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The Top Ten Wine Tasting Terms

The top ten most common wine tasting terms, and how to use them correctly:

Aroma: Since the human tongue is limited to detecting the five primary tastes of sour, sweet, bitter, salty, and umami, the aroma of wine is primarily detected through smell.  This is why we smell wine before drinking it; by both smelling and tasting, we allow our senses to perceive more of the complex and subtle aromas of wine.  Words like “smokey,” “buttery,” and “clean” all describe aromas.  Aroma is not to be confused with bouquet, a term that refers to the specific set of smells that characterize a wine that has been aged.

Balance: The four main components of a wine’s flavor are sweetness, alcohol, tannins, and acid. The interplay between these four components is what forms the primary tastes of the wine.  Acidity counteracts sweetness and alcohol, and fruitiness counteracts tannins.  A balanced wine has a harmonious level of all of these components, without one standing out and dominating the rest.  An unbalanced wine could be harsh or bitter (tannins in dominance), cloying (sweetness in dominance), acidic (acids in dominance), etc.

Crisp: A term exclusively used to characterize white wines, “crisp” denotes a pleasant sense of acidity or tartness.  Crisp wines are also often called “fresh” or “eager.”  They can often include flavors of apples, honey, flowers, and citrus.  This bright acidity is usually seen in young wines, as age tends to mellow a wine, and so, crisp wines tend to be a clean yellow color or even yellowish-green.  A dry Riesling is a classic example of a crisp wine.

Finish: The final stage of wine tasting is noting the finish, or the residual taste that the wine leaves in the mouth.  Specific flavors, like tannins, can dominate the finish of a wine.  Finish can be short or long and lingering, depending on how full-bodied the wine is.  Aged reds tend to have a bigger finish than whites.

Fruity: The specific grapes used give wine its sense of fruitiness: therefore, it is the fruitiness that characterizes the grape varietal.  Fruity wines are high in alcohol, low in acid, and obviously, high in fruity flavors.  Fruity wines tastes of berries, apples, or herbs.  Some fruity wines feel “hot” in the nose because of the alcohol vapors.  “Fruitiness” often implies a little extra sweetness.

Smooth: Also called “soft” or “velvety,”  smooth wines are low in tannins, acids, and alcohol.  They therefore don’t pack as big of a punch to the palate as other wines, and are so “accessible” or easy to drink.  Smooth wines have a long finish; with no alcohol to take over, the flavors slowly melt away from the palate.

Spicy: “Spicy” refers to a flavor of spice in the wine.  It refers to the taste of strong spices like pepper, cinnamon, and nutmeg.

Structure: Related to balance, structure denotes the overall flavor plan of the wine.  The acids, tannins, and alcohols in wine make up its structure.  The term is used to suggest the basic flavor of the wine, and is always used with a modifier, such as “brawny” or “soft.”

Tannins: Tannins are polyphenols that come from the grape skins, seeds, and stems, and so are prevalent in red wine.  Tannins contribute to the bitter or astringent (mouth-puckering) taste often present in stronger reds such as Cabernet Sauvignon.  Though too much tannin is considered a fault, tannins contribute to the structure of the wine.  Tannins bind together and fall to the bottom of the bottle as sediment as wine ages, so aged wine loses its tannic bitterness and becomes “mellow.”  To decrease the bitterness or astringency of a a young red, decant it.

Taste: The taste of the wine, perceived by the 5 types of taste receptors on the tongue.  Humans can taste bitterness, sweetness, sourness, saltiness, and, as recently discovered, umami or MSG (monosodium glutamate, a naturally occurring chemical that enhances flavor).  Umami is often characterized as “richness” or “savory”.

This list uses the same terms as the copywrited eBacchus® Top Ten Most Used Wine Terms with new definitions

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