GLOSSARY of Wine-Tasting Terminology

(Prepared and Edited by Anthony Hawkins for Strat’s Place)

(Original Hypertext conversion by Tom Beard)

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Yet another wonderful work by Anthony Hawkins that helps to de-mystify the terms used to describe wine. This publication may be freely downloaded for distribution .. the only  restriction is that the right of authorship and credit to Anthony Hawkins should appear on all copies.

 

The purpose of this glossary is to aid in the understanding of tasting notes posted to wine-fan groups and other Internet sites.

Wine-tasting group communication has currently evolved into a so-called “virtual” method invented by individuals who agree on a set of tasting principles and, although separated by  great distances, keep notes of taste perceptions gained at private meals or public functions. These notes are later transmitted to an Internet list or Usenet group for comparison or comment purposes by members of that group.

New readers of this glossary will need to know that experienced tasters notes have a four-part sequence of events. When analyzed, the remarks break down, in order, into perceptions about:

a) Colour/clarity of the wine when the wineglass is tilted and its contents viewed against a light source.

b) Smell – (known in the general sense as the “nose”).

c) Taste – (first in the “mouth” or “palate”, followed by the “finish”).

Using these perceptions, the tasters attempt to communicate their feelings about the wine under review to others by descriptive words or phrases. The following glossary is an attempt to categorize those words/phrases.

Index

[A] abgangaceticacid(ity)aftertasteage(d)alcoholangularappleyaromaascescenceastringentattackattractiveaustere

[B] backbonebackwardbalanceberrylikebigbitterbodybotrytisbouquetbrawnybreathe/breathingbreedbriarybrilliantbrixbrowningbuttery

[C] candylikecaudiliecedar(wood)charmingchewycigarboxcitrusyclosed-incloudycloyingcomplexcorkedcreamycrisp

[D] decantingdelicatedepthdessert winedieseldirectdirtydrydumb
[E] earthyeasyelegantessenceethyl acetateextracted
[F] fatfilteredfinedfinishfirmflatfleshyflint(y)floralforwardfoxyfreshfruityfull-bodiedfunky
[H] hardharshhazyheartyherbaceoushollowhot
[L] leafyleanleeslegslemonylengthlightlingeringlivelylush

 

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[N] nosenouveaunutty
[O] oakyoilyopen-upoveripeoxidized
[P] pepperyperfumedpetillantpetrolplumpponderouspowerfulpruneypuckery
[Q] QPR
[R] rackingraisinyranciorefinedresidual sugarrichrimriperobustrotten eggroughroundrustic
[S] saltysharpsherrifiedsimplesmokysoftsourspecific gravityspicyspritzystalestoney/stonelikestructuresturdystylishsupplesweet
[T] tankytannintarry/tarliketarttastetearsterroirthin (bodied)tighttoastytobacco
[W] warmwateryweightywell-balancedwine thiefwoody
[Y] yeasty/yeastlike

 

Index?

The Glossary

ABGANG (see also AFTERTASTE).

 

Term used by Austrian winetasters. Expresses the total sensation following swallowing, not only in the palate and throat but also stomach etc.

ACETIC (see also ASCESCENCE).

All wines contain acetic acid – (ie: vinegar). Normally the amount is insignificant and may even enhance flavor. At a little less than 0.10% content, the flavor becomes noticeable and the wine is termed acetic. Above 0.10% content is considered a strong fault. A related substance, ethyl acetate, contributes the smell associated with acetic acid content.

ACID/ACIDITY

Acid … term used to describe a tart or sour taste in the mouth when total acidity of the wine is high. Acidity … term used on labels to express the total acid content of the wine. The acids referred to are citric, lactic, malic and tartaric. Desirable acid content on dry wines falls between 0.6% and 0.75% of the wines volume. For sweet wines it should not be less than 0.70% of the volume.

Index↑

AFTERTASTE (see also finish, LENGTHABGANG) – a.k.a Farewell, Fairwell.

Term used to describe the taste left in the mouth after swallowing the wine. Both character and length of the aftertaste are part of the total evaluation. May be harshhotsoft and lingering, short, smooth, tannic, or nonexistent.

AGE/AGED (see also MADERIZEDRIM).

White wines tend to turn from a greenish hue in young wines to a yellowish caste/tone to a gold/amber color as they age. Reds usually possess a purple tone when young, turning to a deep red – (Bordeaux wines) – or a brick red color – (Burgundy wines) – detectable at the surface edge in a wineglass as they age. Rose’s should be pink with no tinge of yellow or orange. Cellar aged red wines at their peak will show a deep golden-orange color as it thins at the surface edge. If the wine color has deepened into a distinctly brown-orange tint at the edge it usually indicates a wine past its peak and declining.

ALCOHOL (see also LEGSTEARS).

This constituent of wine is a natural by-product of fermentation. It is one of the main pillars of perceived flavor, the others being “Acid“, “residual Sugar” (and/or “glycerin“) and “tannin“. The presence of these components define a wine that has “good “. For tablewines the wine label must, by law, state the alcohol content of the wine within the bottle, usually expressed as a percentage of the volume. Table wines do not usually exceed 14% alcohol content – (11% to 12.5% is generally considered the optimum amount) – although a few, such as Zinfandel, can go up to a 17% level. sweet dessert wines fall in the same range. Fortified wines – (eg: Sherry, Port etc) – range from 17% to 21% alcohol content.

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ANGULAR (see also AUSTERECRISPfresh below).

The total effect of dominant, tart-edged flavors and taste impressions in many young dry wines. Has opposite meaning to roundsoft or supple.

