Basic Wine Tasting Terms
This list of wine terms and definitions will give you a head start at your next wine tasting. It is often helpful to carry a small notepad with you to tastings so you can jot down your impressions of wines. Develop your own list of wine terms: using your own words to describe different tastes and aromas will help you to remember and apply them.
Acetic: A vinegary taste fault that results when a wine is excessively exposed to air.
Acidity: A sharp radiance and pleasing quality that naturally enhances wines flavor. Wines in which acidity is lacking or out of balance with the fruit and other elements are most likely boring and unexciting.
Aftertaste: The taste or finish that remains in the mouth after swallowing a sip of wine. The finer the wine, the longer lingering the aftertaste.
Aroma: The fragrance or smell of a wine, ranging from smoky to herby to flowery and more.
Aromatic: A wine with a prominent aroma, particularly those fragrant with herbs or spices.
Astringent: A quality caused by high tannins that produces a drying sensation of the gums and tongue.
Balance: When a wine’s elements, including fruit, tannins, acidity, and alcohol are in perfect proportioned agreement with one another.
Big: Robust or full-bodied in flavor and aroma.
Bitter: A twinge or strong sensation noticeable at the back of the tongue. Usually a taste fault but an attribute in certain Italian reds.
Body: The texture and weight of a wine as perceived in the mouth. A wine may have light, medium, or full body.
Botrytis cinerea: A fungus or mold that grows on ripening grapes, which can produce sweet dessert wines when cultivated properly.
Bouquet: The complex fragrance that develops in fine aged wines.
Brix: A scale of measurement used to determine the sugar content of grape juice and its ripeness and readiness to harvest and begin fermentation.
Brut: A very dry style of champagne or sparkling wine.
Buttery: A rich and oily heaviness in the mouth and buttery flavor thats found in many oak-aged whites, like Chardonnay.
Chewy: Unusual thickness of texture or tannins.
Clean: The quality of a thin, fresh wine that finishes smooth in the mouth and has nothing unfavorable about it.
Closed: Withheld character common in young, immature, or undeveloped wines.
Complete: A satisfying and mature quality of wine with a solid finish.
Complex: Flavors and aromas that have multiple layers of sensation.
Cooked: A heavy flavor suggestive of prunes.
Corky: A taste fault suggestive of cork or mildew caused by a defective or damaged cork.
Crisp: A clean and fresh characteristic that is sometimes tart, not soft.
Deep: Having layers of flavor complexity that progressively open up with oxygenation.
Delicate: Restrained flavors and aromas that are neither strong nor intense.
Developed: A drinkable and mature quality of wine.
Distinctive: A wine that sets itself apart with refined character qualities.
Dry: A wine that finishes parched or dehydrated in the mouth, not sweet.
Dull: A flat, lackluster wine, deficient in acidity and liveliness.
Dumb: Withheld flavor or aroma common in young or improperly chilled, stored, or aged wines.
Earthy: The pleasant aroma or flavor of moist soil or earth.
Fat: Robust or full-bodied in flavor and aroma.
Fine: A quality wine in terms of flavor, aroma, and overall positive characteristics.
Finish: The aftertaste that remains in the mouth after swallowing a sip of wine. The finer the wine, the longer lingering the finish.
Firm: A well-balanced wine in terms of its structure and components, not soft or harsh.
Flat: A dull, lackluster wine, deficient in acidity and liveliness.
Flavor: The taste or notes found in a wine, which may vary from smoky to spicy to flowery and more.
Fleshy: Robust and ripe in fruit flavor, texture, and aroma.
Flinty: A dry, mineral flavor thats suggestive of limestone.
Flowery: An aroma suggestive of flowers.
Forward: Full of robust fruit flavor.
Foxy: The distinctive flavors of wines made from native American grapes.
Fruity: A sweet aroma or flavor suggestive of peaches, cherries, apples, pears, raspberries, citrus, currants, strawberries, and more.
Full-bodied: Indicating strong character, in terms of flavor and alcohol.
Green: A tart and fruit-deficient flavor found in wines made from unripe grapes.
Hard: Taut with high tannins.
Harmonious: A perfectly balanced wine in terms of all its componentsfruit, acid, and tannin.
Harsh: A negative characteristic describing a bitter, unpleasant, or offensive taste or sensation, usually from excessive tannins or acidity.
Heady: A robust, full-bodied wine that is high in alcohol.
Herbaceous: An herbal aroma or flavor suggestive of herbs, leaves, or plants.
