There’s a lot of ego in wine speak, both on the part of eager oenophiles who want to assert their expertise and occasional wine drinkers who keep mum for fear of saying the wrong thing.
For those who identify with the latter, this glossary of wine tasting terms will get your vocabulary off to a roaring start. The list is a group effort by some of our favourite sommeliers and winemakers, all of whom are photographed below, plus Business Insider’s own Matthew DeBord, author of “Wine Country USA.”
Pertains to the acid level in both red and white wines. It’s the sensation you get after sucking on a lemon, when your mouth gushes with saliva. Sometimes it can have a negative connotation — underripe, astringent, tart — but without acid, wine would be flabby and unstructured. Acid is the balancing agent to sugar and fruit. — Christine Wright, wine director
When a wine feels almost sharp in your mouth, with lots of acid and structure. It’s the opposite of “velvety” or “flabby.” — Jessica Brown, wine director
Smells literally of a barnyard — manure, wet hay, game, fur, leather — but in a good way! — J.B.
You want a well-balanced body, right? The same goes for wine, in terms of its weight and fullness on your palate. Wine can be light, medium, or full-bodied. — Charles Smith, winemaker
Short for “brettanomyce” (a type of yeast) and a variant of “barnyard.” Refers to wines that smell like sweat and manure. — Alexander LaPratt, sommelier
Has to do with a wine’s density and texture, almost like you can sink your teeth into it. — C.S.
Signifies a type of flaw that can come from a cork, but also from other places. It makes a wine smell like funky wet cardboard and tends to kill the fresh fruit flavours. — Matthew DeBord
Often used to characterise German Rieslings, a wine with a “good cut” is sharply defined in terms of acidity. — M.D.
Simply means the absence of sugar, not absence of flavour. You can have a full-flavored, fruity wine that’s also dry. — C.S.
Gives a sense of place and origin — where the grape was grown, the type of soil. It can almost give you a wine’s backstory. — C.S.
Means a wine is high in alcohol with no acidity. A fat wine isn’t refreshing. — A.L.
How long you can taste the wine in your mouth after you swallow. — J.B.
When a wine lacks structure, tannins, and acid. — C.S.
When a wine (white or red) is lively and refreshing. We use this term for more youthful wines. — C.S.
Fruitiness in a wine doesn’t have much to do with sweetness. Sweetness is the end balance between sugar and acid; you can’t smell sugar. Fruitiness is the presence of fruit notes both on the nose and on the palate. — C.W.
Refers to a cat’s tongue; used to describe a wine that has high tannins. — A.L.
A fine yet gauzy texture resembling, in a sense, projected 16 or 35 mm film. Generally denotes Old World, old-school, or old wines. — Scott Baker, wine director
A wine that’s all upfront with no backend. — A.L.
Wine with a noticeably high alcohol content. — S.B
A sense of really ripe, baked fruit. — A.L.
Wine that is high in alcohol and/or out of balance. — A.L.
The presence of fruit flavours plus acid to brighten them. — J.B.
Often used when talking about acid in a wine that is precise, focused, and cuts through everything like a laser beam. — J.B.
A wine that engages your palate and piques your curiosity. In other words, it has lots of action. Whether it’s sparkling wine, Champagne, or Riesling, it has energy. — C.S.
Simply means the wine has a lot of texture and density. You could liken it to the meaty quality of wild mushrooms. — C.S.
Courtesy Christine Wright
Christine Wright is the wine director and general manager of Hearth and Fifty Paces in New York City.
Smells and tastes of rocks, wet stones, ocean water, and saline. Really, it’s like you are licking a rock. — J.B.
Simple wine that only showcases one flavour profile (i.e., green apple flavour and nothing else). — A.L.
Denotes a wine that was kept air-tight during fermentation. Reductive wines often have a sulphur smell. This can be something the winemaker wanted intentionally in the wine or something that disappears after the wine breathes a bit. — J.B.
Diluted, watered down wine with no personality. — A.L.
Denotes a lot of new oak influence. — A.L.
Used a lot to describe red wine and usually translates to a wine with lower tannin levels. — C.W.
Usually has to do with notes of pepper, spice, or ginger on the nose and palate. Grenache and syrah are both known to have pepper notes, so often people will think of these wines as “spicy.” — C.W.
Present in red wines due to skin contact and oak ageing. Tannins can dry out your mouth with a sort of astringency (think black tea that has been steeped for too long). They usually soften over time, but some grapes have a naturally lower tannin level. — C.W.
Describes a wine that’s not expressing as much flavour or perfume as it should, usually because it’s still young. It needs to “open up” more to unwind and become more expressive. — J.B.
Volatile Acidity (VA)
Evokes aromas and flavours found in nail polish remover. VA is prevalent in Italian red wines. — A.L.
Velvety (also: lush, smooth, silky)
When a wine has very soft tannins and, usually, a good amount of oak. Velvety wines feel soft and rich on your palate. — J.B.
Smells like lamb’s wool or an old sweater. Usually used to describe chenin blanc. — S.B.
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