APPLEY

Refers to smell or aroma of a wine, usually carrying additional modifiers. “Ripe apples” describes a full, fruity, clean smell associated with some styles of Chardonnay wine. “Fresh apples” does the same for some types of Riesling. “Green apple”, however, is almost always reserved for wines made from barely ripe orunderipe grapes. “Stale apples” applies almost exclusively to flawed wine exhibiting first stage oxidation.

AROMA (see also BOUQUETnose below).

The intensity and character of the aroma can be assessed with nearly any descriptive adjective. (eg: from “appley” to “raisiny“, “fresh” to “tired”, etc.). Usually refers to the particular smell of the grape variety. The word “bouquet” is usually restricted to describing the aroma of a cellar-aged bottled wine.

ASCESCENCE

“Ascescence” is the term used to mark the presence of acetic acid and ethyl acetate. Detected by sweet and sour, sometimes vinegary smell and taste along with a sharp feeling in the mouth.

ASTRINGENT

Descriptive of wines that have a roughPUCKERY taste. Usually can be attributed to high tannin content. Tannic astringency will normally decrease with age. However, sometimes the wine fails to outlive the tannin.

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ATTACK (see also LIGHT, THIN below).

The initial impact of a wine. If not strong or flavorful, the wine is considered “feeble”. “Feeble” wines are sometimes encountered among those vinified in a year where late rain just before harvest diluted desirable grape content.

ATTRACTIVE

The winetaster liked it anyway. A veiled criticism of expensive wines, a compliment for others.

AUSTERE

Usually used in description of dry, relatively HARD and acidic wines that seem to lack depth and roundness. Such wines may soften a bit with age. Term often applied to wines made from noble grape varieties grown in cool climates or harvested too early in the season.

BACKBONE (see also BODY).

Refers to bigfull-bodied red wines with evident tannin and/or acidity.

BACKWARD

Describes a wine that retains youthful characteristics despite considerable aging. This usually indicates that it will take longer to reach maturity and requires even more aging in the bottle or barrel. Opposite of forward.

BALANCE

Denotes harmonious balance of wine elements – (ie: no individual part is dominant). Acid balances the sweetnessfruit balances against oak and tannin content; alcohol is balanced against acidity and flavor. Wine not in balance may be acidic, cloying, flat orharsh etc.

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BERRYLIKE (see also HERBACEOUS).

Equates with the RIPE, sweetfruity quality of blackberries, raspberries, cranberries and cherries. The aroma and taste of red wines, particularly Zinfandel, are often partly described with this adjective.

BIG

The overall flavor of a wine, white or red, that has full, RICH flavors. “Big” red wines are often tannic. “Big” white wines are generally high in alcohol and glycerin. Sometimes implies clumsiness, the opposite of elegance. Generally positive, but context is essential – (eg: A Bordeaux red wine shouldn’t be as “big” as a California Cabernet Sauvignon).

BITTER (see also SALTY, SOUR and SWEET). One of the four basic tastes. A major source of bitterness is thetannin content of a wine. Some grapes – (Gewurztraminer, Muscat) – have a distinct bitter edge to their flavor. If the bitter component dominates in the aroma or taste of a wine it is considered a fault. Sweet dessert wines may have an enhanced bitter component that complements the other flavors making for a successful overall taste balance.

BODY

The effect on the taster’s palate usually experienced from a combination of alcoholglycerin and sugar content. Often described as “full“, “meaty” or “weighty“.

BOTRYTIS

“Botrytis Cinerea”, a mold or fungus that attacks grapes in humid climate conditions, causing the concentration of sugar and acid content by making grapes at a certain level of maturity shrivel. On the Riesling grape it allows a uniquely aromatic and flavorful wine to be made, resulting in the extraordinary “Beerenauslese” style of wine.

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BOUQUET (see nose).

Near synonym for “aroma“. Term generally restricted to description of odors from poured bottled wines.

BRAWNY

Term used mainly to describe young red wines with high alcoholand tannin levels. Certain red wines from Amador County, California, can be examples. The mild epithet “tooth-stainers” is sometimes applied to this style of wine, denoting respect for strength.

BREATHE/BREATHING (see also OPEN-UP).

Denotes the act of allowing the wine to “breathe”; ie: when wine is poured into another container, such as a wineglass, the admixture of air seems to release pent-up aromas which then become more pronounced, in many cases, as minutes/hours pass.

BREED (see also COMPLEXELEGANT).

Term reserved for wines from the best grape varieties, the so-called “noble grapes”. Denotes wines judged to have reached classical expectations of aromabalancestructure and varietal character.

BRIARY

Denotes a wine having an aggressive, prickly taste best described as “peppery“. Sometimes combined with the adjective “BRAWNY” to characterize a young red wine with high alcohol and tannincontent.

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BRILLIANT (see also CLOUDYHAZYUNFILTERED elsewhere).

Very clear (and transparent in white wines) appearance with no visible particulates or suspensions. May be sign of flavor deficiency in heavily filtered wines.

BRIX

Measurement system used for sugar content of grapes, wine and related products. A reading of 20 to 25 deg. Brix is the optimum degree of grape ripeness at harvest for the majority of table wines. A quick conversion method for users requiring Specific Gravity units of measurement is to take the Brix reading, deg. Brix (as Sucrose, for which most refractometers are calibrated), and multiply by 0.00425 and then add 0.9988 to the resulting number. This will give a close approximation to the equivalent figure for the S.G of Sucrose at 20 deg. C. Ex: A Brix reading of 18 equals S.G. 1.074. Using the conversion technique above gives a figure of 1.075 which is close enough for most users.

BROWNING (see also MADERIZEDoxidizedRIM).

