Glossary of Wine Tasting Terms

 

GLOSSARY OF WINE TASTING TERMS

ACETIC (see also ASCESCENCE).

All wines contain acetic acid – (ie: vinegar). Normally the amount is insignificant and may even enhance flavour. At a little less than 0.10% content, the flavour becomes noticable and the wine is termed acetic. Above 0.10% content is considered a strong fault. A related substance, ethyl acetate, contributes the smell associated with acetic acid content.

ACID/ACIDITY

Acid … term used to describe a tart or sour taste in the mouth when total acidity of the wine is high.
Acidity … term used on labels to express the total acid content of the wine. The acids referred to are citric, lactic, malic and tartaric. Desirable acid content on dry wines falls between 0.6% and 0.75% of the wines volume. For sweet wines it should not be less than 0.70% of the volume.

AFTERTASTE (see also FINISH, LENGTH) – a.k.a Farewell, Fairwell.

Term used to describe the taste left in the mouth after swallowing the wine. Both character and length of the aftertaste are part of the total evaluation. May be harsh, hot, soft and lingering, short, smooth, tannic, or nonexistent.

AGE/AGED (see also MADERIZED, RIM).

White wines tend to turn from a greenish hue in young wines to a yellowish caste/tone to a gold/amber colour as they age. Reds usually possess a purple tone when young, turning to a deep red – (Bordeaux wines) – or a brick red colour – (Burgundy wines) – detectable at the surface edge in a wineglass as they age. Rose’s should be pink with no tinge of yellow or orange.

Cellar aged red wines at their peak will show a deep golden-orange colour as it thins at the surface edge. If the wine colour has deepened into a distinctly brown-orange tint at the edge it usually indicates a wine past its peak and declining.

ALCOHOL (see also LEGS, TEARS).

This constituent of wine is a natural by-product of fermentation. It is one of the main pillars of perceived flavour, the others being “Acid“, “residual Sugar” (and/or “Glycerin“) and “Tannin“. The presence of these components define a wine that has “good balance“. For tablewines the wine label must, by law, state the alcohol content of the wine within the bottle, usually expressed as a percentage of the volume. Table wines do not usually exceed 14% alcohol content – (11% to 12.5% is generally considered the optimum amount) – although a few, such as the “jaune vin” of the Jura region of France are fermented in a special manner to attain consistently higher levels in the 14.5 to 15.5% range. Sweet dessert wines fall in the same range. Fortified wines – (eg: Sherry, Port etc) – range from 17% to 21% alcohol content.

ANGULAR (see also AUSTERE, CRISP, FRESH below).

The total effect of dominant, tart-edged flavours and taste impressions in many young dry wines. Has opposite meaning to round, soft or supple.

APPLEY

Refers to smell or aroma of a wine, usually carrying additional modifiers. “Ripe apples” describes a full, fruity, clean smell associated with some styles of Chardonnay wine. “Fresh apples” does the same for some types types of Riesling. “Green apple”, however, is almost always reserved for wines made from barely ripe or underripe grapes. “Stale apples” applies almost exclusively to flawed wine exhibiting first stage oxidation.

AROMA (see also BOUQUET, NOSE below).

The intensity and character of the aroma can be assessed with nearly any descriptive adjective. (eg: from “appley” to “raisiny“, “fresh” to “tired”, etc.). Usually refers to the particular smell of the grape variety. The word “bouquet” is usually restricted to describing the aroma of a cellar-aged bottled wine.

ASCESCENCE

“Ascescence” is the term used to mark the presence of acetic acid and ethyl acetate. Detected by sweet and sour, sometimes vinegary smell and taste along with a sharp feeling in the mouth.

ASTRINGENT

Descriptive of wines that have a rough, puckery taste. Usually can be attributed to high tannin content. Tannic astringency will normally decrease with age. However, sometimes the wine fails to outlive the tannin.

ATTACK (see also LIGHT, THIN below).

The initial impact of a wine. If not strong or flavorful, the wine is considered “feeble”. “Feeble” wines are sometimes encountered among those vinified in a year where late rain just before harvest diluted desirable grape content.

ATTRACTIVE

The winetaster liked it anyway; a slight put down for expensive wines, a compliment for others.

AUSTERE

Usually used in description of dry, relatively hard and acidic wines that seem to lack depth and roundness. Such wines may soften a bit with age. Term often applied to wines made from noble grape varieties grown in cool climates or harvested too early in the season.

BACKBONE (see also BODY).

Refers to big, full-bodied red wines with evident tannin and/or acidity.

BALANCE

Denotes harmonious balance of wine elements – (ie: no individual part is dominant). Acid balances the sweetness; fruit balances against oak and tannin content; alcohol is balanced against acidity and flavour. Wine not in balance may be acidic, cloying, flat or harsh etc.

BERRYLIKE (see also HERBACEOUS).

