Here I go again. Wine words and their meaning. I have already written on this topic of wine terminology a few times: How to Become a Pro in the Wonderful World of Wine Tasting and How to Improve Your Wine Experience Without the Jargon to mention just a few. A more recent one is What do Wine Tasting Terms Mean.
Myself and the wine team, here in Green Acres, come across many wine words that would serve to confuse the wine punter, but in fact are extremely useful to use in the industry.
You see, the official Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) tasting grid vocabulary serves a useful purpose – for wine professionals. Because of the vastly different linguistic, taste and cultures across the wine world there must be a uniformity of taste approach that sommeliers etc. can adhere to.
As a result, though, there’s long been a linguistic dance between punters and wine professionals, when trying to figure out exactly what the other is really saying.
A big part of a sommelier’s job and those of a wine retailer is to ask the right questions, interpret a person’s wine knowledge and adapt language accordingly.
In this post I want to explain some more wine words that you might hear or read in subjective tasting notes. Far too often, when we discuss a suitable wine for a customer’s taste, they are either not able to, or embarrassed about trying to describe a wine they love.
The main problem here isn’t necessarily a lack of knowledge. It is more that my lemon may be your orange when it comes to taste.
So let me provide you with a list of, maybe, uncommon wine words that you might hear and not understand what’s meant by them. I’ll list them alphabetically.
Wine Words, A-C
Aromas: They are the odours you smell with your nose in a wine before you put it in your mouth which is when aromas become flavours (a combination of taste and aromas).
Balanced: Where everything such as the fruit, acidity and tannins are harmonious. No one characteristic jumps out first when you taste it.
Bright: I have mentioned this in previous posts. It means lively and higher in acid. Which often translates to easy drinking.
Bold: These wines have pronounced tannins and darker fruit. Sometimes can translate into higher alcohol content but not necessarily ‘heavy’, which is a term some people use.
Creamy: We’re really talking about how the wine feels in the mouth. Think of light-bodied wines as feeling like water in your mouth, medium-bodied wines like skim milk, and full-bodied wines Ike whole milk, or even cream, in the case of some dessert wines.
Wine Words, E-G
Earthy: Is used to say that it’s distinct from the other primary aroma categories like herbal, fruit, floral and spice. Earthiness is often accompanied by a savoury character, which is the opposite of sweet. Some even say it’s like turned soil in the garden!
Elegant: This is a hard one to explain.I think that elegant wines have a certain subtlety about them. They tend toward the sublime. Elegant wines are also often complex. Think of Kim Kardashian vs Grace Kelly or Rap music vs Beethoven. In the end, elegance has a quiet beauty.
Frenetic: I suppose a frenetic wine is an unpredictable one.It’s not a wine that you can pin down with a simple tasting note. It’s always shifting and forcing you to reconsider.
Fun: Probably the easiest one to describe. It’s the one you might not have tasted before, so you don’t know what you’re going to get. They’re easy to drink, but they also surprise you.
Grippy: When a wine’s tannins are a little pronounced and almost too much, it’s grippy. With each subsequent sip, your mouth dries up so is hard to drink, and better to sip.
Wine Words, H-L
Heady: Some people use aggressive or strong to describe these, usually, higher-alcohol wines. It wouldn’t be one I would use a lot, to be honest.
Jammy: This word indicates a wine with a cooked berry sweetness that is syrupy. Not everybody’s cup of tea but can be popular in New World wines.
Juicy: Bursting with fruit, like the wine was grape juice just a moment ago. This often means berries and red stone fruits that are ripe in the summertime and freshly picked.
Lean: Due to their high acidity, lean wines tend to be sharper, causing the mouth to pucker when sipped. It is the opposite of round or fleshy.
Lush: Lush wines are velvety and soft, and they have a rich aroma of fruit. They have the body and concentrated flavour of a bold wine (above), but with less tannins.
Wine Words, M-S
Minerally: I have a full post discussing this term Minerality in Wine, that you can read at your leisure. In the meantime, imagine that smell of fresh wet concrete.
Punchy: I’ve heard these wines described as big, young reds that punch you in the sides of your face with tannins. I suppose that’ll do for here. (I have never used this term).
Refined: This is kind of a subset of elegant wines (mentioned above). This term is often used while describing tannins in a wine. These wines have the less is more ideology about them.
Snappy: As you’ve probably guessed, I think these are crisp, clean, dry white wines.
Smooth: I know many professionals hate this descriptor as all wines should be smooth in their opinion. I guess we could call it as light- to medium-bodied red with velvety (smooth) tannins. I also know many of my non-wine-professional friends use this word to describe a wine. (see Creamy above).
Wine Words, T-Z
Tight: This wine is not ready to drink. When I taste a tight wine, it usually has very high tannins, hard-to-identify fruit characteristics and is hard-to-drink.
Toasty: The wine does not taste like toast. However, because it has been aged in an oak barrel, it might have a slightly burnt caramel taste to it.
Unctuous: Unctuous is used to describe this weighty, oily taste sensation found on the centre area of your tongue, primarily in white and dessert wines. (see creamy above, again).
Varietal: Quite simply, varietal is the type or variety of grape used to make the wine. If a wine is varietally true, it means that it shows all the typical characteristics – mouthfeel, colour, flavour, aroma, etc. – of the grape varietals used in the wine.
Zesty: Zesty is a word used to describe wine with lively flavour characteristics, i.e. noticeable acidity and citrus notes.
Just as there are a great many styles of wine, there are an even greater variety of words used to describe them, running the whole gamut of the alphabet from ‘aromas’ to ‘zesty’.
While the casual wine lover may be happy relying on more basic descriptors, wine experts and sommeliers tap into this enormous glossary in order to communicate the subtle nuances of the wines they taste.
So, we’ve arrived at the end of our wine word journey, the end of our alphabet as such. My advice? Leave the wine glossaries to the pros and describe the wine anyway you like. The list above might just help you to understand what the industry professionals are trying to describe.
I’m positive that there are still plenty of your own wine words out there for you to add to this list. Be sure to let us know if you have – firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you for reading and stay safe – James.