Wine is complex, and truly needs to be appreciated with both your senses of smell and taste. Have a read through the last of our wine terminology section to understand more of the language sommeliers and wine connoisseurs throughout the world use when describing the alluring beverage.
Wine Terminology Part 3 (‘Nose to Yeasty’)
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 odour, (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 of vanilla oak combining to give a balanced nose”. The sense organs of the human nose can be educated by the use of purchased odour comparison kits known by such names as “Le Nez du Vin”, “Component Collection” or “Winealyser”. These can sometimes be obtained at the various Home Winemakers mail suppliers (etc.) around the country.
NOUVEAU Indicates young, immediately drinkable wine – (for example a “Nouveau Beaujolais”).
NUTTY 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 flavour 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 flavours overpower other component wine flavours in which case it is considered over oaked. Oak flavour is introduced from contact with storage barrels made from that wood. New oak barrels contribute stronger flavour 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 Describes the vaguely fat, slippery sensation on the palate in contact with the combination of high glycerin and slightly low acid content. Mostly encountered in high quality Chardonnays and late harvest sweet wines.
OPEN-UP/OPENING-UP Some bottled cellar-aged red wines possess the peculiarity that, when the cork is first pulled and the wine poured, the full flavours do not immediately make an appearance. However, after the passage of several minutes in an open glass goblet, the wine develops unsuspected flavour characteristics that can verge on the sublime. This phenomenon is referred to as “opening-up”. Conversely, these flavours can disappear just as fast in just 30 minutes, leaving a subsequent impression of a flat, stale, “over-the-hill” and/or mediocre wine.
OVERRIPE 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”.
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 Synonym for “floral”. Implies also a degree of extra residual sugar.
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 no acid/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.
PRICKLY Wine with slight residual gas in it. Usually attractive in light young whites, but in reds it is often a sign of refermentation in the bottle or bottling of the wine prematurely.
PRUNEY Overripe, sun-dried grapes can induce an undesirable pungent quality into table wines; sometimes compared to “the taste of dried prunes”.
PUCKERY Synonym for ASTRINGENT.
RACKING Traditional method of wine clarification. Sequential transfer of wine to several containers, each transfer leaving behind some particulate matter.
RACY Sharp acidity usually found in young white wine (i.e. Italian Pinot Grigio, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc)
RAISINY Mildly rich flavour 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 flavour 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 overripe 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 “powerful” in the barrel. Almost a synonym for “elegant”.
RESIDUAL SUGAR Percentage, by weight or volume, of the unfermented grape sugar in a bottled wine.
RICH Giving a full, rounded flavour impression without necessarily being sweet. Richness supplied by alcohol, glycerin and oak vanilla nuances in dry wine. The sweeter wines qualify for this adjective if also characterized by ripe, fruity flavours.
RIM Refers to edge of wine surface as seen through a 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 Favourable 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 sweet than otherwise normal wines.
ROBUST 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.
ROUGH Flavour/texture is coarse. Acidity and/or tannin are predominant and unpleasant.
ROUND Describes flavours and tactile sensations giving a feeling of completeness with no dominating characteristic. Almost the same as fat, but with more approval. Tannin, acid and glycerin are sufficiently present but appear as nuances rather than distinct flavours.
SALTY One of the basic taste sensations detected by the receptors in the human tongue.
SHARP Excess acid predominates, disturbing the otherwise balanced flavours.
SIMPLE Normal, everyday, well-vinified table wine of straightforward character.
SMOKE/SMOKY Some use the word in the same sense as the smell/flavour that separates smoked (anything) from ordinary (anything). 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 Generally has low acid/tannin content. Also describes wines with low alcohol content. Consequently has little impact on the palate.
SOUR 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).
SPICY Almost a synonym for “peppery”. Implies a softer, more rounded flavour nuance however.
SPRITZY 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 Wine with lifeless, stagnant qualities. Usually found in wines that were kept in large vessel storage for an excessive length of time.
STEELY Mouth-feel and aroma applied to many non-oaked white wines. Duel meaning due to it fermentation in steel and its almost metallic flavour.
STONEY/STONELIKE 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” flavour characterize this type of wine.
STRUCTURE Term for overall flavour. Used to suggest complete impression of the wine. Needs a modifier in order to mean something – (eg: “brawny” etc).
STURDY (see HEARTY above)
STYLISH 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 Refers to one of the four basic tastes detected by the sensory nerves of the human tongue. In the description of wine taste-flavour the term “sweet” is almost always used as an identifier denoting the presence of residual sugar and/or glycerin. Wine aromas require a descriptive term to identify the source of the perceived sensation – (eg: “ripe”, “lush”).
TANNIN A naturally occurring substance in grape skins, 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.
TARRY/TAR LIKE 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, apricots, mushrooms and other flavouring essences isolated from wines.
TART Synonym for “ACIDIC”.
TASTE Refers to the basic sensations detectable by the human tongue. Current scientific opinion defines these as “sweet”, “salty”, “sour”, “bitter” and “MSG” (Monosodium Glutamate) flavours all registered by the tongue taste receptors. The traditional view of the tongue having four distinct surface zones to register those tastes has recently been revised by a report of new research discoveries (ie. see “Nature” magazine, April 5, 2000).
TEARS Synonym for “LEGS”.
TERROIR 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 Opposite of “full-bodied”.
TOASTY 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 flavour 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. “CIGAR BOX” 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).
TOUGH Usually implying too much tannin.
UNDERRIPE (see also ACIDIC, GREEN). Resulting flavour 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.
VANILLA Component detectable in the “nose” of a wine. The novice taster can compare odours 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 The particular flavour characteristics associated with a grape picked at optimum maturity – (eg: distinctive “berry like” taste of California Zinfandels, “blackcurrants” of Cabernet Sauvignon etc).
VEGETAL Considered a flavour flaw when present in distinctive amounts over and above that occurring naturally in the grape. “Grassy” has somewhat the same connotation.
VITIS LABRUSCA 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 flavour often termed as “foxy”.
VITIS VINIFERA The premier grape species used for the world’s most admired wines. Also referred to as the “European vine”.
VOLATILE Powerful, attack aroma. Usually denotes high level of acidity, alcohol and/or other flavour faults.
WARM Possesses high alcohol flavour offset by counterbalancing flavours and other desirable qualities. Unlike “hot”, is a positive attribute.
WATERY Synonym for MEAGER or THIN.
WEIGHTY Well-structured/balanced wines with an implication of mildly excessive flavour or “heaviness”.
WELL-BALANCED Contains all of the essential elements – (alcohol, flavours & astringency) – in good proportions.
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 flavours besides “oak”.
YEASTY/YEASTLIKE Term describing odours deriving from varietal yeasts carried on grape skins, molds etc. Includes both desirable and undesirable characteristics. Examples would be the presence of “brett”, (brettanomyces), a strain of yeast that produces “gamey/smoky” odours 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” flavour component.