Equates with the ripe, sweet, fruity quality of blackberries, raspberries, cranberries and cherries. The aroma and taste of red wines, particularly Zinfandel, are often partly described with this adjective.

BIG

The overall flavour of a wine, white or red, that has full, rich flavours. “Big” red wines are often tannic. “Big” white wines are generally high in alcohol and glycerin. Sometimes implies clumsiness, the opposite of elegance. Generally positive, but context is essential – (eg: A Bordeaux red wine shouldn’t be as “big” as a California Cabernet Sauvignon).

BITTER (see also SALTY, SOUR and SWEET).

One of the four basic tastes. A major source of bitterness is the tannin content of a wine. Some grapes – (Gewurztraminer, Muscat) – have a distinct bitter edge to their flavour. If the bitter component dominates in the aroma or taste of a wine it is considered a fault. Sweet dessert wines may have an enhanced bitter component that complements the other flavours making for a successful overall taste balance.

BODY

The effect on the taster’s palate usually experienced from a combination of alcohol, glycerin and sugar content. Often described as “full“, “meaty” or “weighty“.

BOTRYTIS

“Botrytis Cinerea”, a mold or fungus that attacks grapes in humid climate conditions, causing the concentration of sugar and acid content by making grapes at a certain level of maturity shrivel. On the Riesling grape it allows a uniquely aromatic and flavourful wine to be made, resulting in the extraordinary “Beerenauslese” style of wine.

BOUQUET (see NOSE).

Near synonym for “aroma“. Term generally restricted to description of odours from poured bottled wines.

BRAWNY

Term used mainly to describe young red wines with high alcohol and tannin levels. Certain red wines from Amador County, California, can be examples. The mild epithet “tooth-stainers” is sometimes applied to this style of wine, denoting respect for strength.

BREATHE/BREATHING (see also OPEN-UP).

Denotes the act of allowing the wine to “breathe”; ie: when wine is poured into another container, such as a wineglass, the admixture of air seems to release pent-up aromas which then become more pronounced, in many cases, as minutes/hours pass.

BREED (see also COMPLEX, ELEGANT).

Term reserved for wines from the best grape varieties, the so-called “noble grapes”. Denotes wines judged to have reached classical expectations of aroma, balance, structure and varietal character.

BRIARY

Denotes a wine having an aggressive, prickly taste best described as “peppery“. Sometimes combined with the adjective “brawny” to characterize a young red wine with high alcohol and tannin content.

BRILLIANT (see also CLOUDY, HAZY, UNFILTERED elsewhere).

Very clear (and transparent in white wines) appearance with no visible particulates or suspensions. May be sign of flavour deficiency in heavily filtered wines.

BRIX

Measurement system used for sugar content of grapes, wine and related products. A reading of 20 to 25 deg. Brix is the optimum degree of grape ripeness at harvest for the majority of table wines.

BROWNING (see also MADERIZED, OXIDIZED, RIM).

Denotes ageing in a wine. Young wine colour tints show no sign of such “browning”. If possessed of good character and depth, a wine can still be very enjoyable even with a pronounced “brown” tint. In average wines this tint, seen along the wine surface edge in a tilted glass goblet, normally signals a wine is “past its peak”, although still very drinkable.

BUTTERY (see also CREAMY, MALOLACTIC FERMENTATION).

Describes taste sensation found in better white wines, particularly Chardonnay.

CANDYLIKE

Refers to the perfumed fresh fruit aromas and flavours of the grape which can be attractive in wines made for early consumption. These include pink Rose style, “nouveau” Beaujolais etc. Many consider it a less desirable characteristic in longer-aging reds and better whites.

CEDAR/CEDARWOOD (see also CIGARBOX).

Aroma component often found in fine red wines.

CHARMING

A patronizing comment applied to wines that don’t quite fulfil the first expectations. Implies lightness, an expression of “attitude”. Sometimes used to describe certain wines made from the Chenin Blanc grape and styled after a type of wine originating from the Loire region of France.

CHEWY

Refers to a high total tannic component of a wine. Figuratively, one cannot swallow this wine without chewing first.

CIGARBOX

Near synonym for “tobaccoaroma detected in the nose, especially if a “cedarwood” component is present. Spanish cedarwood is the traditional material for making cigar boxes.

CITRUSY

Describes aroma and flavour reminiscent of citrus fruits. Most common is a perception of “grapefruit” content. Most often detected in white wines made from grapes grown in cooler regions of California or other countries.

CLOSED-IN (see also DUMB, OPEN-UP).

Term descriptive of currently poor character definition but with all the correct characteristics. Usually expected to develop with age. Applies mainly to young, intense wines vinified for long life expectancy.

CLOUDY (see also BRILLIANT, HAZY).

Opposite of clear. Noticable cloudiness is undesirable except in cellar aged wines that have not been decanted properly. A characteristic of some unfiltered wines showing the result of winemaking mistakes and often possessing an unpleasant taste.

CLOYING (see also SWEET below).

