A Glossary of Wine-Tasting Terms
To communicate the characteristics of a wine to someone else & to define particular meanings, most wine enthusiasts share a universal language of recognizable terms:
Acetic A defect in wine that has been exposed to air; smells and tastes like vinegar.
Acetone The smell of nail polish remover; a fault if too predominant. Usually prevails in older reds.
Acidic Too much acid in wine gives it a sharp, biting smell & taste, while the right balance gives it liveliness.
Aftertaste The impression left on the palate after swallowing the wine; also called the “finish”. A quality wines’ aftertaste remains on the palate longer.
Aerate Forcing air to mix with wine, in order to further bring out the aromas and flavours. Aerating techniques include swirling wine in your glass & decanting.
Aroma The smell of the fresh grapes in the wine, as opposed to “bouquet” which is the smell of the fermented wine.
Astringent The harsh, dry taste of immature tannin in red wines that causes the mouth to pucker.
Barrel-Aged Maturing the wine in wooden barrels, as opposed to stainless steel, glass, etc. Red wines can be aged in the barrel anywhere from 6 months to 2 years; few whites remain in the wood for longer than 3 to 6 months.
Barrel-Fermented A process that accentuates “toasty oakiness” and integrates it more deeply into the wine that has actually been fermented in the barrel.
Bitter An acrid aftertaste that signifies the fruit of immature vines or overabundant tannin.
Black currant The dominant smell in Cabernet grapes.
Blending A wine making technique of combining different wines to create a superior result. Often, wines from different varietals are blended.
Body The texture and weight of wine as felt in the mouth. Alcohol, tannin, and acidity all play a part in a wine’s body: light, medium or full, depending on the amount of extract and alcohol.
Botrytis This is a fungus that attacks grapes, causing them to rot & shrivel, concentrating the sugars and acids; this type of “noble rot” makes the wines sweet and long-lived.
Bottle-Age The refinement that results from aging the wine in the bottle as opposed to in barrel.
Bouquet The smell of the fermented wine that develops during it’s evolution in the bottle.
Breathe Wine “breathes” when it is exposed to air. Rich young wines with high tannins will often benefit from breathing. You should pour (or decant) the wine into another container, such as a carafe to provide more aeration. Even allowing a wine to sit in your glass will allow it to breathe somewhat and the wine may “open up”—meaning that the aroma will become more intense and enjoyable.
Brix A scale used to measure sugar content of grapes & wine. Each degree of Brix is equivalent to 1 gm. of sugar /100 gm. of grape juice. This is the usual method of determining the alcohol potential of unfermented juice or must.
Buttery Refers to a smell, especially in Chardonnay that has been aged in oak.
Carbonic maceration Fermentation for light red wines that takes place inside the skins of uncrushed grapes in sealed tanks. This method produces especially fresh & fruity wines that are best drunk young & chilled.
Character The distinguishing personality of a wine that makes it instantly identifiable. Specific types of grapes will have a “character” that differentiates it from others.
Charmat Method The method of incorporating bubbles into sparkling wine by adding sugar and yeast to a sealed pressurized tank, then letting the second fermentation take place there; then transferring to a bottle under counter pressure to maintain the natural bubbles.
Chocolate This discernible smell and aftertaste can be found in some full-bodied red wines.
Citric The perfume of lemon, grapefruit or lime in the bouquet and finish of a wine.
Clean A wine free from “off” odours or tastes.
Closed An immature wine that does not reveal it’s character; unreleased bouquet and flavour. Many fine wines go through a closed period when young.
Cloying A dessert wine with too much sweetness; in need of more acidity to balance the sugar & lighten it on the palate.
Colour As a wine ages, its color will change; red wines will fade toward brick orange and/or pink, and white wines become golden.
Complex Refers to a wine with many facets of different smells and tastes.
Corked A bottle of wine tainted in flavour because of improper cellaring or air deterioration.
Creamy Refers not to the taste, but the texture of champagne; or the smell of vanilla imparted by new oak.
Crisp A desirable acidity indicated by a green apple taste & freshness in white wines.
Cuvée A blend or special lot of wine.
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Decanting The act of pouring wine from the bottle into another container. This is done to aerate the wine or to separate sediment from an older red wine.
Dry The opposite of sweet; indicating the sugar content has been almost totally fermented out.
Earthy A positive attribute; a smell like that of rich soil.
Elegant Exceptionally high quality wines that are light & harmoniously balanced.
Fat Full of flavour; a wine that has a lot of fruit concentration but low acidity is often defined as being “fat”. If the acidity is so low it is displeasing, the wine will be called “flabby” or “insipid”.
Floral/Flowery Aromatic whites poses this perfumed scent of fragrant flowers such as roses, honeysuckle, jasmine or lilac, etc.
Foxy The distinctive smell of native American labrusca grapes, like in Concord juice.
Fresh Young & vital; lively acidity imparted by young wines.
Fruity A variety of fruit odours and tastes that may be discerned in wine including apple, apricot, citrus, cherries, & berries as well as grapes.
Full-bodied A wine that exhibits concentrated fruit extract and high alcohol content with all elements strongly defined.
Glycerol A syrupy sweet alcohol formed during fermentation which adds roundness to a wine.
Grapey A wine’s strong impact of the fresh grape.
Green A sharp acidic taste in wine resulting from immature vines or unripe berries.
Hard The mouth-puckering consequence of harsh immature tannins and acidity which conceals the fruit.
