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Dictionary of Basic Wine Terms
Dictionary of Wine Tasting Terms
Wine Basics: Dictionary of Wine Tasting Terms


Describes a wine that has an unpleasantly harsh taste or texture, usually due to high levels of tannin or acid.

Refers to a wine's clarity, not color. Common descriptors refer to the reflective quality of the wine; brilliant, clear, dull or cloudy for those wines with visible suspended particulates.

Describes wines which leave a coarse, rough, furry or drying sensation in the mouth. Astringency is usually attributed to high tannin levels found in some red wines (and a few whites). High tannin levels are frequently found in Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.

Tasting term for relatively hard, high-acid wines that lack depth, roundness, richness and body. Can also describe young wines that need time to soften.

Describes the structure of a wine, referring to balanced acidity, alcohol and, in red wines, tannin. Wines lacking structure are thin or flabby.

Describes a young wine that is less developed than others of its type and class from the same vintage.

One of the four basic tastes (along with sour, salty and sweet). If the bitter taste dominates the wine, it is considered a fault and can be ascribed to poor fruit or excessive use of oak or oak chips.

The impression of weight, fullness or thickness on the palate; usually the result of a combination alcohol, sugar, dissolved solids (including sugars, phenolics, minerals and acids) and, to a lesser extent, glycerin. Common descriptors include light-bodied, medium-bodied and full-bodied. For example, skim milk could be considered "light-bodied", whole milk "medium-bodied" and cream "full-bodied." Although a fuller-bodied wine makes a bigger impression in the mouth, it is not necessarily higher in quality than a lighter-bodied wine.

Sometimes called "bottle bouquet," this term describes smells such as earth and leather that develop during fermentation and bottle aging. Contrast with aromas such as fresh young fruit and oak, which are developed in the grape itself.

Describes the appearance of very clear, bright wines with absolutely no visible suspended or particulate matter. Not always a plus, as it can indicate a highly filtered wine.

Describes a wine's color and indicates wine that has been aged. A bad sign in young red and white wines, but less significant in older wines. Wines 20 to 30 years old may have a brownish edge and still be enjoyable.

Indicates the aroma or flavor of melted butter. Also a reference to texture, as in "a rich, buttery Chardonnay."

Describes the smell of cedar wood frequently associated with mature Cabernet Sauvignon or Cabernet blends aged in French or American oak.

Describes highly extracted, full-bodied and tannic wines that are so rich they seem as if they should be chewed, rather than simply swallowed.

Describes wines that are concentrated and have character, yet are tight or timid in aroma or flavor.

An evident lack of visual clarity. Fine for old wines with sediment, but in younger wines cloudiness can be a warning signal.

Describes sweet wines that lack the acidity to balance their sugar content. Rather than leaving the palate clean, a sticky, gummy sensation remains.

Usually refers to texture, especially the roughness associated with excessive tannins or oak. Also describes harsh, large bubbles found in some lesser sparkling wines.

Corked or Corky
Describes a wine with the off-putting flavor and aroma caused by a tainted cork; musty basement or moldy newspaper.

Describes light- to medium-weight wines, which nevertheless have intense flavors. A desirable quality in wines such as Pinot Noir or Riesling.

Describes the complexity of flavors in a wine, as in a wine with many layers of flavor that unfold on the palate. Contrast with vinous.

Describes wine with foul, off-putting smells resulting from poor winemaking.

A wine with no perceptible taste of sugar. Most tasters begin to perceive sugar at levels of 0.5 percent to 0.7 percent.

Drying Out
Describes wine that has reached maturity and begun to decline, losing its fruit flavor (or sweetness in a sweet wine); the wine becomes unbalanced as acid, alcohol or tannin begin to dominate.

Tasting term for a phase in young wines when their initial freshness has faded and bottle character has not yet developed.

Describes wines with aromas or flavors of soil or earth. In small amounts the aromas or flavors can add complexity and be positive characteristics, but become negative as the intensity increases. Frequently associated with Pinot Noir.

Describes balanced, harmonious, refined wines; subtle rather than a highly-extracted blockbuster.

Describes a wine that is losing color or flavor, usually as a result of age.

Full-bodied, high alcohol wines give a "fat" impression on the palate. Can be a plus with bold, ripe, rich flavors.

Finish refers to the length of time a wine's flavors and mouthfeel linger after swallowing or spitting, and like aftertaste, is an important indicator of quality. In general, the longer the finish, the better the wine.

Describes a wine that is unbalanced due to insufficient acidity.

Floral or Flowery
Literally, having the characteristic scents of flowers. Mostly associated with white wines.

Describes wine with good levels of acidity and a lively, crisp character.

Denotes the simple flavors and aromas of fresh table grapes, as opposed to the more complex fruit flavors (such as currant, black cherry, fig and apricot) found in fine wines.

Having the scent of grass, including freshly mown grass and hay. A pleasant signature descriptor for Sauvignon Blanc unless overbearing and pungent.