Excessive sugar component annoys with dominating flavour and aftertaste. The wine is then demonstrably unbalanced relative to the other components.

COMPLEX (see also ELEGANT).

Almost a synonym for “breed“. Possesses that elusive quality where many layers of flavour separate a great wine from a very good one. Balance combines all flavour and taste components in almost miraculous harmony.

CREAMY

Refers to “silk-like” taste of some wines. Almost a synonym for “buttery“. Opposite of “crisp“.

CRISP

Wine has pronounced but pleasing tartness, acidity. Fresh, young and eager, begs to be drunk. Generally used to describe white wines only, especially those of Muscadet de Sevres et Maine from the Loire region of France.

DECANTING

A method by which cellar-aged bottled wine is poured slowly and carefully into a second vessel, usually a glass decanter, in order to leave any sediment in the original bottle before serving. Almost always a treatment confined to red wines. The traditional method uses a candle flame as the light for illuminating the neck of the bottle while the wine is passing by. The low intensity of the light is ideal for viewing since it does not strain the eyes. Care must be taken NOT to allow the flame to heat the wine while performing this ritual.

DELICATE

Any wine demonstrating somewhat mild, but attractive characteristics. Occasionally used to describe well-made wines from the so-called “lesser grape” varieties.

DEPTH, DEEP (see also LINGERING).

Refers to a premium wine that demands more attention, it fills the mouth with a developing flavour, there are subtle layers of flavour that go “deep.”

DESSERT WINE

Has two meanings:

  1. Fortified wine – eg: Sherry – where alcohol is added in the form of Brandy or neutral spirits.
  2. Sweet or very sweet wines of any alcohol level customarily drunk with dessert or by themselves and usually in small amounts.

DIRECT (see also EASY, SIMPLE).

Everything present in this wine is immediately obvious.

DIRTY (see also YEASTY/YEASTLIKE below).

Describes any of the undesirable odours that can be present in a wine that that was poorly vinified. A characteristic imparted by improperly cleaned barrels or various other processes performed incorrectly. Usually detected first in a wine by the smell of the cork stopper or from a barrel sample.

DRY

Description of a wine made deliberately to possess little or no sweetness. Commonly defined as containing less than about 0.5% residual sugar.

DUMB

Characteristic description of a young wine with yet-to-develop aromas and flavours. A synonym for “closed-in“. Named so because it seems “unable to speak”.

EARTHY (see also NOSE, STONEY, VEGETAL, YEASTY/YEASTLIKE).

Covers situations where a “mother-earth” component is present. Earth is soil-dirt, but an earthy wine is not dirty as in “DIRTY” above. The term appears to be applicable to wine thought, by some, to be made from grapes grown on vines planted in land previously used for growing certain vegetables containing components which “marked” the soil in some way.

EASY (see also DIRECT, SIMPLE).

Undemanding but pleasant, doesn’t require good taste, just tastes good.

ELEGANT (see also COMPLEX).

What to say when there is great balance and grace in the wine, but you can’t quite find apt words of description. Almost a synonym for “breed“.

ESSENCE (see also NOSE below).

Two meanings:

  1. Refers to “odour kits” containing vials of representative flavour essence.
  2. Used occasionally by wineries to describe a late harvest, sweet red wine. Most frequently appears on bottle labels for Zinfandel red wine made from grapes picked at 35 deg. Brix or higher sugar content.

ETHYL ACETATE

A substance which contributes the smell associated with acetic acid content.

FAT

Fills the mouth without aggression. The wine “feels” and tastes a little obvious and often lacks elegance but is prized by connoisseurs of sweet dessert wines. Not quite right even for a late harvest Moselle Riesling, but just right for a classic Sauternes. Fatness/oiliness is determined by the naturally occurring glycerol – (a.k.a glycerin) – content in the wine.

FILTERED

Wines that have had suspended particulates resulting from the fermentation process removed. Important for future clarity and stability of a wine.

FINED

Use of various materials for clarifying wines. These materials precipitate to the bottom of the fermentation process vessel carrying any suspended particulate matter with them.

FINISH (see AFTERTASTE).

As in “this wine has a (whatever) finish”.

FIRM (see AUSTERE).

Attacks the palate with acid or tannic astringency. Suggests that the wine is young and will age. Nearly always a positive comment and very desirable with highly flavoured foods.

FLAT (see also MEAGER, THIN).

Opposite of “firm“. Usually indicates very low acidity, so tasting insipid and lacking flavour.

FLESHY

Refers to both body and texture. A fleshy wine tastes fatter than a meaty wine, exhibiting some excess oiliness if too pronounced. Often suggests great smoothness and richness.

