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Wine Tasting Glossary
We've all done the wine thing, but without taking a wine class or reading a book, how much do we really know about how to describe what we're drinking? Below, we've listed some of the terms used to enhance your wine tasting experience. We understand and abide by the adage "taste is all that matters," however if you're looking for some extra credit take a look below.


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Acidic
Describe wines whose total acid is so high that they taste tart or sour and a sharp edge or harsh feeling on the palate.
Acrid
Describes a harsh or bitter taste or pungent smell that is due to excess sulfur.
Aftertaste
The taste or flavors that linger in the mouth after the wine is tasted, spit or swallowed. The aftertaste or "finish" is the most important factor in judging a wine's character and quality. Surprisingly, this may differ significantly from the taste while the wine is in your mouth. A lingering aftertaste is a virtue, as long as the taste is enjoyable. Great wines have rich, long, complex aftertastes.
Aggressive
Slightly harsh in taste or texture, usually due to a high level of tannin or acid.
Alcoholic
Used to describe a wine that has too much alcohol for its body and weight, making it unbalanced. A wine with too much alcohol will taste uncharacteristically heavy or hot as a result. This quality is noticeable in aroma and aftertaste.
Appearance
Refers to a wine's clarity, not color.
Apple
A pleasant apple-fruit aroma, particularly characteristic of Chardonnays made without excessive oak.
Aroma
Traditionally defined as the smell that wine acquires from the grapes and from fermentation. Now it more commonly means the wine's total smell, including changes that resulted from oak aging or that occurred in the bottle--good or bad. "Bouquet" has a similar meaning.
Astringent
Describes a rough, harsh, puckery feel in the mouth, usually from tannin or high acidity that red wines (and a few whites) have. When the harshness stands out, the wine is astringent.
Austere
Used to describe relatively hard, high-acid wines that lack depth and roundness. Usually said of young wines that need time to soften, or wines that lack richness and body.
Awkward
Describes a wine that has poor structure, is clumsy or is out of balance.
Backbone
Used to denote those wines that are full-bodied, well-structured and balanced by a desirable level of acidity.
Backward
Used to describe a young wine that is less developed than others of its type and class from the same vintage.
Balance
A wine has balance when its elements are harmonious and no single element dominates. Alcohol and tannins may also be elements of structure or backbone.
Bite
A marked degree of acidity or tannin. An acid grip in the finish should be more like a zestful tang and is tolerable only in a rich, full-bodied wine.
Bitter
Not common in wines but found occasionally (particularly in the aftertaste, and usually in subtle, refreshing form) in some Italian wines and Alsatian whites. It describes one of the four basic tastes (along with sour, salty and sweet). Some grapes--notably Gewurztraminer and Muscat--often have a noticeable bitter edge to their flavors. Another source of bitterness is tannin or stems. If the bitter quality dominates the wine's flavor or aftertaste, it is considered a fault. In sweet wines a trace of bitterness may complement the flavors. In young red wines it can be a warning signal, as bitterness doesn't always dissipate with age. Normally, a fine, mature wine should not be bitter on the palate.
Blunt
Strong in flavor and often alcoholic (see "Alcoholic"), but lacking in aromatic interest and development on the palate.
Body
The overall texture or weight of wine in the mouth usually the result of a combination of glycerin, alcohol and sugar. Commonly expressed as full-bodied, medium-bodied or medium-weight, or light-bodied.
Bouquet
This is a technical term that describes the smell that a wine develops after it has been bottled and aged. Most appropriate for mature wines that have developed complex flavors beyond basic young fruit and oak aromas.
Brawny
Used to describe wines that are hard, intense, tannic and that have raw, woody flavors. The opposite of elegant.
Briary
Describes young wines with an earthy or stemmy wild berry character.
Bright
Used for fresh, ripe, zesty, lively young wines with vivid, focused flavors.
Brilliant
Exceptionally clear and transparent. Describes the appearance of very clear wines with absolutely no visible suspended or particulate matter. Not always a plus, as it can indicate a highly filtered wine.
Browning
Describes a wine's color, and is a sign that a wine is mature and may be faded. A bad sign in young red (or white) wines, but less significant in older wines. Wines 20 to 30 years old may have a brownish edge yet still be enjoyable.
Burnt
Describes wines that have an overdone, smoky, toasty or singed edge. Also used to describe overripe grapes.