Denotes aging in a wine. Young wine color tints show no sign of such “browning”. If possessed of good character and depth, a wine can still be very enjoyable even with a pronounced “brown” tint. In average wines this tint, seen along the wine surface edge in a tilted glass goblet, normally signals a wine is “past its peak”, although still very drinkable.

BUTTERY (see also CREAMYMALOLACTIC FERMENTATION).

Describes taste sensation found in better white wines, particularly Chardonnay.

CANDYLIKE

Refers to the perfumed fresh fruit aromas and flavors of the grape which can be attractive in wines made for early consumption. These include pink Rose style, “nouveau” Beaujolais etc. Many consider it a less desirable characteristic in longer-aging reds and better whites.

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CAUDILIE

Term defined in time-seconds. (Eg. 10 “caudilie” = ten seconds of time).

CEDAR/CEDARWOOD (see also CIGARBOX).

Aroma component often found in fine red wines.

CHARMING

A comment applied to wines that don’t quite fulfil the first expectations. Means detecting a slight flavor lightness. Sometimes used to describe wines made from the Chenin Blanc grape styled after a type of wine originating from the Loire region of France.

CHEWY

Refers to a high total tannic component of a wine. Figuratively, one cannot swallow this wine without chewing first.

CIGARBOX

Near synonym for “tobacco” aroma detected in the nose, especially if a “cedarwood” component is present. Spanish cedarwood is the traditional material for making cigar boxes.

CITRUSY

Describes aroma and flavor reminiscent of citrus fruits. Most common is a perception of “grapefruit” content. Most often detected in white wines made from grapes grown in cooler regions of California or other countries.

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CLOSED-IN (see also DUMBOPEN-UP).

Term descriptive of currently poor character definition but with all the correct characteristics. Usually expected to develop with age. Applies mainly to young, intense wines vinified for long life expectancy.

CLOUDY (see also BRILLIANTHAZY).

Opposite of clear. Noticeable cloudiness is undesirable except in cellar aged wines that have not been decanted properly. A characteristic of some unfiltered wines showing the result of winemaking mistakes and often possessing an unpleasant taste.

CLOYING (see also SWEET below).

Excessive sugar component annoys with dominating flavor andAFTERTASTE. The wine is then demonstrably unbalanced relative to the other components.

COMPLEX (see also ELEGANT).

Almost a synonym for “breed“. Possesses that elusive quality where many layers of flavor separate a great wine from a very good one.Balance combines all flavor and taste components in almost miraculous harmony.

CORKED

Wine has unpleasant “wet cardboard” taste/smell. Reason is thought to be chemical changes in the wine caused by inadequately sterilized cork stopper inserted at bottling source.

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CREAMY

Refers to “silk-like” taste component of wines subjected to malolactic fermentation as opposed to the “tart/crisp” taste component of the same wine lacking the treatment. Almost a synonym for “buttery“. Opposite of “CRISP“.

CRISP

Wine has definite but pleasing tartnessacidity. Generally used to describe white wines only, especially those of Muscadet de Sevres et Maine from the Loire region of France.

DECANTING

A method by which cellar-aged bottled wine is poured slowly and carefully into a second vessel, usually a glass decanter, in order to leave any sediment in the original bottle before serving. Almost always a treatment confined to red wines. The traditional method uses a candle flame as the light for illuminating the neck of the bottle while the wine is passing by. The low intensity of the light is ideal for viewing since it does not strain the eyes. Care must be taken NOT to allow the flame to heat the wine while performing this ritual.

DELICATE

Any wine demonstrating somewhat mild, but attractive characteristics. Occasionally used to describe well-made wines from the so-called “lesser grape” varieties.

DEPTH, DEEP (see also LINGERING).

Refers to a premium wine that demands more attention, it fills the mouth with a developing flavor, there are subtle layers of flavor that go “deep.”

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DESSERT WINE

Has two meanings:

  1. Fortified wine – eg: Sherry – where alcohol is added in the form of Brandy or neutral spirits.
  2. Sweet or very sweet wines of any alcohol level customarily drunk with dessert or by themselves and usually in small amounts.

DIESEL (see also PETROL below). Aroma constituent reminiscent of diesel/petrol/gasoline engine fumes. Occasionally detected inbotrytis affected sweet or semi-dry wines such as Riesling. Considered a flaw if too obtrusive.

DIRECT (see also EASYSIMPLE).

Everything present in this wine is immediately obvious.

DIRTY (see also yeastY/YEASTLIKE below).

Describes any of the undesirable odours that can be present in a wine that that was poorly vinified. A characteristic imparted by improperly cleaned barrels or various other processes performed incorrectly. Usually detected first in a wine by the smell of the cork stopper or from a barrel sample. Not to be confused with corkedwines where the stopper is thought to be responsible.

DRY

Description of a wine made deliberately to possess little or nosweetness. Commonly defined as containing less than about 0.5%residual sugar.

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DUMB

Characteristic description of a young wine with yet-to-developaromas and flavours. A synonym for “closed-in“. Named so because it seems “unable to speak”.

EARTHY (see also noseSTONEYVEGETAL,yeastY/YEASTLIKE).

Covers situations where a “mother-earth” component is present. Earth is soil-dirt, but an earthy wine is not dirty as in “DIRTY” above. The term appears to be applicable to wine thought, by some, to be made from certain young varietal grapes obtained from vines planted on land previously used for growing vegetables containing components which “marked” the soil in some way. European tasters use the term in a broader sense to describe “terroir” characteristics.

EASY (see also DIRECTSIMPLE).

Undemanding but pleasant, doesn’t require good taste, just tastes good.

ESSENCE (see also nose below).

Two meanings:

  1. Refers to “odor kits” containing vials of representative flavor essence.
  2. Used occasionally by wineries to describe a late harvest, sweet red wine. Most frequently appears on bottle labels for Zinfandel red wine made from grapes picked at 35 deg. BRIX or higher sugar content.