FLINT/FLINTY

Synonym for “stoney“. Derived from French phrase “gout de pierre a fusil”, literally a flinty taste. These terms are presumably metaphorical approximations based on the actual taste sensations allegedly experienced when stones/minerals are licked (older books on chemistry etc. always included the taste, feel and smell of the compounds being described). Presumably refers to rate of moisture absorption etc by different stone surfaces and detectable by the tongue. “Flinty” describes an initial evaluation indicating a young white wine made from cool region grapes under cold fermentation conditions. Characterized by high acidity, a tactile “mouthfeel” that is filling and yet has a flavour sensation that is cleanly “earthy“.

FLORAL/FLOWERY (see also NOSE).

Suggests the aroma or taste, usually aroma, of flowers in wine. “Floral” usually employed as an adjective without modifier to describe attributes of white wine aromas. Few red wines have floral aromas.

FORWARD

Opposite of “closed-in“. Means presence of “fruitiness” is immmediately apparent.

FOXY (see also GRAPEY, VITIS LABRUSCA below).

Common descriptive word used to note the presence of the unique musky and grapey character attached to native american Vitis. labrusca grapes such as the Concord or Catawba varieties. Derived from the french phrase “gout de renard” which literally translates as “odour” or “taste” of fox, but means something more like “presence of fox” in the intangible sense. The aroma and flavours defy verbal description. The best way to imprint “foxiness” in the memory is to mentally compare the flavours of fresh Concord grapes and any fresh California table grape. Most people find the juice or jelly from the Concord grape quite sprightly and delicious. In dry table wines that same flavour is considered obtrusive and even quite disagreeable.

FRESH

Implies the lively fruity acidity, maybe a little bite of acid, found in youthful light reds, rose’s and most whites. All young whites should be fresh. The opposite is flatness, staleness.

FRUITY

Used for any quality that refers to the body and richness of a wine made from good, ripe grapes. A fruity wine has an “appley“, “berrylike” or herbaceous character. “Fruitiness” usually implies a little extra sweetness.

FULL-BODIED

As opposed to “thin” or “thin-bodied”. Fills the mouth, has a winey taste, alcohol is present, the wine has “weight on the tongue”.

FUNKY

1970′s jargon word. Defies precise definition. Used by some Canadian tasters when reviewing provincial Liquor Control Board offerings. [A word some use when they don't understand the basis of wine flaws or find a wine they just don't like for whatever reason.]

GAMEY/GAMELIKE (see also NOSE).

Descriptive term for one of the flavours/aromas considered particular to Burgundian style Pinot Noir red wines. Reminiscent of taste and flavour associated with cooked wild duck and other “gamey” meats. Thought to to be caused by contamination with “brett” – (brettanomyces strain of yeast). Considered a major flaw when flavour is overly-pronounced.

GLYCERIN/GLYCEROL

Gives a sweet taste on the tongue tip. Higher concentrations are found in high-alcohol and late-harvest wines, leading to sensations of smooth slipperiness giving a sense of fullness to the wine body. Is a natural by-product of the fermentation process.

GRAPEFRUITY

Grapefruit flavours are characteristic of cool-climate Chardonnays. See citrusy above.

GRAPEY (see also VITIS LABRUSCA elsewhere).

Content has simple flavours and aromas reminiscent of a certain type of fresh wine or table grape. Used by some as adjective alternate for “foxy“.

GRASSY

Slightly vegetal-tasting undertone often part of the overall character of Sauvignon Blanc and certain other grape varietals. European tasters sometimes use the word “gooseberry” to describe this flavour. In minute presence it can enhance flavours. As it becomes more dominant the more it loses appeal leading to unattractiveness.

GREEN (see also ANGULAR).

Strictly applied refers to the taste of wines made with underripe fruit. More loosely used it refers to some white wines, especially Riesling, possessing the greenish colour tint indicating youth; does not necessarily mean the sour and/or grassy taste of unripe fruit content as well.

HARD

High acidity and/or tannin content leading to a sensation of dryness in the mouth, a degree of puckery-ness. Useful for detecting young red wines suitable for aging. Characteristic preferred in dry white wines that will accompany shellfish.

HARSH

Very astringent wines, usually with high alcohol component, often have this rough, rustic taste characteristic. May become more tolerable with ageing but also may not be worth the wait.

HAZY (see also BRILLIANT, CLOUDY, FILTERED).

Refers to wines with slight particulate content when viewed against the light. Occurs most often in unfiltered or unfined wines where there is no need to worry. If the haziness is intense enough to cause loss of clarity however it may indicate a flawed wine.

HEARTY (see also STURDY).

Most often applied in description of full, warm qualities found in red wines with high alcohol component. Examples are found in the sturdier so-called “jug wines”, some California Zinfandels, lesser French Rhone or Algerian red wines and in the occasional lesser Australian Shiraz.

HERBACEOUS (see also GRASSY).

Adjective used in description of wine with taste and aroma of herbs, (usually undefined). Considered to be a varietal characteristic of Cabernet Sauvignon, and to less extent, Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc grapes.

HOLLOW (see also AFTERTASTE).

Missing middle between “attack” and “finish“. Caused by too many grapes on insufficiently pruned vines. If very noticeable, called “empty”.