Buttery
Indicates the smell of melted butter or toasty oak. Also a reference to texture, as in "a rich, buttery Chardonnay."
Cedary
Denotes the smell of cedar wood associated with mature Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet blends aged in French or American oak.
Cheezy
Organic, ripe natural cheese aromas, almost always a flaw, typically indicating filthy wine making and an unwanted secondary fermentation in the bottle.
Chewy
Describes rich, heavy, tannic wines that are full-bodied.
Cigar Box
Another descriptor for a cedary aroma.
Clean
Fresh on the palate and free of any off-taste. Does not necessarily imply good quality.
Closed
Describes wines that are concentrated and have character, yet show little aroma or flavor. This may be a temporary condition (akin to "dumb," below) in an age worthy wine that is past its youth but not yet mature.
Cloudiness
Lack of clarity to the eye. Fine for old wines with sediment, but it can be a warning signal of protein instability, yeast spoilage or re-fermentation in the bottle in younger wines.
Cloying
Too sweet and lacking the balance provided by acid, alcohol, bitterness or intense flavor.
Coarse
Usually refers to texture, and in particular, excessive tannin or oak. Also used to describe harsh bubbles in sparkling wines.
Complexity
An element in all great wines and many very good ones; a combination of richness, depth, flavor intensity, focus, balance, harmony and finesse. They offer multiple dimensions in both their aromatic and flavor profiles, and have more going for them than simply ripe fruit and a satisfying, pleasurable, yet one-dimensional quality.
Corked
Always a flaw, this describes a wine having the off-putting, musty, moldy-newspaper flavor and aroma and dry aftertaste caused by a tainted cork.
Delicate
Complex with many flavors working together. Used to describe light- to medium-weight wines with good flavors. A desirable quality in wines such as Pinot Noir or Riesling.
Dense
Describes a wine that has concentrated aromas on the nose and palate. A good sign in young wines.
Depth
Describes the complexity and concentration of flavors in a wine, as in a wine with excellent or uncommon depth. Opposite of shallow. Often refers to a more mature wine.
Dilute
A description of a wine whose aromas and flavors are thin and watery.
Dirty
As the name implies, this covers any and all foul, rank, off-putting smells that can occur in a wine, including those caused by bad barrels or corks. A sign of poor wine making.
Dry
This doesn't mean the opposite of wet, It is the opposite of sweet. Having no perceptible taste of sugar. Most wine tasters begin to perceive sugar at levels of 0.5 percent to 0.7 percent. It can describe wines with a rough feel on the tongue.
Earthy
Imparts a characteristic earthy aroma. Used to describe both positive and negative attributes in wine. At its best, a pleasant, clean quality that adds complexity to aroma and flavors. The flip side is a funky, crude smell that borders on or crosses into dirtiness.
Elegant
Used to describe wines of grace, balance and beauty, not intense.
Elusive
A secret wine-taster's term meaning "I can't figure out what this wine smells like."
Empty
Similar to hollow; devoid of flavor and interest.
Fading
Describes a wine that is losing color, fruit or flavor, usually as a result of age.
Fat
Full-bodied, high-alcohol wines low in acidity give a "fat" impression on the palate. Can be a plus with bold, ripe, rich flavors; can also suggest the wine's structure is suspect.
Finish
The key to judging a wine's quality is finish, also called aftertaste. A measure of the taste or flavors that linger in the mouth after the wine is tasted. Great wines have rich, long, complex finishes.
Flabby
A critical term that is for a wine that is soft, feeble, lacking acidity on the palate.
Flat
Having low acidity; the next stage after flabby. This can also refer to a sparkling wine that has lost its bubbles.
Fleshy
Soft and smooth in texture, with very little tannin.
Flinty
A descriptor for extremely dry white wines such as Sauvignon Blanc, whose bouquet is reminiscent of flint struck against steel; typical of French Chablis and Loire Valley Sauvignon Blancs (Sancerre).
Floral (also Flowery)
Literally, having the characteristic aromas of flowers. Mostly associated with white wines.
Foxy
A term used to describe the unique musky and grapey character of many native American labrusca varieties, like Concord. Foxy wines are not generally well thought of by serious wine lovers, but a well-made Concord wine (or Scuppernong or Muscadine in the American South) can be a pleasant change of pace.
Fresh
Having a lively, clean and fruity character. An essential for young wines.
Fruity
Having the aroma and taste of fruit or fruits. Graceful. Describes a wine that is harmonious and pleasing in a subtle way.