Tasting of unripe fruit. Wines made from less ripe grapes will often possess this quality. Pleasant in lower concentrations when balanced with other flavors. Often associated with Riesling and Gewürztraminer.

Beyond firm; having so much acidity or tannin that the wine requires cellaring to be pleasant to drink; most frequently a descriptor for young red wines. Usually results from high acidity or tannins.

Describes the full, warm qualities of simple red wines with high alcohol. See also robust, rustic.

Describes high-alcohol wines.

Describes the aromas and flavors of herbs in a wine. A plus in many wines such as Sauvignon Blanc and, to a lesser extent, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Herbal is a synonym, though when the concentration of the aroma is high—and becomes less than pleasant—the term herbaceous is used.

Lacking in flavor, especially in the mid-palate. Describes a wine that has some flavor on the beginning of the sip and on the finish, but is missing intensity or distinct flavors in between.

Describes high alcohol, unbalanced wines that tend to burn with "heat" on the finish. Generally a fault, but acceptable in fortified wines.

The viscous droplets that form and ease down the sides of the glass when the wine is swirled. The more pronounced and persistent the legs, the higher the alcohol content of the wine. Note that neither legs nor alcohol content are absolute indicators of quality.

The amount of time that taste, flavor or mouthfeel persist after swallowing a wine. The longer the finish, the better the wine quality. Common descriptors are short, long and lingering.

Describes the brownish color and slightly sweet, somewhat caramelized and often nutty character found in mature dessert-style wines such as Madeira. Sometimes used to describe a wine that is oxidized due to poor storage.

Malic Acid
A sharp, tart acid found in grapes as well as in green apples. Less-ripe grapes or grapes grown in cooler climates can contain high levels of malic acid; the resulting wines often contain aromas and flavors reminiscent of green apples. Converted to smoother lactic during malolactic fermentation.

The stage at which the wine will not gain any additional complexity with further bottle aging and is ready to drink. Also describes grapes when they are fully ripe.

Describes highly extracted red wines that are so full-bodied and concentrated, they seem chewy. Can also describe the aromas of cooked meat, bacon and game that are sometimes associated with Syrah and Pinot Noir.

The character of a wine as determined by the olfactory sense. Also called aroma; includes bouquet.

Describes the aroma and flavor frequently found in fortified wines such as Madeira and Sherry; the result of exotic fermentations or deliberate oxidation. Can be a negative character in wines not intended to be made in an oxidative style.

Describes the aromas and flavors imparted by oak barrel-aging. As with most characteristics, balance is key; the descriptor can be positive, or if the oak dominates over the fruit it can be negative. The terms vanilla, cedary, toasty and smoky indicate desirable qualities of oak; burnt, plywood, toothpicks and a forest of oak describe its unpleasant side.

Indicates a slightly sweet wine in which sugar is barely perceptible; usually contains 0.6 percent to 1.4 percent residual sugar.

Describes the intense aromas found in some wines, especially in floral white wines.

Describes a young and undeveloped, often tannic wine; typical of red wine sampled from the barrel.

Residual Sugar
Unfermented grape sugar in a finished wine. Adds sweetness and body.

Describes full-bodied wines with generous flavors and a pleasing roundness.

Describes a mouthfeel that is smooth and harmonious, not rough or tannic.

Describes wines made by old-fashioned methods or tasting like wines made in an earlier era; usually coarse and earthy, can at times also resemble a simple and fruity table wine.

Describes wines low in acid or tannin (sometimes both), made for easy drinking. Opposite of hard wines that contain high acid or tannins.

A descriptor for many wines, indicating the presence of spice flavors such as anise, cinnamon, cloves, mint and pepper. Red Zinfandel and Côte du Rhone are often described as spicy.

Stalky or Stemmy
Describes an unpleasant greenness and astringency from overlong contact with the grape stems or the use of underripe grapes.

Related to the mouthfeel of a wine, provided by acidity, tannin, alcohol, sugar and the way these components are balanced. Wines with low, unbalanced levels of acidity or tannin can be described as "lacking in structure" or "flabby." When the acidity or tannin levels are sufficiently high, a "firm structure" is the result.

Wine component—found mostly in red wines—derived primarily from grape skins, seeds and stems, but also from oak barrels. Tannin acts as a natural preservative that helps wine age and develop. Excessive, unbalanced tannin can taste bitter and leaves the same drying, furry sensation in the mouth as very strong tea. Common tannin descriptors include smooth, velvety, mouth-drying and rough.

Describes a wine's current structure, concentration and body in comparison to its potential. Although it may have the potential to be a good wine, its components are "tightly wound" like a spring ready to be released.

Describes a wine characteristic reminiscent of lightly burnt toast, complete with the bready notes. Often derived from barrel-aging and frequently associated with dry sparkling wines.

Describes wines containing scents reminiscent of herbs and green vegetables such as bell pepper, celery and asparagus. A positive descriptor in small amounts when this quality varietally character correct, as with Cabernet Sauvignon. A negative descriptor when the vegetal element dominates.

Text from www.winespectator.com. Image from the Wine Spectator Pocket Guide to Wine.

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