HOT (see also AFTERTASTE).

Defines a wine high in alcohol and giving a prickly or burning sensation on the palate. Accepted in fortified wines, but not considered as a particularly desirable attribute in Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay. Positively undesirable in light, fruity wines, (eg: Moselle Rieslings).

JAMLIKE/JAMMY.

Word most often encountered in descriptions of California Zinfandel wines made with Amador County grapes. Refers to the natural berrylike taste of this grape.

LEAFY (see YEASTY/YEASTLIKE).

Somewhat analogous to “vegetal“. Desirable in minute detectable amounts, if adding to notes of complexity in the wine.

LEAN (see also BODY, THIN elsewhere).

More body would be good, sort of thin in the mouth, often too much astringency, sometimes a compliment for certain styles.

LEES (see also NUTTY).

Refers to residual yeast and other particles that precipitate, or are carried by the action of “fining“, to the bottom of the fermentation vessel. US winemakers use the term “mud”. Imparts distinctive flavours to the wine depending on type. Derived from French term “lies” as in “sur lies”.

LEGS (see also FIRM, TEARS).

Two interpretations.

  1. Term used when referring to the liquid rivulets that form on the inside of a wineglass bowl after the wine is swirled in order to evaluate the alcohol concentration present. Usually the higher the alcohol content, the more impressive the rivulets appear because of reduced surface tension effects. (Some still cling to the erroneous belief that glycerin content causes these rivulets). Valuable technique when used in “blind” tasting competitions.
  2. Alternatively, is used by some as a near synonym for “balance” as in “This wine has _legs_”, ie: underpinnings. Indicates the wine has all the basic characteristics looked for in when making an initial assessment.

LEMONY

Descriptive of a somewhat acidic white wine. These wines contain flavours reminiscent of that fruit. Apart from that, may be well balanced in all other respects, sometimes with a touch of extra sweetness.

LENGTH (see also AFTERTASTE).

How long the total flavour lasts in the back of the throat after swallowing. Counted in time-seconds. Ten seconds is good, fifteen is great, twenty is superb. Almost a synonym for “finish“, as in “this is a wine with an long, extraordinary finish”.

LIGHT

Low alcohol and/or sugar. Since about 1981 a wine containing fewer calories per comparable serving than a regular glass of wine has been legally designated as such. Used as a tasting term, “light” is usually a polite expression meaning “watery“.

LINGERING (see AFTERTASTE, LENGTH).

LIVELY

Almost a synonym for fresh. Implies detection of barely discernible spritzyness. Applies most often to white wines, but some reds also qualify.

LUSH (see also SWEET below).

Describes impression of wines with high amounts of residual sugar. Adjective almost entirely reserved for sweet dessert wines.

MADERIZED

Distinctive brown colour in wine due usually to period of air exposure. Regarded as synonym for “oxidized“. Originates from the taste/appearance of Madeira wines. “Sherrified” is commonly used synonym.

MALOLACTIC FERMENTATION

Secondary fermentation occasionally detected in bottled wines. Its action converts the naturally occurring Malic acid into Lactic acid plus Carbon Dioxide gas. Reduces total acidity by this action. Since the gas is contaminated with undesirable odours, if it remains trapped in the bottle it becomes a minor fault unless allowed to dissipate. Malolactic fermentation is a commonly used technique for reducing the sharpness of cool climate Chardonnays and the Lactic acid component gives an admired “creamy” or “buttery” texture.

MATCHSTICK

Describes the odour of Sulphur Dioxide gas, described by some as similar to the smell of “burnt matches”, found in minute amounts very occasionally trapped in bottled white wines. Dissipates with airing or decanting.

MEAGER (see also THIN, WATERY).

Lacks “body” and “depth“. Has definite feeling of flavour dilution. Seems to occur in some select varietal wines vinified from grapes subjected to late season rain, although there are other explanations as well.

MEATY (see also FAT, OILY).

With much body as though you could chew it. The reference is to lean meat, so indicates less body present than “fleshy“.

MOUTH-FILLING

Wines possessing intense flavours which seem to affect every sensory nerve in the mouth. Usually slightly high glycerin component, slightly low acid.

MUSTY (also see DIRTY).

A wine that displays unpleasant “mildew” or “mouldy” aromas. Results from improperly cleaned storage vessels, mouldy grapes or cork.

NOSE

Not the fleshy sense-organ/projection on the human face. Is near synonym word for “aroma” and includes “bouquet“. Strictly applied it refers to the totality of the detectable odour, (grape variety, vinous character, fermentation smells), whether desirable or defective, found in a wine. One would speak of a mature wine as having, for example, “varietal aromas, flowery bouquet and hint of vanilla oak combining to give balanced nose”.

The sense organs of the human nose can be educated by the use of purchased odour comparison kits known by such names as “Le Nez du Vin”, “Component Collection” or “Winealyser”. These can sometimes be obtained at the various Home Wine Makers mail suppliers (etc.) around the country.

