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Tasting Terms

A

  Acetic
This describes a vinegary aroma, and is caused by acetic acid, which develops from the metabolism of alcohol by certain bacteria.
  Acetone
This describes the odor of nail polish that is formed by volatile acidity.
  Acidity
Should always be described in a tasting note - common descriptors (low to high) are flabby, soft, balanced, crisp, tart, biting.
  Alcohol
Should always be described in a tasting note - common descriptors (low to high) are low or soft, moderate, high or hot.
  Almond
Common white wine descriptor, sometimes indicating age. Often used with Sherry.
  Apples
Usually as in green - common for Chablis. Riper apple flavors would be Golden or Delicious.
  Aroma
A general word used for the smell of youthful wines, this is distinct from bouquet, which is used for older wines.
  Asparagus
A common descriptor for New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, this is similar to the term "cat's pee" without the animal edge.
  Astringent
Heavily tannic, astringent wines make you pucker.
  Austere
Austere is usually a nice way to say "not showing much fruit". This often means tannic and acidic.

B

  Backward
Another nice way to say "not much fruit", but without the tannic/acidic connotations.
  Baked
Showing overripe fruit.
  Balance
A wine has balance when it is not dominated by one particular characteristic. A comment on the overall balance of the wine belongs in every tasting note.
  Banana
An aroma sometimes found in wines for early consumption, this indicates low temperature fermentation or carbonic maceration.
  Barnyard
An earthy smell. This is a nice way to say, "it smells like poop"
  Berry fruit
A general term that encompasses raspberry and blackberry fruits
  Big
Full bodied and tannic with ripe fruit.
  Blackcurrant
A common descriptor for Cabernet
  Body
Always described in a tasting note as either light, medium, full.
  Bouquet
The smell of an aged wine, as opposed to the aroma of a youthful one.
  Buttery
An aroma that comes from malolactic fermentation, usually seen in Chardonnay and some barrel fermented Sauvignon Blanc.

C

  Caramel
Not necessarily a sweet aroma, this occurs with age and is common in both barrel-aged whites and in mature Champagne.
  Cedar
CO2 can cause a slight prickle if left dissolved in wine at the end of fermentation. This is usually seen in wines meant for early consumption.
  Cherry
A common descriptor for Sauvignon Blanc, especially from the Loire. Sometimes seen in New Zealand, the latter is often described as "asparagus", since it lacks the animal component.
  Chocolate
A common descriptor for Cabernet aged in French oak, usually seen with a couple years of bottle age.
  Cinnamon
A common descriptor for warm-climate Cabernets, this can also be used with Grenache/Syrah blends from Australia or the Rhone.
  Clarity
A note that can come into youthful wines aged in oak.
  Cleanliness
Something that should be noted in every tasting note. This is described as brilliant, clear, opaque or cloudy
  CO2
The character of being free from unpleasant aromas that can result from errors in wine handling or storage. This should form a part of every tasting note.
  Coconut
A common descriptor for wines aged in American oak.
  Complex
A tricky term, this should not be used unless you can pick out and name several aromas or flavors present at the same time.
  Cooked
Another term for overripe fruit aromas - smells like prunes.
  Corked
The pungent aroma of wet cardboard noticed in wines affected by TCA taint.
  Creamy
A note that comes into barrel aged wines that have been aged on the lees.

D

  Deep
Another nebulous term, like complex, that needs to be qualified to be useful.
  Dill
An aroma typical of wines aged in American Oak (Think Silver Oak or Far Niente Cab).
  Dry
Not sweet. This means many things to many people, it is legally defined as less than 7 g/l residual sugar or less than 12 g/l if the acidity is less than 5 g/l
  Dumb
A nice way to say that a wine isn't showing much fruit, but it just might later.
  Dusty
A word indicating an earthy, minerally aroma, typically in red wine.

E

  Earthy
A descriptor used to describe a slightly funky wine, without the "barnyard" dimension. More common in Old World than New World wines, which are heavily fined and filtered to remove impurities.
  Eucalyptus
A common note in Cabernet from Australia and California, this means slightly herbal or minty, but not quite bell pepper.
  Extract
A fancy way to refer to the body.