Index?

ETHYL ACETATE

A substance which contributes the smell associated with aceticacid content.

EXTRACTED

Refers to the coloring imparted to wines during the fermentation process by the skins of the grapes used. Can also occur in the further step known as “maceration” where new wine is allowed to steep with the skins again. This second step usually results in a “highly extracted” style of wine, deeply colored with strong flavors and tannin. Rose’s, (aka “blush” wines), are normally made by limiting contact with the skins, the opposite of “extraction”.

FAT

Fills the mouth in a positive manner. The wine “feels” and tastes a little obvious and often lacks elegance but is prized by connoisseurs of sweet dessert wines. Not quite desirable in a late harvest Moselle Riesling, but appropriate in a classic Sauternes. Fatness/oiliness is determined by the naturally occurring glycerol – (a.k.a glycerin) – content in the wine.

FILTERED

Wines that have had suspended particulates resulting from the fermentation process removed. Important for future clarity and stability of a wine.

FINED

Use of various materials for clarifying wines. These materials precipitate to the bottom of the fermentation process vessel carrying any suspended particulate matter with them.

FINISH (see AFTERTASTE).

As in “this wine has a (whatever) finish”.

Index↑

FIRM (see AUSTERE).

Attacks the palate with acid or tannic astringency. Suggests that the wine is young and will age. Nearly always a positive comment and very desirable with highly flavored foods.

FLAT (see also MEAGERTHIN).

Opposite of “firm“. Usually indicates very low acidity, so tasting insipid and lacking flavor.

FLESHY

Refers to both body and texture. A fleshy wine tastes fatter than a meaty wine, exhibiting some excess oiliness if too pronounced. Often suggests great smoothness and RICHness.

FLINT/FLINTY

Synonym for “stoney“. Derived from French phrase “gout de pierre a fusil”, literally a smoky, whiff of gunflint, almost acrid taste. These terms are presumably metaphorical approximations based on the flavor sensations allegedly present in wines made from grapes grown on a limestone/silica rich terroir. “Flinty” describes an initial evaluation indicating a young white wine made from cool region grapes under cold fermentation conditions. Characterized by highacidity, a tactile “mouthfeel” that is filling and yet has a flavor sensation that is cleanly “earthy“.

FLORAL / FLOWERY (see also nose).

Suggests the aroma or taste, usually aroma, of flowers in wine. “Floral” usually employed as an adjective without modifier to describe attributes of white wine aromas. Few red wines have floral aromas.

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FORWARD

Opposite of “closed-in” or, as used by some, backward. Means presence of “fruitiness” is immediately apparent. Usually employed as a term denoting that the wine is in peak condition and on its plateau of maturity.

FOXY (see also GRAPEYVITIS LABRUSCA below).

Common descriptive word used to note the presence of the unique musky and Vitis. labrusca grapes such as the Concord or Catawba varieties. The term “fox” has traditionally been a pejorative name given by grapegrowers to the fruit of a feral, ie. reverted to the wild species, cultivar grapevine. The earliest known reference to a “fox” grape occurs in the first part of the 17th century, specifically applied to cultivated North American grapes, and seems to refer to the unexpected results obtained from planted seeds, a notoriously unpredictable method of reproduction. The word itself may be an early corruption of the french word “faux”, (ie. false). Some also claim the word is derived from the french “gout de renard” meaning, in all senses of the phrase, “taste of fox”. The aroma and flavors defy verbal description. The best way to imprint “foxiness” in the memory is to mentally compare the flavor of fresh Concord grapes and any fresh California table grape. Most people find the juice or jelly from the Concord grape quite sprightly and delicious. In dry table wines the fermented flavor result is considered by many to be obtrusive and even quite disagreeable.

FRESH

The wine has a lively fruity acidity, maybe a little bite of acid, as found in youthful light reds, rose’s and most whites. All young whites should be fresh. The opposite is flatnessstaleness.

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FRUITY

A fruity wine has an “appley“, “berrylike” or herbaceous character. “Fruitiness” usually incorporates the detection of a little extrasweetness as is found in really fresh grapes or berries.

FULL-BODIED

As opposed to “THIN” or “thin-bodied”. Fills the mouth, has a winey taste, alcohol is present, the wine has “weight on the tongue”.

FUNKY

Defies precise definition. Appears to be a 1970’s cannabis culture derived word sometimes used by N. American west coast winetasting reviewers when describing vegetalyeasty/yeastlikearomas so complex that individual identification is difficult. Can have positive or negative connotations depending on context.

GAMEY/GAMELIKE (see also nose).

Descriptive term for one of the flavors/aromas considered particular to Burgundian style Pinot Noir red wines. Reminiscent oftaste and flavor associated with cooked wild duck and other “gamey” meats. Thought to be caused by contamination with “brett” – (brettanomyces strain of yeast). Sometimes referred to as “animale” by french winemakers or “sweaty saddle” by Australians. Considered a major flaw when flavor is overly-pronounced.

GLYCERIN/GLYCEROL

Gives a sweet taste on the tongue tip. Higher concentrations are found in high-alcohol and late-harvest wines, leading to sensations of smooth slipperiness giving a sense of fullness to the wine body. Is a natural by-product of the fermentation process.

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GNARLY (see also EXTRACTED above).

Perceived as rough-edged, overly extracted young wine that has been left too long in contact with the grapeskins. Applies only to red wines.

GRAPEFRUITY

Grapefruit flavours are characteristic of cool-climate Chardonnays. See citrusy above.

GRAPEY (see also VITIS LABRUSCA elsewhere).

