with plenty of weight and flavor, although not always the most elegant or refined sort of wine.

Brilliant: Brilliant relates to the color of the wine. It’s a wine that is clear with no haze or cloudiness to the color. Pay attention to it.

Carbonic maceration: This vinification method is used to make soft, fruity wines. Whole clusters of grapes are put into a vat that is then filled with carbonic gas. This system is used when fruit is to be emphasized in the final wine instead of structure and tannin.

Chewy: If a wine has a rather dense, viscous texture from a high glycerin content, it is often referred to as being chewy.

Closed: To describe a wine is not showing its potential, which remains locked in because it is too young. Young wines often close up about 12-18 months after bottling

Complex: Complex wines tend to have a variety of subtle scents and flavors that hold one’s interest in the wine. Its great when it happens.

Concentrated: Concentrated denotes that the wine has a depth and richness of fruit that gives it appeal and interest.

Corked: A corked wine is a flawed wine that has taken on the smell of cork as a result of an unclean or faulty cork. The aroma shows no fruit, only the smell of musty cork, which can remind you of wet cardboard.

Deep: Essentially the same as concentrated, expressing the fact that the wine is rich, full of extract, and mouth filling.

Delicate: As this word implies, delicate wines are light, subtle, understated wines White wines are usually more delicate than red wines.

Earthy: Use earthy to denote a positive aroma of fresh, rich, clean soil. Earthy is a more intense smell.

Exuberant: Wines can be gushing with fruit and seem nervous and intensely vigorous.

Flabby: Flabby wines have no structure and are too heavy to taste.

Floral: Many wines have a flowery component, and occasionally a red wine will have a floral scent.

Focused: Simply means that the scents, aromas, and flavors are precise and clearly delineated.

Fresh: A wine is said to be fresh when it is lively and cleanly made. The opposite of fresh is stale.

Fruity: A  good wine should have enough concentration of fruit so that it can be said to be fruity.

Full-bodied: Wines rich in extract, alcohol, and glycerin are full-bodied wines. Most Rhone wines are full-bodied.

Green: These wines are made from underripe grapes; they lack richness and generosity as well as having a vegetal character.

Hard: Abrasive, astringent tannic or high acidity wines are said to be hard.

Harsh: Harshness in a wine, young or old, is a flaw.

Herbaceous: Many wines have a distinctive herbal smell. Specific herbal smells can be of thyme, lavender, rosemary, oregano, fennel, or basil.

Hollow: Also known as shallow, hollow wines are diluted and lack depth and concentration on the palate

Hot: Means that the wine is too high in alcohol and therefore leaves a burning sensation in the back of the throat when swallowed.

Intensity: Intensity is a desirable trait of a wine. Wines of great intensity must also havebalance. They should never be heavy or cloying. Their intensity adds to their character, rather than detracting from it.

Jammy: When wines have a great intensity of fruit from excellent ripeness they can be jammy, which is a very concentrated, flavorful wine.

Leafy: A leafy character in a wine is similar to a herbaceous character only in that it refers to the smell of leaves rather than herbs. A wine that is too leafy is a vegetal orgreen wine.

Lean: Lean wines lack generosity and fatness but can still be enjoyable and pleasant. Quaffers!!

Lively:  A lively wine is usually young wine with good acidity and a thirst-quenching personality.

Length: A very desirable trait in any fine wine is that it be long in the mouth. Length relates to a wine’s finish, meaning that after you swallow the wine, you sense its presence for a long time. (Thirty seconds to several minutes is great length.) In a young wine, the difference between something good and something great is the length of the wine.

Lush: Lush wines are velvety, soft, rich wines that are both concentrated and fat.

Meaty: A chewy, fleshy wine is also said to be meaty. Give it to me!!! 

Mouth-filling: Big, rich wines that are filled with fruit and are high in alcohol and glycerin. A mouth-filling wine is also a chewy, fleshy, fat wine. Love It!

Nose: The general smell and aroma of a wine as sensed through one’s schnoz is often called the wine’s nose.

Oaky: Many red wines are aged from 6 months to 30 months in various sizes of oak barrels. At some properties, a percentage of the oak barrels may be new, and these barrels impart a toasty, vanillin flavor and smell to the wine. If the wine is not rich andconcentrated, the barrels can overwhelm the wine, making it taste overly oaked. Where the wine is rich and concentrated, the winemaker has made a judicious use of barrels, the results can be a wonderful blend of fruit and oak.

Off: If a wine is not showing its true character, it is said to be “off,” ok next.

Peppery: Wine has a pepper quality. I’m laughing.

Pruney: Grapes that are overripe take on the character of prunes. Pruney wines are flawed wines.

Rich: Wines that are high in extract, flavor, and intensity.

Round: A very desirable character of wines, roundness occurs in fully mature wines that have lost their youthful, astringent tannins. This is a good thing, enjoy it.

Savory: A general descriptive term that denotes that the wine is round, flavorful, and interesting to drink.

Sharp: An undesirable trait, sharp wines are bitter.

Silky: A synonym for velvety or lush, silky wines are soft, sometimes fat, but neverhard or angular. This is also a good thing…Yummm.

Soft: A soft wine is one that is round, low in acidity, and has an absence of aggressive,hard tannins.

Spicy: Wines can often smell quite spicy with aromas of pepper, cinnamon, and other well-known spices. These aromas are usually lumped together and referred to as spicy.

Supple: A supple wine is one that is soft, lush, velvety, and very attractively round and tasty.

Tannic: The tannins of a wine, (it’s in tea also) which are extracted from the grape skins and stems, along with a wine’s acidity and alcohol, are its lifeline. Tannins give a wine firmness and some roughness when young, but gradually fall away and dissipate. A tannic wine is one that is young and unready to drink. Leave it alone for a while.

Tart: Sharp, acidic, lean, unripe wines are called tart. In general, a wine that is tart is not so good. Next!!!

Thin: An undesirable characteristic for a wine to be thin, meaning that it is watery, lacking in body, and just diluted. Move on.

Toasty: A smell of grilled toast can often be found in wines because the barrels the wines are aged in are charred or toasted on the inside.

Tobacco: Some red wines have the scent of fresh tobacco. It is a distinctive and wonderful smell. Have a cigar why don’t ya

Vegetal: An undesirable characteristic, wines that smell and taste vegetal are usually made from unripe grapes. In some wines, a subtle vegetable garden smell is pleasant and adds complexity, but if it is the predominant character, it is a big flaw. Next!

Velvety:It’s like velvet in your mouth

Raise a Glass to Good Health!!!