Wine Terminology: A Glossary
Updated: Dec 31, 2020
So you've mastered the basics and want to become a little more advanced with your wine tasting, but let's be honest; some of the terminology can be a bit confusing or downright intimidating. What is "mouth-feel," and how can wine have legs? Don't fret: here are some terms to help you figure it all out, courtesy of our friends at Sommeliers Choice Awards.
Acidic: Zesty or sour with a sharp edge on the palate. Think of acidity like a squirt of lemon.
Aeration: The addition of oxygen or letting the wine breathe in the open air.
Aftertaste: The taste that lingers in the mouth after a sip of wine. (Synonym: finish)
Aggressive: Harsh in taste or texture, over drying on the palate with too much tannin or high acidity level. Typical of young wines.
Aging: Keeping wines in barrels, tanks and bottles to improve the taste and flavor over time. It also adds additional texture and territory aromas.
Astringent: A dry, puckering or rough feeling in the mouth. Usually due to high acidity or high tannin levels found in some red wines (and a few whites.)
Austere: A lack of depth and richness. Usually attributed to young wines that need time to soften.
Balance: When all of the main components of a wine – acid, alcohol, sugars and tannins – work in harmony with one another.
Body: The weight and fullness of a wine on the palate. Wine can be full-bodied, medium-bodied or light-bodied.
Backbone: Full-bodied, well-structured and balanced by a correct level of acidity.
Blunt: Strong in flavor and often alcoholic, lacking aroma and development of the palate.
Bright: Lively, young and fresh.
Big: Intense flavor that takes up all sections of the mouth and tongue. A big wine is not necessarily a fruit-focused wine; it can also mean that it has big tannins. (Synonym: full-bodied)
Bouquet: Complex aromas that are perceived in wine after it has been bottled and aged.
Burnt: A wine that has an overdone, toasty edge. Also used to describe overripe grapes.
Buttery: Rich and creamy texture with a flavor similar to butter.
Closed: An underdeveloped wine that does not display aroma or flavor.
Chewy: A full-bodied wine with a high-tannin structure and thick texture that you almost feel like chewing the wine before swallowing.
Corked: When a wine has suffered cork taint. A corked wine will have an off-putting and musty flavor and odor with a dry aftertaste.
Cuvee: The batch of a special selection of wine that is made from a vineyard's highest-quality grapes and processes.
Coarse: Robust texture and rough tannins.
Concentrated: Intense flavors.
Cigar box: Flavors that hint toward sweetness and cedar wood aroma.
Dense: A bold, red wine with concentrated aromas on the nose and palate. Often used to describe a young wine that shows the potential of various descriptors, but is too closed to note each one separately.
Depth: The complexity and concentration of flavors in a wine.
Dry: No sensation of sugar.
Decanting: The process of slowly and carefully pouring the wine from its bottle into another container.
Dirty: Off-putting smell and flavor. The result of poor winemaking.
Elegant: Beauty, grace and subtle flavors that are in balance.
Earthy: Can be used both positively (aroma and flavor resembling earth) or negatively (an unpleasant and drying finish.)
Fermentation: The process of converting grape sugars into alcohol using yeast.
Finish: The sense of texture and flavor that linger in the mouth after the wine is tasted. The key to judging a wine's quality is its finish. (Synonym: Aftertaste)
Fruity: Having a strong taste and smell of fresh fruit.
Fat: Full-bodied, high in alcohol and low in acidity. Gives a fat impression on the palate.
Flabby: Lacking a sense of acidity.
Flat: A wine that lacks balance in its structure, particularly in its acidity on the finish.
Full-bodied: High in alcohol and flavor. (Synonym: Big)
Green: The taste of wines made from unripe grapes. Usually negative, this can apply to white wine with vegetal notes.
Grip: A firmness of texture, which is usually from tannins. Wine with a grip is hard to drink and better to sip.