Content has simple flavors and aromas reminiscent of a certain type of fresh wine or table grape. Used by some as adjective alternate for “foxy“.

GRASSY

Slightly vegetal-tasting undertone often part of the overall character of Sauvignon Blanc and certain other grape varietals. European tasters sometimes use the word “gooseberry” to describe this flavor. In minute presence it can enhance flavors. As it becomes more dominant the more it loses appeal leading to unattractiveness.

GREEN (see also ANGULAR).

Strictly applied refers to the taste of wines made with underipefruit. More loosely used it refers to some white wines, especially Riesling, possessing the greenish colour tint indicating youth; does not necessarily mean the sour and/or grassy taste of unripe fruit content as well.

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HARD

High acidity and/or tannin content leading to a sensation of dryness in the mouth, a degree of PUCKERY-ness. Useful for detecting young red wines suitable for aging. Characteristic preferred in dry white wines that will accompany shellfish.

HARSH

Very ASTRINGENT wines, usually with high alcohol component, often have this roughrustic taste characteristic. May become more tolerable with aging but also may not be worth the wait.

HAZY (see also BRILLIANTCLOUDYFILTERED).

Refers to wines with slight particulate content when viewed against the light. Occurs most often in unfiltered or unfined wines where there is no need to worry. If the haziness is intense enough to cause loss of clarity however it may indicate a flawed wine.

HEARTY (see also STURDY).

Most often applied in description of fullwarm qualities found in red wines with high alcohol component. Examples are found in the sturdier so-called “jug wines”, some California Zinfandels, lesser French Rhone or Algerian red wines and in the occasional lesser Australian Shiraz.

HERBACEOUS (see also GRASSY).

Adjective used in description of wine with taste and aroma of herbs, (usually undefined). Considered to be a varietal characteristic of Cabernet Sauvignon, and to less extent, Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc grapes.

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HOLLOW (see also AFTERTASTE).

Missing middle between “attack” and “finish“. Caused by too many grapes on insufficiently pruned vines. If very noticeable, called “empty”.

HOT (see also AFTERTASTE).

Defines a wine high in alcohol and giving a prickly or burning sensation on the palate. Accepted in fortified wines, but not considered as a particularly desirable attribute in Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay. Positively undesirable in lightfruitywines, (eg: Moselle Rieslings).

JAMLIKE/JAMMY

Word most often encountered in descriptions of California Zinfandel wines made with Amador County grapes. Refers to the naturalberrylike taste of this grape.

LEAFY (see YEASTY/YEASTLIKE).

Somewhat analogous to “vegetal“. Desirable in minute detectable amounts, if adding to notes of complexity in the wine.

LEAN (see also bodyTHIN elsewhere).

More body would be good, sort of THIN in the mouth, often too much astringency, sometimes a compliment for certain styles.

LEES (see also NUTTY).

Refers to residual yeast and other particles that precipitate, or are carried by the action of “fining”, to the bottom of the fermentation vessel. US winemakers use the term “mud”. Imparts distinctive flavors to the wine depending on type. Derived from French term “lies” as in “sur lies”.

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LEGS (see also TEARS).

Term used when referring to the liquid rivulets that form on the inside of a wineglass bowl after the wine is swirled in order to evaluate the alcohol concentration present. Usually the higher the alcohol content, the more impressive the rivulets appear because of reduced surface tension effects. (Some still cling to the erroneous belief that glycerin content causes these rivulets). Valuable technique when used in “blind” tasting competitions.

LEMONY

Descriptive of a somewhat acidic white wine. These wines contain flavors reminiscent of that fruit. Apart from that, may be wellbalanced in all other respects, sometimes with a touch of extrasweetness.

LENGTH (see also AFTERTASTE).

How long the total flavor lasts in the back of the throat after swallowing. Counted in time-seconds, known as “caudilie“. Ten seconds (caudilie) is good, fifteen is great, twenty is excellent and fifty is superb. Almost a synonym for “finish“, as in “this is a wine with an long, extraordinary finish”.

LIGHT

Low alcohol and/or sugar. Since about 1981 a wine containing fewer calories per comparable serving than a regular glass of wine has been legally designated as such. Used as a tasting term, “light” is usually a polite expression meaning “WATERY“.

LINGERING (see AFTERTASTELENGTH).

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LIVELY

Almost a synonym for fresh. Implies detection of barely discerniblespritzyness. Applies most often to white wines, but some reds also qualify.

LUSH (see also SWEET below).

Describes impression of wines with high amounts of residual sugar. Adjective almost entirely reserved for sweet dessert wines.

MADERIZED (see also SHERRIFIED).

Distinctive brown color in wine due usually to period of air exposure. Regarded as synonym for “oxidized“. Originates from the taste/appearance of fortified Madeira wines.

MALOLACTIC FERMENTATION

Secondary fermentation occasionally detected in bottled wines. Its action converts the naturally occurring Malic acid into Lactic acid plus Carbon Dioxide gas. Reduces total acidity by this action. Since the gas is contaminated with undesirable odors, if it remains trapped in the bottle it becomes a minor fault unless allowed to dissipate. Malolactic fermentation is a commonly used technique for reducing the sharpness of cool climate Chardonnays and the Lactic acid component gives an admired “creamy” or “buttery” texture.

MATCHSTICK

Describes the odor of Sulphur Dioxide gas, described by some as similar to the smell of “burnt matches”, found in minute amounts very occasionally trapped in bottled white wines. Dissipates with airing or decanting.

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MEAGER (see also THINWATERY).

Lacks “body” and “depth“. Has definite feeling of flavor dilution. Seems to occur in some select varietal wines vinified from grapes subjected to late season rain, although there are other explanations as well.

