Wine Tasting Terms

Acetic The wine has been “got at” by bacteria
Acidity The essential natural component which gives wine freshness and zing and prevents it from cloying.
Aggressive Over-tannic or over-acidic.
Alcoholic Over-alcoholic wines tastes “hot”, burns the palate.
Almond Bitter Almond can denote Tocai from Italy.
Aniseed Found in red Burgundy and – to a lesser extent – Bordeaux and some Northern Italian whites.
Apple A smell often found in young white wines. Unripe apple is often a sign that a wine has not undergone malolactic fermentation.
Apricot Common in the white Rhone’s of Condrieu and Chateau Grillet and other examples of the Viognier grape, and in wine from botrytis-affected grapes.
Aromatic Often associated with wines made from grapes such as the Gewürztraminer and Muscat.
Artificial Used to describe wines whose taste seems to have been created chemically.
Attack The quality in a wine which makes you sit up and take notice.
Austere A wine difficult to approach, with fruit not obvious. Wait for the flavour to open out in the mouth.
Backward Not as developed as its age would lead you to expect.
Bad eggs Presence of hydrogen sulphide, usually a result of faulty cellaring or wine-making.
Baked Like stewed fruits, probably from an over-warm vintage.
Balance A balanced wine has its fruitiness, acidity, alcohol and tannin (for reds) in pleasant harmony.
Banana A smell usually associated with young wine, fermented at low temperatures and – in the case of reds – in an oxygen free environment. A sign of maceration carbonique.
Beefy Big, hearty, meaty wine.
Beeswing A skin which forms on certain old ports, leaving a characteristic residue in the glass.
Big Mouth-filling, full-flavoured, possibly strongly alcoholic.
Biscuity Often used to describe the bouquet of Champagne.
Bite High acidity, good in young wine.
Blackcurrant Found in Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir wines.
Blowsy Exaggeratedly fruity, lacking bite.
Body A full-bodied wine fills the mouth with flavour.
Bottle-sick Newly bottled wines may take some time (sometimes months) to recover from the shock of air-contact and sulphuring at bottling.
Bouquet Smell.
Butter A richness of aroma and texture found in mature Chardonnay, and/or evidence of malolactic fermentation.
Cat’s Pee The pungent smell of Sauvignon Blanc and Muller-Thurgau.
Cedar An aroma of maturing claret.
Chaptalised Chaptalisation is the process of adding sugar to fermenting must to increase the alcoholic strength. If overdone a wine tastes “hot”.
Cherry A characteristic of Beaujolais.
Chocolate For some people, a sure sign of the pinot noir grape.
Cigar-box See cedar
Closed Has yet to show its quality.
Cloudy A sign of a faulty wine.
Cloying A sickly taste, sweetness without acidity.
Clumsy An unbalanced wine.
Coffee Special characteristics of old, great Burgundy.
Complex Having a diverse, well blended mixture of smells and flavours.
Cooked A “warm”, stewed fruit flavour – may suggest over warm fermentation or the use of grape concentrate.
Corked A wine spoiled by a bad cork has a musty smell and flavour.
Crisp Fresh, lively, with good acidity.
Crust Deposit thrown by a mature port.
Depth Wine with depth fills the mouth with lingering flavour.
Dirty Badly made wine can taste unclean.
Dirty Socks Cheesy sourness accompanying badly made white wine.
Dry Having no obvious sweetness.
Dried out A wine that has lost its fruit as it has aged.
Dumb No apparent smell.
Dusty Sometimes used to describe tannic Bordeaux – literally the dusty smell of an attic.
Earthy Not as unpleasant as it sounds – an “earthy” flavour can characterise certain fine Burgundy.
Eggy Carelessly handled sulphur can produce an eggy smell.
Elegant Restrained, classy.
Eucalyptus A flavour and smell often found in Cabernet Sauvignon.
Extract The concentration of the grapes flavours in the wine.
Farmyard A characteristic of Burgundian Pinot Noir.
Fat Used to describe mouth filling wines, especially Chardonnay and white wines from the Rhone and Alsace.
Finesse Understated, classy.
Finish How a wine’s flavour ends in the mouth. Can be “long” or “short”
Flabby Lacking balancing acidity.
Flat Short of acidity and fruit.
Forward A precocious wine showing its qualities earlier than expected.
Generous Big, mouth-filling, round.
Gooseberry The smell of Sauvignon Blanc.
Grapey Its surprising how rare this flavour is : Muscat and Riesling are often grapey; so is good Beaujolais.
Grassy Green smell of young wine, especially Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Franc.
Green pepper Can be the sign of Cabernet Sauvignon.
Grip Firm wine has “grip”. Essential to some styles.
Herbaceous Think of a cross between grass and flowers – “planty”.
Hollow Lacking depth and roundness.
Hot Used to describe over-chaptalised, over-alcoholic wines.
Jammy A jammy fruit smell often signifies red wines from hot countries.
Lanolin Some white wines have an oily softness reminiscent of lanolin.
Legs The visible evidence of glycerine in a wine, these are the “tears” that run down the glass’s side after swirling.
Lemon Young whites may display a lemony freshness.
Length The time the flavour stays in the mouth.
Malic acid The component of wine converted by malolactic fermentation into softer lactic acid. Smell like green apples in young white wines.
Meaty A wine to get your teeth into.
Mellow Soft and mature.
Metallic Taste/smell arising from the use of poor equipment.
Mint Often found in cabernet sauvignon.
Mouldy Taste/smell arising from rotten grapes, poor wine-making or a bad cork.
Mouth-puckering Young, tannic or over acidic wine has this effect.
Nose The smell of a wine.
Nutty Especially of Chardonnay and sherry.
Oaky In moderation, pleasant, like vanilla.
Old socks (clean) A promising sign of young white Burgundy, particularly Chablis.
Oxidised If a table wine looks and smells of sherry, it’s oxidised – a diagnosis confirmed by its colour: brown for red wines, deep yellow for whites.
Palate The flavour, and what you taste it with.
Pear drops Smell which is usually the mark of a very young wine.
Pepper Black, not green: the sign of the Grenache or Syrah in the Rhone.
Petrol A desirable aroma of mature Riesling.
Quaffing, quaffable Everyday wine, usually soft, fruity and undemanding.
Residual Sugar The natural grape sugar left in a wine which has not been fermented into alcohol.
Ripe Grapes were fully ripe when picked.
Robust Solid, full-bodied.
Round Smooth and harmonious.
Short Wine with a short finish.
Structure Wine with a good structure has, or will have, all its elements in harmony.
Sulphur The antiseptic used to protect wine from bacteria.
Tannin The mouth-puckering ingredient in red wine. Softens with age.
Tobacco Like cigar-box, found in oak-aged reds.
Vanilla Aroma of wines matured in American oak casks.
Vegetal Earthy, wet-leaf smell; cabbagey, often of big Italian red wines.
Violets Floral red Burgundies and Chiantis can smell intensely of violets.
Volatile In an unstable – volatile – wine, acids evaporate from the surface giving vinegary, sometimes “greasy” smells.
Yeast Like newly baked bread; smell found in Champagne, Muscadet sur lie and in some nuttily rich white wines.