NOUVEAU (a.k.a. “Nuevo”).

Indicates young, immediately drinkable wine – (eg: “nouveau Beaujolais”).

NUTTY (see also MADERIZED, OXIDIZED).

Table wines that have been exposed to air display this aroma which resembles that of certain sherry wines. Considered a flaw by some in red wines, but a desired flavour component in certain white wines by others. (eg: Chardonnays with extended “lees” contact in the fermentation vessel).

OAKY

The taste or aroma of freshly sawn oak. When a wine, especially a red, is “oaked” just right, the “nose” will carry a bare whiff of vanilla aroma. Sometimes, oak flavours overpower other component wine flavours, in which case it is considered overoaked. Oak flavour is introduced from contact with storage barrels made from that wood. New oak barrels contribute stronger flavour to a wine than older storage barrels. The “oaky” components encountered include “vanillin“, and so-called “toasty” “charred” or “roasted” elements. “Vanillin” comes from the character of the hardwood. The three others derive from the “charring” of the barrel which occurs from heating the iron stave-rings which hold the barrel staves in place after contraction and the flaming of the interior.

OILY (see also FAT, GLYCERIN/GLYCEROL elsewhere)

Describes the vaguely fat, slippery sensation on the palate in contact with the combination of high glycerin and slightly low acid content. Mostly encountered in high quality Chardonnays and late harvest sweet wines.

OPEN-UP/OPENING-UP (see also CLOSED-IN).

Some bottled cellar-aged red wines possess the peculiarity that, when the cork is first pulled and the wine poured, the full flavours do not immediately make an appearance. However, after the passage of several minutes in an open glass goblet, the wine develops unsuspected flavour characteristics that can verge on the sublime. This phenomenon is referred to as “opening-up”. Conversely, these flavours can disappear just as fast in just 30 minutes, leaving a subsequent impression of a flat, stale, “over-the-hill” and/or mediocre wine.

OVERIPE

A grape precondition necessary for making certain styles of Californian Zinfandel wines. Left on the vine to dry in the sun, certain grape varietals will develop the desirable “raisiny” character and concentrated sugar necessary for making specialty wines such as the famous Hungarian Tokay.

OXIDIZED (see MADERIZED, NUTTY).

PEPPERY

Term almost solely applied to “spicy” wines, such as Gewurztraminer among the whites, or the red Rhone Syrah and Australian Shiraz wines. Component which can almost be described as pungent in quality, being reminiscent of anise, cinnamon etc.

PERFUMED (see CANDYLIKE, FLOWERY)

Synonym for “floral“. Implies also a degree of extra residual sugar.

PLUMP

The diminutive of “fat“, also implying a degree of “charm” as well.

PONDEROUS

Even less balanced than a “hearty” or “sturdy” wine. The sole impact is one of high alcohol and “body” character. Little or no acid/tannin content. An everyday red wine, similar to a french “vin ordinaire” country wine sold by alcohol content, can be an example.

POWERFUL

Close to being a synonym for BRAWNY.

PRUNEY

Overripe, sun-dried grapes can induce an undesirable pungent quality into table wines; sometimes compared to “the taste of dried prunes”.

PUCKERY (see also HARD, TANNIC)

Synonym for ASTRINGENT.

RACKING (see also FILTERED, FINED).

Traditional method of wine clarification. Sequential transfer of wine to several containers, each transfer leaving behind some particulate matter.

RAISINY

Mildly rich flavour due to excessive heat in the growing area which dries out grapes still on the vine. Considered a fault in most dry table wines.

REFINED

Term for well-balanced wines. Mostly refers to reds, such as Zinfandel, which normally turn “powerful” in the barrel. Almost a synonym for “elegant“.

RESIDUAL SUGAR (see also SWEET).

Percentage, by weight or volume, of the unfermented grape sugar in a bottled wine.

RICH

Giving a full, opulent flavour impression without necessarily being sweet. Richness supplied by alcohol, glycerin and oak vanilla nuances in dry wine. The sweeter wines qualify for this adjective if also characterized by ripe, fruity flavours.

RIM (see also AGE/AGING, BROWNING, LEGS).

Refers to edge of wine surface as seen through a “ballon” style wineglass held at an angle of about 30-40 deg. from the vertical and viewed against white piece of paper or cloth using natural light . Used in evaluation of wine age. In “blind” tasting is about the only way to get an informed perception about the probable life and/or condition of the wine from that date on.

RIPE

Favorable adjective bestowed when the varietal characteristics of the grape are optimally present in a well balanced wine. Ripe-tasting wines tend toward being slightly more fruity and sweet than otherwise normal wines.

ROBUST (see also BRAWNY).

Vigorous, full with a lot of heart, a big scaled wine.

ROTTEN EGG

Smell of Hydrogen Sulphide gas in wine. Thought to be a characteristic imparted by certain yeast strains. A decided flaw.