Full
A description of wines that give the impression of being large or heavy in your mouth.
Funky
This is modern slang for an "earthy" wine with strongly organic qualities, may be complimentary, neutral or negative depending on its intensity and the taster's personal preference.
Generous
A wine whose characteristics are expressive and easy to perceive.
Graceful
Describes a wine that is harmonious and pleasing in a subtle way.
Grapey
Characterized by simple flavors and aromas associated with fresh table grapes; distinct from the more complex fruit flavors (currant, black cherry, fig or apricot) found in fine wines. This is not necessarily a positive term. It implies a strong-flavored, one-dimensional wine without the subtlety or character that shows as complex aroma and flavor.
Grassy
A signature descriptor for Sauvignon Blanc and a pleasant one unless overbearing and pungent, smelling just like your lawn after cutting the grass.
Green
Tasting of unripe fruit. Wines made from unripe grapes will often possess this quality. Pleasant in Riesling and Gewurztraminer.
Grip
A welcome firmness of texture, usually from tannin, which helps give definition to wines such as Cabernet and Port.
Hard
Firm; a quality that usually results from high acidity or tannins. Often a descriptor for young red wines.
Harmonious
Well balanced, with no component obtrusive or lacking.
Harsh
Used to describe astringent wines that are tannic or high in alcohol.
Hazy
A visual description, used to describe a wine that has small amounts of matter. A good quality if a wine is un-fined and unfiltered.
Heady
Used to describe high-alcohol wines with a fragrant aroma.
Hearty
Used to describe the full, warm, sometimes rustic qualities found in red wines with high alcohol.
Herbaceous
Denotes the taste and smell of herbs in a wine. A plus in many wines such as Sauvignon Blanc, and to a lesser extent Merlot and Cabernet. A synonym of herbal.
Hectare
A metric unit of area equal to100 ares or 10,000 sq m (2.471 acres)
Hollow
Lacking in flavor. Describes a wine that has a first taste and a short finish, and lacks depth at mid-palate.
Hot
High alcohol, unbalanced wines that tend to burn the tongue and palate with "heat" on the finish are called hot. This is generally a sign of excessive or unbalanced alcohol. Acceptable in Port-style wines.
Intense
Wines that express themselves strongly. How strong the aroma or flavor is in relation to the total expression.
Juicy
Tasty and pleasing, not necessarily found in a complex wine.
Leafy
Describes the slightly herbaceous, vegetal quality reminiscent of leaves. Can be a positive or a negative, depending on whether it adds to or detracts from a wine's flavor.
Lean
Another synonym of acidic. Not necessarily a critical term used to describe wines made in an austere style. When used as a term of criticism, it indicates a wine is lacking in fruit.
Legs
The viscous droplets that form and ease down the sides of the glass when the wine is swirled.
Length
The amount of time the sensations of taste and aroma persist after swallowing. The longer the better.
Lingering
Used to describe the flavor and persistence of flavor in a wine after tasting. When the aftertaste remains on the palate for several seconds, it is said to be lingering.
Lively
Describes wines that are fresh and fruity, bright and vivacious.
Lush
Wines that are high in residual sugar and taste soft or viscous are called lush. Maceration During fermentation, the steeping of the grape skins and solids in the wine, where alcohol acts as a solvent to extract color, tannin and aroma from the skins.
Maderized
Describes the brownish color and slightly sweet, somewhat caramelized and often nutty character found in mature dessert-style wines.
Malic
Describes the green apple-like flavor found in young grapes which diminishes as they ripen and mature.
Meaty
Describes red wines that show plenty of concentration and a chewy quality. They may even have an aroma of cooked meat.
Mercaptans
An unpleasant, rubbery smell of old sulfur; encountered mainly in very old white wines.
Murky
More than deeply colored; lacking brightness, turbid and sometimes a bit swampy. Mainly a fault of red wines.
Musty
Having an off-putting moldy or mildew smell. The result of a wine being made from moldy grapes, stored in improperly cleaned tanks and barrels, or contaminated by a poor cork. Corked wines never improve with breathing.
Nose
A term for aroma and bouquet. The character of a wine as determined by the olfactory sense.
Nutty
Used to describe oxidized wines. Wine that is over the hill. Often a flaw, but when it's close to an oaky flavor it can be a plus.