MEATY (see also fatOILY).

With much body as though you could chew it. The reference is to lean meat, so indicates less body present than “fleshy“.MOUTH-FILLING

Wines possessing intense flavors which seem to affect every sensory nerve in the mouth. Usually slightly high glycerincomponent, slightly low acid.

MUSTY (also see DIRTYCORKED).

A wine that displays unpleasant “mildew” or “moldy” aromas. Results from improperly cleaned storage vessels, moldy grapes or cork.

NOSE

Not the fleshy sense-organ/projection on the human face. Is near synonym word for “aroma” and includes “bouquet“. Strictly applied it refers to the totality of the detectable odor, (grape variety, vinous character, fermentation smells), whether desirable or defective, found in a wine. One would speak of a mature wine as having, for example, “varietal aromas, FLOWERY bouquet and hint ofvanilla oak combining to give a balanced nose”.

The sense organs of the human nose can be educated by the use of purchased odor comparison kits known by such names as “Le Nez du Vin”, “Component Collection” or “Winealyser”. These can sometimes be obtained at the various Home Wine Makers mail suppliers (etc.) around the country.

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NOUVEAU (a.k.a. “Nuevo”).

Indicates young, immediately drinkable wine – (eg: “nouveau Beaujolais”).

NUTTY (see also MADERIZEDoxidized).

Table wines that have been exposed to air display this aroma which resembles that of certain sherry wines. Considered a flaw by some in red wines, but a desired flavor component in certain white wines by others, (eg: Chardonnays with extended “lees” contact in the fermentation vessel).

OAKY

The taste or aroma of freshly sawn oak. A wine, especially a red, is considered as correctly “oaked” when the “nose” carries a bare whiff of vanilla aroma. Sometimes oak flavors overpower other component wine flavors in which case it is considered overoaked. Oak flavor is introduced from contact with storage barrels made from that wood. New oak barrels contribute stronger flavor to a wine than older storage barrels. The “oaky” components encountered include “VANILLIN“, and so-called “TOASTY“, “charred” or “roasted” elements. “VANILLIN” comes from the character of the hardwood. The three others derive from the “charring” of the barrel that occurs from heating the broad iron rings which hold the barrel staves in place after contraction and the flaming of the interior.

OILY (see also fatglycerin/GLYCEROL elsewhere)

Describes the vaguely fat, slippery sensation on the palate in contact with the combination of high glycerin and slightly low acidcontent. Mostly encountered in high quality Chardonnays and late harvest sweet wines.

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OPEN-UP/OPENING-UP (see also CLOSED-IN).

Some bottled cellar-aged red wines possess the peculiarity that, when the cork is first pulled and the wine poured, the full flavors do not immediately make an appearance. However, after the passage of several minutes in an open glass goblet, the wine develops unsuspected flavor characteristics that can verge on the sublime. This phenomenon is referred to as “opening-up”. Conversely, these flavors can disappear just as fast in just 30 minutes, leaving a subsequent impression of a flatstale, “over-the-hill” and/or mediocre wine.

OVERIPE

A grape precondition necessary for making certain styles of Californian Zinfandel wines. Left on the vine to dry in the sun, certain grape varietals will develop the desirable “raisiny” character and concentrated sugar necessary for making specialty wines such as the Hungarian “Tokay”.

OXIDIZED (see MADERIZEDNUTTY).

PEPPERY

Term almost solely applied to “spicy” wines, such as Gewurztraminer among the whites, or the red Rhone Syrah and Australian Shiraz wines. Is a component which can almost be described as pungent in quality, being reminiscent of anise, cinnamon etc.

PERFUMED (see CANDYLIKEFLOWERY)

Synonym for “floral“. Implies also a degree of extra residual sugar.

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PETROL (see DIESEL above).

PETILLANT (see SPRITZY below).

PLUMP

Less than “fat“, but otherwise nearly a synonym.

PONDEROUS

Even less balanced than a “HEARTY” or “sturdy” wine. The sole impact is one of high alcohol and “body” character. Little or noacid/tannin content. An everyday red wine, similar to a french “vin ordinaire” country wine sold by alcohol content, can be an example.

POWERFUL

Close to being a synonym for BRAWNY.

PRUNEY

OVERRIPE, sun-dried grapes can induce an undesirable pungent quality into table wines; sometimes compared to “the taste of dried prunes”.

PUCKERY (see also HARDTANNIC)

Synonym for ASTRINGENT.

QPR

Acronym used by Mail-list users as shorthand for “Quality-Price-Ratio”. Generally refers to a wine considered good value for the price asked.

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RACKING (see also FILTEREDFINED).

Traditional method of wine clarification. Sequential transfer of wine to several containers, each transfer leaving behind some particulate matter.

RAISINY

Mildly rich flavor due to excessive heat in the growing area which dries out grapes still on the vine. Considered a fault in most dry table wines.

RANCIO

Word normally used to describe a flavor perception found in tawny brown, wood-aged and heated fortified wines such as some “Madeira”. Refers to the peculiarly blowsy overly-ripe fruit aroma, analogous to overipe bananas, admired in Port-style fortified wines but considered a fault in dry table wines where the detectable presence of oxidized components is frowned on for the most part.

REFINED

Term for well-balanced wines. Mostly refers to reds, such as Zinfandel, that normally turn “elegant“.

RESIDUAL SUGAR (see also SWEET).

Percentage, by weight or volume, of the unfermented grape sugar in a bottled wine.

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RICH

Giving a full, rounded flavor impression without necessarily being sweet. Richness supplied by alcoholglycerin and oak vanillanuances in dry wine. The sweeter wines qualify for this adjective if also characterized by RIPEfruity flavors.