Herbaceous: Herbal and vegetal aromas.
Hot: High in alcohol, tends to burn with heat on the finish.
Hard: Overly tannic wine.
Legs: The sticky droplets that are formed and ease down on the sides of the glass when the wine is swirled.
Length: The amount of time the flavors stay in the mouth after swallowing – the longer the better.
Lean: Can be used both positively (slim, yet enjoyable) or negatively (lacks a perception of fruit.)
Lingering: When the persistence of a wine's flavor stays on the palate for several seconds.
Mature: Ready to drink.
Musty: An old-attic smell, which arises from processing moldy grapes.
Mouth-Feel: The texture of wine on the palate; it can be smooth, rough or velvety.
Nose: The aroma and bouquet of a wine.
Nutty: Most often used to describe oxidized wines, but it can also be a plus for wines if they are close to their oaky flavor.
Noble rot: Grapes that have been attacked by Botrytis (a type of fungus), which is needed for the production of many sweet wines like Sauternes from Bordeaux, Tokaji Azsu from Hungary, German Riesling etc.
Nouveau: A light, youthful and fruity red wine which is bottled and sold as soon as possible.
Oxidized: Too much exposure to air. Oxidized wine become bricky in color and exhibit Sherry like taste.
Oaky: The smell of vanilla, baking spices, dill with a creamy body and a toasted flavor.
Open: A wine that is ready to drink.
Opulent: Sensuous texture that is rich, bold and smooth. These wines are highly desirable.
Pruny: Flavor of overripe, dried out grapes.
Plonk: An inexpensive wine.
Perfumed: Wine that has matured to develop complex aromas similar to that of perfume. Applicable to white wines and some rose wines. Perfumed wines possess a sweet and floral aroma.
Raw: Undeveloped and young. Raw wines are often tannic and high in acidity or alcohol.
Rich: Ample texture, body and flavor, along with a long finish.
Raisiny: Wine with a slight taste of raisins, which occurs from overripe grapes.
Rough: A young, tannic wine with a coarse texture.
Round: Smooth texture, not coarse or tannic.
Robust: Full-bodied and intense.
Ripe: A wine produced from grapes that have reached optimum level of maturity.
Reticent: A wine that holds back or does not exhibit aroma or bouquet characteristics due to its youth.
Smooth: Soft tannins and pleasing texture.
Silky: Creamy and velvety mouth-feel or texture.
Spicy: Flavor and aroma of different spices, such as cloves, thyme, black pepper, bay leaf, paprika, etc.
Steely: Prominent acidity. Such wines can be served as an aperitif or to balance with food that contains high-fat content, like creamy cheeses.
Structured: The relationship or blend of alcohol, tannins, residual sugars, acidity and fruit.
Supple: Not overly tannic.
Sweet: A noticeable sense of sugar contents on the nose and in the mouth.
Tannins: A compound in wine that leaves a dry, bitter and puckery feeling in the mouth. The drying sensation is felt on the inner cheeks, tongue and gums. It is derived from grape skin and seeds. It also acts as a natural preservative that helps the wine age and develop.
Toasty: The flavor of wine derived from oak barrels in which it is aged. It is burnt on the finish.
Tight: Holds its personality and has hard-to-identify fruit characteristics.
Typicity: How well a wine expresses the characteristics of the grape varietal or the winemaking techniques of that region.
Texture: How a wine feels on the palate.
Tart: A high level of acidity. (Synonym: acidic)
Vintage: The year the grapes were harvested and the wine was bottled. Vintage wines are famous for being made from an outstanding yield of grapes; the older the vintage year, the better the wine.
Vegetal: Characteristics of cooked vegetables detected on the nose and palate. An undesirable quality produced from unripe grapes.
Velvety: Silky or smooth mouth-feel.
Vinification: The process of winemaking.
Young: An immature wine that is usually bottled and sold within a year of its production. Young wines are noted for their crisp flavors.