ROUGH (see also ASTRINGENT).

Flavour or texture give no pleasure. Acidity and/or tannin are predominant and coarse.

ROUND (see also REFINED).

Describes flavours and tactile sensations giving a feeling of completeness with no dominating characteristic. Almost the same as fat, but with more approval. Tannin, acid and glycerin are sufficiently present but appear as nuances rather than distinct flavours.

RUSTIC

Synonym for “rough“.

SALTY

One of the four basic taste sensations detected by the human tongue. Sensed by the taste buds that lie close to the tip of the tongue and just behind.

SHARP (see also CRISP, HARD).

Excess acid predominates, disturbing the otherwise balanced flavours.

SIMPLE

Normal, everyday, well-vinified table wine of straightforward character.

SMOKE/SMOKY (see also OAKY, TOASTY, VANILLIN).

Apparently has two meanings:

  1. Some use the word in the same sense as the smell/flavour that separates smoked (anything) from ordinary (anything).
  2. Refers to aroma contributed by the charred oakwood in barrels. It can have a variety of impressions – (eg: such as the remains of a burnt-out fire). Needs a variant, such as “wood-smoke” or “barbeque smoke” or “sooty” to fully convey the meaning.

SOFT (see also LIGHT).

Generally has low acid/tannin content. Also describes wines with low alcohol content. Consequently has little impact on the palate.

SOUR (see also CRISP, SHARP).

Almost a synonym for ACIDIC. Implies presence of acetic acid plus excess acid component. (Is also one of the four basic taste sensations detected by the human tongue).

SPICY

Almost a synonym for “peppery“. Implies a softer, more rounded flavour nuance however.

SPRITZY (see also LIVELY).

Considered a fairly minor fault stemming sometimes from the onset of a brief secondary malolactic fermentation in the bottle. Consists of pinpoint carbonation typically released when the bottle cork is pulled. Frowned on more if occurring in white wines vinified to be dry.

STALE (see also TANKY).

Wine with lifeless, stagnant qualities. Usually found in wines that were kept in large vessel storage for an excessive length of time.

STONEY/STONELIKE (see also FLINT/FLINTY).

Describes a _set_ of perceptions that seem to indicate a relatively young white wine fermented from ripe, but not overly so, grapes under cold fermentation conditions. Classic examples are made from Chardonnay grapes in the Chablis region of France. Wines from the Carneros region of the Napa Valley in California are sometimes so described as well. High acidity coupled with a tactile, mouth-filling sensation that has a cleanly “earthy” flavour characterize this type of wine. Term is commonly used to describe initial impact, as in “Ah, _thats_ a flinty”, (or stoney), “wine”.

STRUCTURE

The flavour plan, so to speak. Suggests completeness of the wine, all parts there. Term needs a modifier in order to mean something – (eg: “brawny” etc).

STURDY (see also HEARTY)

STYLISH (see also LIVELY).

The style is bold and definite, jaunty and a little pesky.

SUPPLE

Term often used for young reds which should be more aggressive. More lively than an easy wine with suggestions of good quality. The near synonym “amiable” is also sometimes employed but does not quite emphasise the extra connotation of “leanness” implied.

SWEET (see also CLOYING, RICH, RIPE).

Refers to one of the four basic tastes detected by the sensory nerves of the human tongue. In the description of wine taste-flavour the term “sweet” is almost always used as an identifier denoting the presence of residual sugar and/or glycerin. Wine aromas require a descriptive term to identify the source of the perceived sensation – (eg: “ripe“, “lush“).

TANKY

Synonym for “stale“.

TANNIN (see also ASTRINGENT, PUCKERY).

A naturally occurring substance in grapeskins, seeds and stems. Is primarily responsible for the basic “bitter” component in wines. Acts as a natural preservative, helping the development and, in the right proportion, balance of the wine. It is considered a fault when present in excess.

TARRY/TARLIKE

Descriptive term used when comparing odour detected in the “nose” of a wine with similar odour retained in a memory trained by the use of a comparison kit of scent essences. Such kits include tar, mercaptan, apricots, mushrooms and other flavour essences isolated from wines.

TART (see also SHARP, SOUR).

Synonym for “acidic“.

TASTE

The four basic sensations detectable by the human tongue. The tip of the tongue contains the taste receptors registering “sweetness“. Just a little further back, at the sides, taste will appear “salty“. Behind that, flavour will have a “sour” taste at the sides, finally dissolving into “bitterness” at the near center-rear of the tongue.

TEARS (see also ALCOHOL).

Synonym for “legs“.

THIN/THIN-BODIED (see also LIGHT, MEAGER).

Opposite of “full-bodied“.

TIGHT (see also ANGULAR, CLOSED-IN, HARD).

A term for young wines. Almost an synonym for “dumb“.

TOASTY (see also OAKY, SMOKE/SMOKY, VANILLIN).