Harsh Refers to a rough, acidic wine exhibiting overabundant tannin.
Icewine The rare sweet wine made from frozen grapes. Called ‘Eiswein’ in Germany. See our Icewine Facts for details.
Jammy This is a term used to describe intensely ripe, concentrated fruit in the nose and/or palate of a wine.
Lees Dead yeast cells and small grape particles which settle at the bottom of the tank or barrel during aging.
Legs The clear rivulets that run slowly down the inside of a glass after a wine has been swirled. Thicker, slower-moving legs indicate higher alcohol content of a rich wine.
Length The persistence of flavour on the palate. The longer it remains with you the finer the wine.
Light Refers to the body or flavour of a wine.
Lively A wine with detectible acidity.
Malolactic Fermentation A secondary fermentation occurring in most wines, this natural process converts malic acid into softer lactic acid and carbon dioxide, reducing the wine’s total acidity.
Meaty Refers to a firm, full-bodied red wine.
Must Grape juice, pulp and skins before they are fermented.
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Noble Rot Naturally sweet wines result from this benign disease that plagues certain grapes in the fall.
Nose The sum total of all odours in the fermented wine.
Oaky The smell of toasted vanilla, coconut or sandalwood conveyed to a wine by new oak.
Oxidized A wine exposed to too much air will turn it into acetic acid; the colour browns and it turns vinegary.
Palate This refers to the flavours and sensations of a wine in your mouth.
Petrol A pleasing oily-lime smell related to a fully developed Riesling.
pH A measure of the intensity of acid a wine contains. The lower the pH, the more acidic the wine will be. Wines with a pH of 3.8 will be flat and very soft. Lemon juice has a pH of 2.3. Most dry wines have a pH between 3.3 and 3.0, similar to the pH of our stomach acids.
Residual sugar Sugar that remains in the wine after the fermentation has stopped or is then added as grape must.
Round A well developed wine that is balanced, mellow, and full-bodied; sometimes used in conjunction with “fat”.
Sediment The bitter tasting deposits that occur in an old red wine. Sediment is expected in great, old wines, and correct decanting keeps the sediment from entering your glass.
Sharp The biting sensation of excessive acidity.
Short A wine with little aftertaste.
Sinewy A wine with good alcohol and acidity but less fruit extract.
Smoky A smell associated with certain oak-fermented Chardonnays and Baco Noir.
Smooth The wine’s texture, flavor, body, or finish, can be described as “smooth”.
Soft Mellow, well-rounded, mature tannins and low acidity.
Spicy As in the bouquet of Gewürztraminer and Muscat. Some wines have flavours reminiscent of allspice, cinnamon, cloves or pepper.
Structure The composition of a wine – levels of tannin, acidity, and alcohol.
Sulphur It’s presence is detectable as a burnt-match smell. Almost all winemakers use sulphur products to some degree as an anti-oxidant and anti-bacterial agent.
Supple Refers to an easy to drink wine that is soft textured, round on the palate, with fully mature tannins.
Sur Lie A French term meaning “on the lees”, this process originated in Burgundy with Chardonnay. Wines aged ‘sur lie’ are kept in contact with the dead yeast cells and are not racked or fermented or otherwise filtered. This is mainly done for white wines to enrich them and add complexity. This is a normal part of fermenting red wine and so is not noted.
Sweet The presence of unfermented sugar in the wine or back-blended sweet reserve juice. Sweetness is only a virtue if it is balanced with acidity to stop it from cloying.
Tannin One of the main elements of red wine: a dry, astringent taste that causes a puckering of the mouth. It is a necessary preservative in a wine that is to be aged. This substance comes from the skin and seeds of the grape, and can be supplemented by oak tannins from the barrels. Tannins soften as a wine ages.
Tart Sharp, green, overly acidic.
Tartrates The natural, harmless crystals, often found on the cork, of potassium bitartrate that may form in some wines during fermentation or aging. They result from a high level of tartaric acid naturally present in the wine, and can be avoided through filtration and stabilization methods.
Terroir A French term that describes the unique personality of a vineyard, encompassing all elements including temperature, soil, atmosphere, & wind present where the grapes are growing.
Texture The overall feel of a wine in your mouth; often described as “smooth”, “silky”, or “velvety”.
Toasty The barrel smell and taste imparted to oak-fermented white wines.
Tonne A measure of grapes which will produce about 1,000 bottles.
Unbalanced Wine in which one or more of the basic elements is weak or overbearing.
Unfiltered Many wines today are filtered to ensure clarity. Some winemakers choose not to filter the wine, as they feel filtering may take away from the natural flavor of a wine.
Vanilla The smell imparted to some wines by new oak aging in casks.
Varietal A single grape variety. Any wine that is made 100% from one grape, is called a “varietal” wine.
Vintage This is the year in which the wine’s grapes were harvested. The vintage date tells you 2 things: how old the wine is and if the wine comes from a “good” year. Because climate conditions vary from year to year and region to region, this is a particularly important piece of information.
Well balanced Perfect harmony among the wine’s elements – fruit, acid, alcohol, oak (if used) and, in red wines, tannin; the ultimate compliment.
Woody The smell & taste of wine kept too long in a cask. Not to be confused with “oaky” which is valuable if it is not overdone.
Yeasty Smelling of bread, usually signifying that the wine has been exposed to secondary fermentation in the bottle (most evident in champagnes which spend three years in the bottle resting on their lees).