Oaky
Describes the aroma or taste quality imparted to a wine by the oak barrels or casks in which it was aged. Can be either positive or negative. The terms toasty, vanilla, dill, cedary and smoky indicate the desirable qualities of oak; charred, burnt, green cedar, lumber and plywood describe its unpleasant side. See also American oak, French oak. Oaky white wines often show such flavors as pineapple and tropical fruit. Oaky reds may show strong vanilla aromas, herbal dill, or spices.
Over the Hill
A wine that's been kept too long (or poorly) and is no longer enjoyable.
Oxidized
Describes wine that has been exposed too long to air and taken on a brownish color, losing its freshness and perhaps beginning to smell and taste like Sherry or old apples. Oxidized wines are also called maderized or sherrified.
Perfumed
Describes the strong, usually sweet and floral aromas of some white wines. This usually reflects a heavy floral quality that may be out of balance.
Piercing
Implies a high level of tart sourness that may be out of balance, although extreme acidity may be an advantage in some wine-food matches.
Potent
Intense and powerful.
Pruny
Having the flavor of overripe, dried-out grapes. Can add complexity in the right dose.
Puckery
Describes highly tannic and very dry wines.
Pungent
Having a powerful, assertive smell linked to a high level of volatile acidity. Rarely used in a complimentary way.
Raisiny
Having the taste of raisins from ultra-ripe or overripe grapes. Can be pleasant in small doses in some wines.
Raw
Young and undeveloped. A good descriptor of barrel samples of red wine. Raw wines are often tannic and high in alcohol or acidity.
Rich
Wines with generous, full, pleasant flavors, usually sweet and round in nature, are described as rich. In dry wines, richness may be supplied by high alcohol and glycerin, by complex flavors and by an oaky vanilla character. Decidedly sweet wines are also described as rich when the sweetness is backed up by fruity, ripe flavors.
Robust
"Big", meaning full-bodied, intense and vigorous.
Round
Describes a texture that is smooth, not coarse or tannic.
Rustic
Describes wines made by old-fashioned methods or tasting like wines made in an earlier era. Can be a positive quality in distinctive wines that require aging. Can also be a negative quality when used to describe a young, earthy wine that should be fresh and fruity.
Smoky
Usually an oak barrel byproduct, a smoky quality can add flavor and aromatic complexity to wines.
Soft
Describes wines low in acid or tannin (sometimes both), not tart nor sour, making for easy drinking. Opposite of hard.
Spicy
A descriptor for many wines, indicating the presence of spice flavors such as anise, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, mint and pepper which are often present in complex wines.
Stale
Wines that have lost their fresh, youthful qualities are called stale. Opposite of fresh.
Stalky
Smells and tastes of grape stems or has leaf- or hay-like aromas.
Stemmy
Wines fermented too long with the grape stems. The taste will be bitter.
Subtle
Complex and balanced. Describes delicate wines with finesse, or flavors that are understated rather than full-blown and overt. A positive characteristic.
Supple
Describes texture, mostly with reds, as it relates to tannin, body and oak. A positive characteristic.
Tanky
Describes dull, dank qualities that show up in wines aged too long in tanks.
Tart
Sharp-tasting because of acidity. A broad synonym for acidic.
Thin
Lacking body and depth. More critical than light bodied. Implies a bland and uninteresting wine.
Tight
Describes a wine's structure, concentration and body, as in a "tightly wound" wine. Closed or compact are similar terms.
Tinny
Metallic tasting.
Tired
Limp, feeble, lackluster.
Toasty
Describes a flavor derived from the oak barrels in which wines are aged. Also, a character that sometimes develops in sparkling wines.
Vegetal
Some wines contain elements in their smell and taste which are reminiscent of plants and vegetables. In Cabernet Sauvignon a small amount of this vegetal quality is said to be part of varietal character. But when the vegetal element takes over, or when it shows up in wines in which it does not belong, those wines are considered flawed. Wine scientists have been able to identify the chemical constituent that makes wines smell like asparagus and bell peppers.
Velvety
Delicious smoothness. Having rich flavor and a silky, sumptuous texture.
Vinous
Literally means "winelike" and is usually applied to dull wines lacking in distinct varietal character.
Volatile
(or Volatile Acidity) Describes an excessive and undesirable amount of acidity, which gives a wine a slightly sour, vinegary edge. At very low levels (0.1 percent), it is largely undetectable; at higher levels it is considered a major defect.
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