F

  Fat
A full-bodied, rich wine with silky (soft) tannins that is low in acidity.
  Feminine
Not P.C., this old-fashioned term is still in current use. It means perfumed and elegant, rather than robust and full-bodied.
  Figgy
A word used to describe a very ripe sort of fruit, not quite tropical but almost honeyed. Dried fig is used usually with dessert wines, particularly Vin Santo, but also Sauternes in some vintages with little rot.
  Finesse
A word commonly used to refer to a wine that has elegance and perfume rather than full body and power; a well-balanced wine.
  Finish
An important element, this should be described in every tasting note as short, moderate, long or very long. It refers to the persistence of flavor in the mouth after the wine has been spit or swallowed.
  Firm
A descriptor for wines with crisp acidity and/or somewhat astringent tannins. Not pejorative.
  Flabby
A word used to describe wines low in acidity. Definitely pejorative.
  Flat
Another word used for low-acid wines. This descriptor is also used for wines lacking fruit, and may indicate slight oxidation.
  Flinty
A wine that shows a hard, minerally or stony side to the fruit. This term is used often for Chablis and Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire.
  Flowery
A general word to indicate a floral scent without specifying a flower.
  Forward
Forward wines show a very aromatic fruit character. This is typical of grapes ripened in warm climates, where the sugar accumulation is fairly rapid, e.g. California and Australia. This characteristic can also be obtained by technical means.
  Foxy
A common descriptor for wines made from hybrids or non-vinifera wines, this word indicates the aroma and flavor of Concord grapes.
  Fruit
A general characteristic of all wine that has several different aspects (see above). It should be described in depth in every tasting note.
  Fruity
A word sometimes used as a euphemism for sweet, it can also indicate a rather simple wine lacking in complexity but showing good ripeness.

G

  Grapey
This descriptor is used often for dessert wines, particularly made from the Muscat grape, and also for Gamay. It indicates the fruit character of table grapes.
  Grassy
A common descriptor for the herbal element often found in Sauvignon Blanc and other white grapes. When used for a red wine, it indicates underripe fruit.
  Green
Used to indicate an unripe or underripe fruit character and/or crisp acidity and astringent tannins. As a color descriptor, green reflections are common in Chablis.
  Grip
Grip refers to the firm tannin and acidity in a young red wine, and indicates one that is still fairly aggressive.

H

  Hard
Hard is used to mean lacking fruit and showing astringent tannins.
  Hay
Used to describe a pleasant grassy or herbal character, as in "freshly mown hay".
  Hazelnut
Hazelnut is a common descriptor for barrel-aged white wines and for champagne.
  Herbaceous
Used in a similar way to grassy, but considered more pejorative. Clearly pejorative when used with red wines.
  Honeyed
Used to describe white wines, and not only very sweet dessert wines. This descriptor can be used with very ripe, warm climate Chardonnay.
  Honeysuckle
A descriptor used for a sweet smelling floral character.

I

  Inky
Used to refer to the color of young red wine.

L

  Lanolin
A common descriptor for Chenin Blanc. Woolly is a synonym.
  Leathery
A descriptor used to describe an animal character in full-bodied red wines.
  Legs
Legs are the 'tears' that fall back down the sides of a glass of wine high in glycerol.
  Lemon
Lemon is used both as a fruit descriptor (common for Chablis and other cool climate Chardonnay) and also to describe the color of white wines in general.
  Length
Length refers to the finish of a wine (see above).
  Light
Light is a general word that can refer to either the body of a wine or the level of alcohol.
  Limpid
Clear and shimmery.
  Long
Describes a wine's finish.
  Luscious
Luscious is used to describe the sweetest types of full-bodied dessert wines, such as Sauternes.

M

  Maderised
This word refers to an oxidized wine, and describes the development of acetaldehyde from the oxidization of alcohol. Except in Madeira, Banyuls and a few other dessert styles, this is a fault.
  Masculine
Another term that wins no fans for political correctness. This refers to a full-bodied, tannic red wine.
  Maturity
An essential element of a wine's taste, every tasting note should make reference to this characteristic.
  Medium dry
Describes a wine that is closer to dry than sweet (like Vouvray). This type of wine still makes a good choice to accompany certain main courses.
  Medium sweet
Describes a wine that is closer to sweet than dry. These wines are usually served with cheese or fruit.
  Melon
A fruit descriptor for white wine that falls between apple and fig in terms of ripeness.
  Mercaptans
Mercaptans are rubbery-smelling compounds formed when hydrogen sulfide reacts with carbon in a wine. Low levels can add complexity, but higher levels are a fault.
  Mousey
This describes the aroma produced by the infection of a wine by the wild yeast Brettanomyces.
  Mushrooms
This term describes a pleasant, woodsy aroma that is common to mature white Burgundy and other white wines.
  Musky
A sharp animal aroma that can be present in white wines.

N

  Neutral
A term used to describe a wine with little discernable fruit character.
  Nose
The general term for the smell of a wine, this refers to all of the elements together, aroma or bouquet, primary fruit, secondary character, etc.
  Nutty
This descriptor is used for white wines and Champagnes, particularly those with a little age.