Herby: An herbal aroma or flavor suggestive of herbs like sage, mint, or thyme.
Honest: The quality of a clean, simple wine that has nothing unfavorable about it.
Honeyed: A flavor or aroma suggestive of honey, often found in late-harvest wines affected by Botrytis cinerea.
Intricate: A wine with subtle aroma and flavor complexities that intermingle.
Legs: The syrupy remnants that run down the inside of the wine glass after it is swirled or sipped, which indicate the body and texture of a wine.
Length: A long-lingering taste or finish that remains in the mouth after swallowing a sip of wine.
Light: Indicating a thin character, in terms of texture, weight on the tongue, and alcohol.
Lively: Pleasingly vibrant, crisp, and fresh.
Maderized: The stale odor and deep amber color thats found in many aged and oxidized wines, like the whites from Madeira.
Mature: Fully developed and ready to bottle or drink.
Mellow: A soft and smooth quality, not harsh.
Moldy: An aroma suggestive of mold or rot, often found in aged wines or wines affected by Botrytis cinerea.
Muscular: A big, bold, and fruitful flavor quality.
Musty: A stale or pungent aroma.
Noble Rot: See Botrytis cinerea.
Nose: The smell of a wine.
Nutty: A roasty aroma or flavor suggestive of hazelnuts, almonds, roasted nuts, etc.
Oaky: An aroma or flavor suggestive of oak thats found in many oak-aged wines, often smoky or spicy.
Off-dry: Wine quality that cannot be deemed sweet or dry.
Open: Fully released character common in mature or fully developed wines.
Oxidized: A flat, stale taste fault that results when a wine is excessively exposed to air.
Pétillant: A lightly sparkling quality.
Rich: A full-bodied wine that finishes with a depth and complexity of flavor and an overall pleasing taste and aroma.
Ripe: A mature wine that tastes of fully ripened fruit.
Robust: A full-bodied, big, and heady quality.
Rough: A harsh and unfavorable flavor quality.
Round: A perfectly structured flavor quality in terms of a wines acidity, tannin, alcohol, and sweetness.
Sharp: An intense sensation along the sides of the tongue, attributed to acidity or tannins.
Short: A too-brief taste or finish that ends abruptly after swallowing a sip of wine.
Silky: A smooth and graceful texture quality.
Simple: Flavors and aromas that have only a single layer of sensation, not complex.
Smoky: An aroma or flavor suggestive of wood smoke and often associated with oak-aged wines.
Soft: Wines that are heady and sweet more than acidic or tannic, not hard or rough.
Solid: A well-structured wine in terms of its components, not soft or harsh.
Sommelier: A professional wine steward.
Sour: An intense acidic or vinegary sensation along the sides of the tongue.
Sparkling: Bubbly wines, like champagnes or sparkling wines.
Spicy: A fragrance or flavor reminiscent of spices like cinnamon, black pepper, clove, or mint.
Spritzy: A slightly sparkling quality, sometimes created when bottling very young wines.
Stiff: See dumb or closed.
Strong: Characteristic of rich, robust, full-bodied wines.
Structure: A wines makeup and proportions in terms of alcohol, tannin, acid and sugar.
Supple: A soft flavor and texture quality found in wines that are ready for drinking, not rough or harsh.
Sweet: A ripe and fruity taste quality noticeable at the tip of the tongue, which is usually indicative of residual sugars.
Tannin: A natural substance found in the skins, stems, and seeds of grapes that imparts a puckery mouthfeel to young reds and produces the structure, texture, ageability of most reds.
Tart: An intensely sharp sensation along the sides of the tongue, which is sometimes acceptable if not overly acidic.
Terroir: A French word used to describe the growing region and the aspects of that region that make it unique from any other.
Thick: A heavy, dense texture quality.
Thin: Indicating a deficient character, in terms of body and flavor.
Vigorous: A firm and fruit-forward flavor quality.
Volatile Acidity (VA): An acetone-smelling aroma that indicates a wine is turning to vinegar.
Watery: Indicating a deficient character, in terms of flavor.
Weak: A wine lacking in character.
Weedy: A stalky aroma or flavor suggestive of wet hay or straw.
Weighty: See strong or full-bodied.
Woody: An aroma or flavor suggestive of tree bark or oak.
Yeasty: An aroma or flavor suggestive of bread.
Young: A wine that is fresh and new or in fine wines, a wine that is immature.