Wine Tasting Terms

AceticThe wine has been “got at” by bacteria
AcidityThe essential natural component which gives wine freshness and zing and prevents it from cloying.
AggressiveOver-tannic or over-acidic.
AlcoholicOver-alcoholic wines tastes “hot”, burns the palate.
AlmondBitter Almond can denote Tocai from Italy.
AniseedFound in red Burgundy and – to a lesser extent – Bordeaux and some Northern Italian whites.
AppleA smell often found in young white wines. Unripe apple is often a sign that a wine has not undergone malolactic fermentation.
ApricotCommon in the white Rhone’s of Condrieu and Chateau Grillet and other examples of the Viognier grape, and in wine from botrytis-affected grapes.
AromaticOften associated with wines made from grapes such as the Gewürztraminer and Muscat.
ArtificialUsed to describe wines whose taste seems to have been created chemically.
AttackThe quality in a wine which makes you sit up and take notice.
AustereA wine difficult to approach, with fruit not obvious. Wait for the flavour to open out in the mouth.
BackwardNot as developed as its age would lead you to expect.
Bad eggsPresence of hydrogen sulphide, usually a result of faulty cellaring or wine-making.
BakedLike stewed fruits, probably from an over-warm vintage.
BalanceA balanced wine has its fruitiness, acidity, alcohol and tannin (for reds) in pleasant harmony.
BananaA 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.
BeefyBig, hearty, meaty wine.
BeeswingA skin which forms on certain old ports, leaving a characteristic residue in the glass.
BigMouth-filling, full-flavoured, possibly strongly alcoholic.
BiscuityOften used to describe the bouquet of Champagne.
BiteHigh acidity, good in young wine.
BlackcurrantFound in Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir wines.
BlowsyExaggeratedly fruity, lacking bite.
BodyA full-bodied wine fills the mouth with flavour.
Bottle-sickNewly bottled wines may take some time (sometimes months) to recover from the shock of air-contact and sulphuring at bottling.
ButterA richness of aroma and texture found in mature Chardonnay, and/or evidence of malolactic fermentation.
Cat’s PeeThe pungent smell of Sauvignon Blanc and Muller-Thurgau.
CedarAn aroma of maturing claret.
ChaptalisedChaptalisation is the process of adding sugar to fermenting must to increase the alcoholic strength. If overdone a wine tastes “hot”.
CherryA characteristic of Beaujolais.
ChocolateFor some people, a sure sign of the pinot noir grape.
Cigar-boxSee cedar
ClosedHas yet to show its quality.
CloudyA sign of a faulty wine.
CloyingA sickly taste, sweetness without acidity.
ClumsyAn unbalanced wine.
CoffeeSpecial characteristics of old, great Burgundy.
ComplexHaving a diverse, well blended mixture of smells and flavours.
CookedA “warm”, stewed fruit flavour – may suggest over warm fermentation or the use of grape concentrate.
CorkedA wine spoiled by a bad cork has a musty smell and flavour.
CrispFresh, lively, with good acidity.
CrustDeposit thrown by a mature port.
DepthWine with depth fills the mouth with lingering flavour.
DirtyBadly made wine can taste unclean.
Dirty SocksCheesy sourness accompanying badly made white wine.
DryHaving no obvious sweetness.
Dried outA wine that has lost its fruit as it has aged.
DumbNo apparent smell.
DustySometimes used to describe tannic Bordeaux – literally the dusty smell of an attic.
EarthyNot as unpleasant as it sounds – an “earthy” flavour can characterise certain fine Burgundy.
EggyCarelessly handled sulphur can produce an eggy smell.
ElegantRestrained, classy.
EucalyptusA flavour and smell often found in Cabernet Sauvignon.
ExtractThe concentration of the grapes flavours in the wine.
FarmyardA characteristic of Burgundian Pinot Noir.
FatUsed to describe mouth filling wines, especially Chardonnay and white wines from the Rhone and Alsace.
FinesseUnderstated, classy.
FinishHow a wine’s flavour ends in the mouth. Can be “long” or “short”
FlabbyLacking balancing acidity.
FlatShort of acidity and fruit.
ForwardA precocious wine showing its qualities earlier than expected.
GenerousBig, mouth-filling, round.
GooseberryThe smell of Sauvignon Blanc.
GrapeyIts surprising how rare this flavour is : Muscat and Riesling are often grapey; so is good Beaujolais.
GrassyGreen smell of young wine, especially Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Franc.
Green pepperCan be the sign of Cabernet Sauvignon.
GripFirm wine has “grip”. Essential to some styles.
HerbaceousThink of a cross between grass and flowers – “planty”.
HollowLacking depth and roundness.
HotUsed to describe over-chaptalised, over-alcoholic wines.
JammyA jammy fruit smell often signifies red wines from hot countries.
LanolinSome white wines have an oily softness reminiscent of lanolin.
LegsThe visible evidence of glycerine in a wine, these are the “tears” that run down the glass’s side after swirling.
LemonYoung whites may display a lemony freshness.
LengthThe time the flavour stays in the mouth.
Malic acidThe component of wine converted by malolactic fermentation into softer lactic acid. Smell like green apples in young white wines.
MeatyA wine to get your teeth into.
MellowSoft and mature.
MetallicTaste/smell arising from the use of poor equipment.
MintOften found in cabernet sauvignon.
MouldyTaste/smell arising from rotten grapes, poor wine-making or a bad cork.
Mouth-puckeringYoung, tannic or over acidic wine has this effect.
NoseThe smell of a wine.
NuttyEspecially of Chardonnay and sherry.
OakyIn moderation, pleasant, like vanilla.
Old socks (clean)A promising sign of young white Burgundy, particularly Chablis.
OxidisedIf 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.
PalateThe flavour, and what you taste it with.
Pear dropsSmell which is usually the mark of a very young wine.
PepperBlack, not green: the sign of the Grenache or Syrah in the Rhone.
PetrolA desirable aroma of mature Riesling.
Quaffing, quaffableEveryday wine, usually soft, fruity and undemanding.
Residual SugarThe natural grape sugar left in a wine which has not been fermented into alcohol.
RipeGrapes were fully ripe when picked.
RobustSolid, full-bodied.
RoundSmooth and harmonious.
ShortWine with a short finish.
StructureWine with a good structure has, or will have, all its elements in harmony.
SulphurThe antiseptic used to protect wine from bacteria.
TanninThe mouth-puckering ingredient in red wine. Softens with age.
TobaccoLike cigar-box, found in oak-aged reds.
VanillaAroma of wines matured in American oak casks.
VegetalEarthy, wet-leaf smell; cabbagey, often of big Italian red wines.
VioletsFloral red Burgundies and Chiantis can smell intensely of violets.
VolatileIn an unstable – volatile – wine, acids evaporate from the surface giving vinegary, sometimes “greasy” smells.
YeastLike newly baked bread; smell found in Champagne, Muscadet sur lie and in some nuttily rich white wines.