Other, similar descriptors are “caramel” and “toffee”. Some also add spicy flavours, such as “cinnamon” or “cloves”.

TOBACCO

Descriptive term, used by some, to describe a flavour component resembling the taste of raw tobacco leaf in the finish of certain red wines. Seems to mainly apply to Cabernet Sauvignons from Bordeaux, France or the Napa region of California. “Cigarbox” is a common term often used as a near synonym especially if a cedar-wood note in the aroma is detected. (Non-smokers may have trouble with this word and its implication).

UNDERIPE (see also ACIDIC, GREEN).

Resulting flavour when grapes that failed to reach optimum maturity on the vine are used in the vinification process.

UNFILTERED

Opposite of “filtered“. However, does not exclude other clarifying processes such as “fining” etc.

UNFINED

Opposite of “fined“. However, does not exclude other clarifying processes such as “filtering” etc.

VANILLA (see also SWEET, TARLIKE).

Component detectable in the “nose” of a wine. The novice taster can compare odours with the vials of artificial ones provided in kit form.

VANILLIN

Component contributed by oakwood barrel staves. Considered to add a degree of “sweetness” to red wines when present in barely detectable amounts, so adding to a desirably complex style prized by connoisseurs.

VARIETAL CHARACTER (see also BREED, HERBACEOUS, GRAPEY).

The particular flavour characteristics associated with a grape picked at optimum maturity – (eg: distinctive “berrylike” taste of California Zinfandels, “blackcurrants” of Cabernet Sauvignon etc).

VEGETAL (see also EARTHY, LEAFY, YEASTY/YEASTLIKE).

Considered a flavour flaw when present in distinctive amounts over and above that occurring naturally in the grape. “Grassy” has somewhat the same connotation.

VINOUS (see also SIMPLE).

Akin to “amiable”. Nothing basically wrong with the wine, just has no impact on the taster. Implies good “character”, but dull experience.

VITIS LABRUSCA (see also GRAPEY).

The grape species believed to be an impure, cross-pollinated version of the wild grape native to North America. Makes tasty juice, jelly but has wine flavour often termed as “foxy“.

VITIS VINIFERA (see also BREED, ELEGANT).

The premier grape species used for the world’s most admired wines. Also referred to as the “European vine”.

VOLATILE (see also HARSH).

Powerful, attack aroma. Usually denotes high level of acidity, alcohol and/or other flavour faults.

WARM

Possesses high alcohol flavour offset by counterbalancing flavours and other desirable qualities. Unlike “hot“, is a positive attribute.

WATERY

Synonym for MEAGER or THIN.

WEIGHTY (see also BODY).

Well-structured/balanced wines with an implication of mildly excessive flavour or “heaviness”.

WELL-BALANCED

Contains all of the essential elements – (ie: alcohol, flavours, acid or astringency etc) – in good proportions.

WOODY

Almost a synonym for OAKY. However, implies an overstay in a wooden container which resulted in the absorption of other wood flavours besides “oak”.

YEASTY/YEASTLIKE (see also DIRTY, EARTHY, NUTTY, VEGETAL).

Term describing odours deriving from varietal yeasts carried on grapeskins, moulds etc. Includes both desirable and undesirable characteristics. Examples would be the presence of “brett” – (brettanomeyces) – a strain of yeast that produces “gamey/smokey” odours that are considered to add to the character of the wine when barely detectable. Considered a flaw when presence is pronounced. Another, similar example is the “dekkera” wild yeast strain which gives a “fresh dirt/cement-y” flavour component.


Acknowledgements.

The preparer of this glossary adapted the “Language” section of “The Connoisseurs Handbook of California Wines” by Charles Olsen, Earl Singer and Norman Roby, published 1982 by Alfred A. Knopf for use as a basic alphabetic outline in order not to stray too far afield from accepted definitions.

Other material was adapted from:

  • “Alexis Lichines Guide to the Wines and Vineyards of France”, (2nd Edn) pub. 1982 by Alfred A. Knopf.
  • “The Art of Winemaking in America” by Phillip M. Wagner, pub. by Alfred A. Knopf, 1981.
  • “From Vines to Wines” by Jeff Cox, pub. by Harper & Row, 1988.

I wish to thank Ralph Amey, Tom Beard, Dan Graham and T. Ulf Westblom for their extremely helpful comments re. this glossary and previous contributions to this list on the subject of wine. Information about two contaminating yeasts was obtained from “The Internet Guide to Wine” by Bradford S. Brown (with Dri Brown), which shows promise of being a seminal work on WWW (World Wide Web).

Along the way several other individuals made helpful comments privately and via the list. My sincere thanks to them also.


Disclaimer: The content of this glossary does not reflect the views or have any connection whatsoever with Alfred University. Affiliation email address below is for identification only. The descriptions above are those of the undersigned and are intended only for use as a general information source available to all.

Anthony Hawkins (28-Jan-1995).

 

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