RIM (see also AGE/AGINGBROWNINGLEGS).

Refers to edge of wine surface as seen through a “ballon” (goblet) style wineglass held at an angle of about 30-40 deg. from the vertical and viewed against white piece of paper or cloth using natural light. Used in evaluation of wine age. In “blind” tasting is about the only way to get an informed perception about the probable life and/or condition of the wine from that date on.

RIPE

Favorable adjective bestowed when the varietal characteristics of the grape are optimally present in a well balanced wine. Ripe-tasting wines tend toward being slightly more fruity and sweetthan otherwise normal wines.

ROBUST (see also BRAWNY).

Vigorous, full with a lot of heart, a big scaled wine.

ROTTEN EGG

Smell of Hydrogen Sulfide gas in wine. Thought to be a characteristic imparted by certain yeast strains. A decided flaw.

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ROUGH (see also ASTRINGENT).

Flavor/texture is coarse. Acidity and/or tannin are predominant and unpleasant.

ROUND (see also REFINED).

Describes flavors and tactile sensations giving a feeling of completeness with no dominating characteristic. Almost the same as fat, but with more approval. tanninacid and glycerin are sufficiently present but appear as nuances rather than distinct flavors.

RUSTIC

Synonym for “rough“.

SALTY

One of the basic taste sensations detected by the receptors in the human tongue.

SHARP (see also CRISPHARD).

Excess acid predominates, disturbing the otherwise balancedflavors.

SHERRIFIED (see MADERIZED above).

SIMPLE

Normal, everyday, well-vinified table wine of straightforward character.

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SMOKE/SMOKY (see also OAKYTOASTYVANILLIN).

Apparently has two meanings:

  1. Some use the word in the same sense as the smell/flavor that separates smoked (anything) from ordinary (anything).
  2. Refers to aroma contributed by the charred oakwood in barrels. It can have a variety of impressions – (eg: such as the remains of a burnt-out fire). Needs a variant, such as “wood-smoke” or “barbecue smoke” or “sooty” to fully convey the meaning.

SOFT (see also LIGHT).

Generally has low acid/tannin content. Also describes wines with low alcohol content. Consequently has little impact on the palate.

SOUR (see also CRISPSHARP).

Almost a synonym for ACIDIC. Implies presence of acetic acid plus excess acid component. (Is also one of the four basic taste sensations detected by the human tongue).

SPECIFIC GRAVITY (see BRIX above).

SPICY

Almost a synonym for “peppery“. Implies a softer, more roundedflavor nuance however.

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SPRITZY (see also LIVELYPETILLANT).

Considered a fairly minor fault stemming sometimes from the onset of a brief secondary malolactic fermentation in the bottle. Consists of pinpoint carbonation typically released when the bottle cork is pulled. Frowned on more if occurring in white wines vinified to be dry.

STALE (see also TANKY).

Wine with lifeless, stagnant qualities. Usually found in wines that were kept in large vessel storage for an excessive length of time.

STONEY/STONELIKE (see also FLINT/FLINTY).

Describes a _set_ of perceptions that seem to indicate a relatively young white wine fermented from ripe, but not overly so, grapes under cold fermentation conditions. Classic examples are made from Chardonnay grapes in the Chablis region of France. Wines from the Carneros region of the Napa Valley in California are sometimes so described as well. High acidity coupled with a tactile,mouth-filling sensation that has a cleanly “earthy” flavor characterize this type of wine.

STRUCTURE

Term for overall flavor. Used to suggest complete impression of the wine. Needs a modifier in order to mean something – (eg: “BRAWNY” etc).

STURDY (see HEARTY above)

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STYLISH (see also LIVELY).

The style is distinctive and characteristic of the grape(s) used. Carries a connotation of briskness or jauntiness. Commonly used to describe an Australian or New Zealand wine.

SUPPLE

Term often used for young reds which should be more aggressive. More LIVELY than an easy wine with suggestions of good quality. The near synonym “amiable” is also sometimes employed but does not quite emphasize the extra connotation of “leanness” implied.

SWEET (see also CLOYINGRICHRIPE).

Refers to one of the four basic tastes detected by the sensory nerves of the human tongue. In the description of wine taste-flavor the term “sweet” is almost always used as an identifier denoting the presence of residual sugar and/or glycerin. Winearomas require a descriptive term to identify the source of the perceived sensation – (eg: “RIPE“, “lush“).

TANKY

Synonym for “stale“.

TANNIN (see also ASTRINGENTPUCKERY).

A naturally occurring substance in grapeskins, seeds and stems. Is primarily responsible for the basic “bitter” component in wines. Acts as a natural preservative, helping the development and, in the right proportion, balance of the wine. It is considered a fault when present in excess.

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TARRY/TARLIKE

Descriptive term used when comparing odor detected in the “nose” of a wine with similar odor retained in a memory trained by the use of a comparison kit of scent essences. Such kits include tar, mercaptan, apricots, mushrooms and other flavoring essences isolated from wines.

TART (see also SHARPSOUR).

Synonym for “acidic“.

TASTE

Refers to the basic sensations detectable by the human tongue. Current scientific opinion defines these as “sweet“, “salty“, “sour” and “bitter“, flavors all registered by the tongue taste receptors. The traditional view of the tongue having four distinct surface zones to register those tastes is currently viewed as outmoded.

TEARS (see also ALCOHOL).

Synonym for “LEGS“.

TERROIR (see also EARTHYFLINTY above).

French language term for all the characteristics of the vineyard site thought to be imparted to a particular wine. It is a term that includes geographic, geological, climatic and other attributes that can affect an area of growth as small as a few square metres.

THIN/THIN-BODIED (see also LIGHTMEAGER).

Opposite of “full-bodied“.

