Welcome to the Wine Glossary, our dictionary of the most commonly used wine-descriptive words.
Wine, like any other product or industry, has its own unique language that adds to the mystique of the product. While many words may have a similar meaning for certain groups of people, this language is anything but universal. Everyone’s mouth chemistry is different, our thresholds are unique to us and we taste in various intensities. This makes it all the more difficult to articulate an exact sensation with mere words.
When we begin winetasting, we all start out using the simplest and broadest of terms and with patience, persistence and practice, our phrases become increasingly more specific and precise. But no matter where you are on this sliding scale of wine articulation, it is important to use those expressions that are truly common denominators so we have something we can all relate to.
Acidity is the “life” of wine. They’re necessary for the zest, freshness, liveliness, aroma and longevity, particularly in white wine. The best wines will have plenty of acidity balanced with other components of wine such as sweetness. A wine with too much acidity will taste sharp, or make you pucker as if you’ve tasted a slice of fresh lemon. A wine with too little acidity will taste soft or flat. Acid is a negative term used to describe a wine, acidity is a positive statement.
AFTERTASTE or FINISH
These are two words used to describe the taste left in your mouth after you’ve swallowed the wine. Both quality (fruity, hot, spicy, tannic, buttery, etc) and length (short or long) of aftertaste are evaluated.
Although long-term aging is not a sought-after virtue in wine any longer, wines do improve during the aging process, which can take anywhere from four months to five years before the wine is ready to be sold or drunk. If certain wines are able to age under proper conditions, all of its independent components merge together to create a wine that is altogether unique and more refined. Like the fine-tuning of a violin – the music is exquisite! Generally speaking, most of the wines available today are ready to drink and inexpensive wines should always be drunk young.
BALANCE or BALANCED
A primary goal of every winemaker, this is the all-important ratio between the different components of a wine that make it pleasant. Acidity must balance with sweetness, oak and tannin should balance with fruit, and alcohol should balance with body and flavour. If all of the wine’s desirable components are present in proper proportion, it becomes graceful, like the sounds of a symphony. Sometimes age will have an influence on a wine’s balance.
You’ve heard it said that a wine is “big” wine. This is a broad, general term for a very full-bodied wine with plenty of flavour and richness. This generally positive term can refer to both red and white wines. In the case of red wines, it is often used to describe a wine with plenty of tannin. In white, it’s usually used to describe a full-bodied wine with high alcohol.
Bitterness is one of the four basic tastes and can be detected at the back of the tongue or top of the throat. Not usually a complimentary term, bitterness in wine may be a characteristic of the grape variety, such as Gewürztraminer or Muscat, extremely dry growing conditions, or poor wine making.
The body of a wine generally refers to the weight or fullness of a wine in your mouth. Wines can be categorized as light in body, medium or full. It can refer to the differences in weight in your mouth, similar to that of water, a milkshake or oil. These differences come mostly from the alcohol content, glycerin, or, in the case of dessert wines, sugar.
BOTRYTIS or BOTRYTIS CINEREA
In France, this is called “noble rot.” It is a mould that has the effect of concentrating the flavours and components of the grapes by allowing the evaporation of the water in the juice. It has the effect of imparting a desirable, unique, honey-like essence to the finished wine.
Is the smells that develop as a result of fermentation or with age in the wine bottle. These could be the characteristic smells of a matured wine. The bouquet of a Cabernet Sauvignon, for example, will often contain aromas of leather and chocolate.
This is what a wine does if you exposed it to air. Sometimes, simply leaving it in your wine glass for a few moments will bring out the character of a wine. Sometimes, it is necessary to decant a wine. Pour the wine into a larger container, such as a decanter, to mix the air with the wine, hastening the aging process. Breathing can be beneficial for many red wines and also for some young whites, depending on the wine. Breathing releases aromas which then become more pronounced.
Descriptor for rich flavour and smoothness of texture, somewhat akin to the oiliness and flavour of butter. More often refers to oak-aged white wines than reds; many Chardonnays and white Burgundies are said to have buttery aromas and flavors.
If a wine is said to be “closed” it suggests there are expected flavours and aromas that are hidden or that you cannot fully detect. Closed usually refers to a temporary condition and, with a bit of exposure to air or further aging, will bring about more character definition in the wine.
A complex wine is one with many elements that are present together, yet none necessarily dominates the other. Complexity is that elusive quality in which many layers of flavour separate a great wine from a very good one.
This term is used when referring to the liquid streams that form on the inside of a wine glass after the wine has been swirled. Usually, the higher the alcohol content, the more impressive the streams.
A natural component found to varying degrees in the skins, seeds and stems of grapes; most prominent in red wines, where it creates a dry, puckering sensation in young reds of concentrated extract; mellows with aging and drops out of the wine to form sediment; a major component in the structure of red wines.
This is a technical French term that is used to describe the characteristic aromas and flavours of wine from grapes grown in a particular vineyard or region. Terroir incorporates the characteristic contributions of both soil and climate to the wine's unique style or "typicity."
This term reflects the expected aromas and flavours of the grape variety from which the wine is made. A region’s winemaking practices, soils and grape varieties all have an influence on the wine’s character.