O

  Oak
An important component of the nose of many wines, it is useful to note while tasting if the oak character is well-integrated or if it dominates the fruit characrter. Sometimes it is characterized as "sweet oak", which usually refers to French oak. Ameri
  Off
Off is a general term for wines showing one of the faults described above.

P

  Peach
A fruit descriptor used for a fairly ripe type of white stone fruit (a more general term) that is often noted in Rieslings.
  Pear
A rather non-descript aroma found in wines from fairly neutral varieties like Chardonnay and Semillon.
  Pepper
White pepper is a common descriptor for Gruner Veltliner, while black pepper is commonly used to describe Shiraz or Syrah blends from the Rhone and Australia.
  Petrol
A term used for the developed, almost chemical aroma of aged Riesling.
  Pineapple
A term used frequently for very ripe, warm-climate Chardonnay.
  Plum
A common descriptor for the fruit character of ripe Merlot.
  Primary fruit
A term that refers to the fruit character as distinct from the secondary characters that may be developed from the terroir (flinty, earthy, petrol), or from age (cedar, cigar box, truffles).

Q

  Quality
This is the essence of wine, and no tasting note should be without an assessment of the quality of a wine. It is common to refer to quality as faulty, ordinary (or "commercial", but this is a controversial term - all wine sold is commercial), good, very

R

  Raspberry
Raspberry is a common term for a fairly light red fruit character, for example Cabernet Franc from the Loire Valley.
  Rich
A term used for wines that are full-bodied, either red or white. This can also be a code word for slightly sweet.
  Ripe
Used to refer to the fruit character.
  Roast meat
A common descriptor for Syrah or Shiraz and associated blend, this is also a synonym for bacon fat.
  Robust
Full bodied and tannic, sometimes with a rustic, earthy edge.
  Rosewater
The characteristic aroma of Gewurztraminer.
  Rubbery
A chemical aroma arising from the development of mercaptans.

S

  Secondary Character
Used to refer to those aspects of the nose of a wine that do not come strictly from the fruit, but from either the terroir or the age of the wine (cedar, cigar box, woods or mushrooms).
  Short
Refers to the finish of an ordinary wine.
  Silky
A term used to refer to ripe tannins that add structure and body without being astringent.
  Soft
A descriptor for a wine that is fruity without having appropriate levels of tannin or acidity to balance the fruit.
  Spicy
A term used for warm-climate red wines such as Zinfandel, Syrah/Shiraz and many Italian varieties.
  Stemmy
A pejorative term used to describe underripe red wines lacking fruit.
  Stewed
A pejorative term for warm-climate wines that show a burnt or cooked character to the fruit.
  Sulfur
This is used when the sulfur used in winemaking is evident on the nose by a burnt match smell.
  Supple
A descriptor for red wines that have ripe tannins and full body without being astringent.
  Sweet
This term is not always used to refer to residual sugar - sweet fruit and sweet oak describe elements of ripe fruit character and French oak aging respectively.
  Syrupy
A pejorative descriptor for dessert wines that lack balancing acidity.

T

  Tannin
A characteristic of red wines (and some barrel aged whites). Tannin is a compound belonging to the class of phenols, which are present in the skins, seeds and stems of grapes as well as in oak. This is the element in wine that can cause dryness on the p
  Thin
This pejorative term refers to wine with little body or extract.
  Tough
This descriptor is used for astringent tannins.
  Tropical
A general term used to describe the fruit character of warm climate Chardonnay and some dessert wines.
  Truffle
A descriptor that refers to the woodsy aromas in a mature red wine, particularly Burgundy.

V

  VA
A pejorative descriptor for unripe fruit character in red wines.
  Vegetal
Used when a wine shows acetic acid caused by careless wine handling.
  Vinegar
A floral character commonly found in Syrah and Cabernet.
  Violets
Used (mostly in dessert wines) to describe a wine high in glycerol.
  Viscous
Volatile Acidity. This is formed when bacteria metabolize the alcohol in wine to produce acetic acid, the acid in vinegar. The aroma is caused by an ester called ethyl acetate, which is formed when this acid combines with alcohol. It gives a wine "lift

W

  Walnut
This is a slightly bitter, nutty note found in some Sherries and older, barrel-aged white wines.
  Well-balanced
A wine is said to be well balanced when the fruit character is well supported by the structure of a wine, and none of these structural elements (acidity, alcohol, tannin, body, sugar) dominate on the palate.
  White flowers
A general term to describe a floral element in white wine, particularly in Riesling.
  White stone fruit
A general descriptor for fruit character in white wine that is neither green like green apples or lemon nor as ripe as melon or fig.
  Woody
This is a deep scent that is earthy, like a forest. It develops in both red and white wines with age.

Y

  Yeasty
A common descriptor for Champagne, this element may also be present in other white wines, and describes the scent of rising bread dough.