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TIGHT (see also ANGULARCLOSED-INHARD).

A term for young wines. Almost an synonym for “dumb“.

TOASTY (see also OAKYSMOKE/SMOKYVANILLIN).

Other, similar descriptors are “caramel” and “toffee”. Some also add spicy flavours, such as “cinnamon” or “cloves”.

TOBACCO

Descriptive term, used by some, to describe a flavor component resembling the taste of raw tobacco leaf in the finish of certain red wines. Seems to mainly apply to Cabernet Sauvignons from Bordeaux, France or the Napa region of California. “Cigarbox” is a common term often used as a near synonym especially if a cedar-wood note in the aroma is detected. (Non-smokers may have trouble with this word and its implication).

UNDERIPE (see also ACIDICGREEN).

Resulting flavor when grapes that failed to reach optimum maturity on the vine are used in the vinification process.

UNFILTERED

Opposite of “filtered“. However, does not exclude other clarifying processes such as “fining” etc.

UNFINED

Opposite of “fined“, but does not exclude other clarifying processes such as “filtering” etc.

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VANILLA (see also SWEETTARLIKE).

Component detectable in the “nose” of a wine. The novice taster can compare odors with the vials of artificial ones provided in kit form.

VANILLIN

Component contributed by oakwood barrel staves. Considered to add a degree of “sweetness” to red wines when present in barely detectable amounts, so adding to a desirably complex style prized by connoisseurs.

VARIETAL CHARACTER (see also BREEDHERBACEOUS,GRAPEY).

The particular flavor characteristics associated with a grape picked at optimum maturity – (eg: distinctive “berrylike” taste of California Zinfandels, “blackcurrants” of Cabernet Sauvignon etc).

VEGETAL (see also EARTHYLEAFYyeastY/YEASTLIKE).

Considered a flavor flaw when present in distinctive amounts over and above that occurring naturally in the grape. “Grassy” has somewhat the same connotation.

VINOUS (see also SIMPLE).

Akin to “amiable”. Nothing basically wrong with the wine, just has no impact on the taster. Implies good “character” in that characteristics of a certain grape fruitiness are detectable but apparent lack of other flavor nuances amount to a dull experience.

VITIS LABRUSCA (see also GRAPEY).

The grape species believed to be an impure, cross-pollinated version of the wild grape native to North America. Makes tasty juice, jelly but has wine flavor often termed as “foxy“.

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VITIS VINIFERA (see also BREEDELEGANT).

The premier grape species used for the world’s most admired wines. Also referred to as the “European vine”.

VOLATILE (see also HARSH).

Powerful, attack aroma. Usually denotes high level of acidity,alcohol and/or other flavor faults.

WARM

Possesses high alcohol flavor offset by counterbalancing flavors and other desirable qualities. Unlike “hot“, is a positive attribute.

WATERY

Synonym for MEAGER or THIN.

WEIGHTY (see also body).

Well-structured/balanced wines with an implication of mildly excessive flavor or “heaviness”.

WELL-BALANCED

Contains all of the essential elements – (ie: alcohol, flavors, acid orastringency etc) – in good proportions.

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WINE THIEF

Sampling tube made from clear glass or plastic tube having a narrowed opening at either end. The tube is lowered into the wine container, usually a barrel, allowed to fill to a predetermined level and is then withdrawn, keeping the upper end sealed with a finger, so collecting a sample of wine. The wine sample is then disgorged into a wineglass or shallow “tastevin” cup held ready for use by the taster. (Cooks will recognize the similarity to the kitchen implement known as a “turkey baster”).

WOODY

Almost a synonym for OAKY. However, implies an overstay in a wooden container which resulted in the absorption of other wood flavors besides “oak”.

YEASTY/YEASTLIKE (see also DIRTYEARTHYNUTTY,VEGETAL).

Term describing odors deriving from varietal yeasts carried on grapeskins, molds etc. Includes both desirable and undesirable characteristics. Examples would be the presence of “brett”, (brettanomeyces), a strain of yeast that produces “gamey/smokey” odors that are considered to add to the character of the wine when barely detectable. Considered a flaw when presence is pronounced. Another, similar example is the “dekkera” wild yeast strain which gives a “fresh dirt/cement-y” flavor component.

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Acknowledgements

The preparer of this glossary adapted the “Language” section of “The Connoisseurs Handbook of California Wines” by Charles Olsen, Earl Singer and Norman Roby, published 1982 by Alfred A. Knopf for use as a basic alphabetic outline in order not to stray too far afield from accepted definitions. This version has been prepared using “American” english spelling conventions.

Other material was adapted from:

“Alexis Lichines Guide to the Wines and Vineyards of France”, (2nd Edn) pub. 1982 by Alfred A. Knopf.

“The Art of Winemaking in America” by Phillip M. Wagner, pub. by Alfred A. Knopf, 1981.

“From Vines to Wines” by Jeff Cox, pub. by Harper & Row, 1988.

I wish to thank Ralph Amey, Tom Beard, Dan Graham and T. Ulf Westblom for their extremely helpful comments re. this glossary and previous contributions to this list on the subject of wine. Information about two contaminating yeasts was obtained from “The Internet Guide to Wine” by Bradford S. Brown (with Dri Brown), which shows promise of being a seminal work on WWW (World Wide Web). The quick calculation conversion method for brix readings to specific gravity was obtained from a Usenet group posting.

Along the way several other individuals made helpful comments privately and via the list. My sincere thanks to them also.

Disclaimer: Affiliation email address below is for identification only. The descriptions above are those of the undersigned and are intended only for use as a general information source available to all.

Anthony Hawkins (16-OCT-1997).
hawkins@king.alfred.edu

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