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Wine tasting terms and descriptions

Wine tasting terms and descriptions

When it comes to wine, you know what you like, but how do you describe the wine you’re smelling, tasting, and feeling in your mouth?

The world of wine can be a little daunting and mysterious at first, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll be impressing family and friends, and talking wine terms and descriptions like a true professional.

Let’s get started!


Basics of wine descriptions 

Some of the questions we’re regularly asked about wine description are, 'What are some adjectives for wine?' and, 'What are some of the basic wine characteristics?".

See below as we answer some common questions;

  • What are primary aromas? These aromas come purely from the grapes and include dominant fruity, herbal, and floral notes.
  • What are secondary aromas? These are background aromas, which come from winemaking practices, such as fermentation. Think buttered brioche or cheese rind, nutty characteristics, or yeast-like aromas.
  • What are tertiary aromas? These come from the ageing process like oak barrel aging, and can include notes of vanilla, coconut, baking spices, toasted nuts, cigar box, tobacco, or leather.
  • What does the term 'body' mean? Body is the general weight of the wine on your palate. 
  • What is meant by the term 'length'? Length is the amount of time a wine’s flavours and textures linger on your palate after swallowing. 
  • What does complexity mean? When you can detect several aromas, flavours, and nuances in a wine, it is considered complex. 


Common white wine descriptions 


White wines range from very pale to having green hues: 

  • Lemon, straw (pale to green)
  • Yellow (pale to bright) 
  • Gold (pale to rich)
  • Green hue (faint to bright)
  • Yellow-green



These are just a few of the wine descriptions you can use to describe the aroma of white wines: 

  • Lime
  • Lemon
  • Tropical fruit
  • Stonefruit 
  • Vanillin oak 
  • Nectarine
  • Apple
  • Floral
  • Mineral



These wine descriptions can be used to describe what can you taste in a white wine: 

  • Lemon
  • Grapefruit
  • Pear
  • Peach
  • Apricot
  • Melon
  • Lychee
  • Passionfruit



These wine descriptions can be used to describe how intense the flavours are and how the wine feels in your mouth:

  • Fresh
  • Tight 
  • Youthful
  • Creamy
  • Silken
  • Acidity
  • Ripe
  • Savoury
  • Chalky
  • Minerally
  • Juicy
  • Lively
  • Balanced 


Common red wine descriptions 


Red wines start from purple to ruby, brick red and cherry:

  • Black purple
  • Red purple
  • Ruby
  • Brick red
  • Cherry red
  • Dark red
  • Magenta
  • Garnet
  • Dull brown



These are just a few of the wine descriptions you can use to describe the aroma of red wines:

  • Plum
  • Red cherry
  • Red currant
  • Raspberry
  • Pepper-spice
  • Earth
  • Oak
  • Cedar
  • Mint



These wine descriptions can be used to describe what you can taste in a red wine: 

  • Black fruits
  • Jammy
  • Chocolate-mocha
  • Ripe red berries
  • Raspberry
  • Prune
  • Cassis
  • Plum 



These wine descriptions can be used to describe how intense the flavours are and how the wine feels in your mouth: 

  • Rich
  • Ripe
  • Generous
  • Firm
  • Velvety
  • Tannic 
  • Smooth
  • Mouth-watering,
  • Fleshy
  • Concentrated


What are some other wine terms that I should know?

Now that we’ve got the basics covered, let’s drill down and further explain even more wine terms you are a very likely to see or hear.  

  • What is ABV? This is the abbreviation for Alcohol By Volume, which is listed as a percentage on the wine label. 
  • What is acidity? Both red wine and white wines contain acid. It is the grape’s natural acidity that makes your mouth water, making a wine refreshing and zesty. 
  • What is alcohol? Alcohol is a result of fermentation. When swallowed, wine higher in alcohol can feel warm or hot in your throat.  
  • What does barrel fermented mean? This means a wine has been fermented in oak barrels instead of stainless steel or concrete. 
  • What is a blend? A wine made by blending several varietal wines together. On the wine bottle label, they are generally listed from the highest per centage varietal to the lowest, e.g., GSM, Grenache Shiraz Mourvèdre, Semillon Sauvignon Blanc.  
  • What is a field blend? Wine made with different varieties that are harvested and vinified together. These wines come from vines that usually are planted in the same plot of a vineyard. 
  • What does fermentation mean? Fermentation is the conversion of grape sugars into alcohol through the addition of yeast. 
  • What does malolactic fermentation or ‘malo mean’? This is a secondary fermentation in which naturally occurring malic acid (which is tart) changes into lactic acid (which is smooth). White wines described as buttery or creamy have gone through malolactic fermentation.
  • What is tannin? This refers to the astringency and the way a wine can dry out your mouth. Tannins are also responsible for the same in tea. They are derived from grape skins, seeds, and stems, and also from extended ageing in oak. 
  • What does vintage mean? The vintage of a wine is the year the grapes were harvested and vinified. 
  • What is non-vintage and NV mean? Non-vintage or ‘NV’ wines are a blend of several vintages. This is particularly common in the world of Champagne and Sparkling wines.

So, there you have it! Wine ‘speak’ in one easy lesson. Remember, as humans, we are all individuals so not everyone will experience a wine in the same way. The most important thing is to enjoy the wine you are drinking, and to seek out new wines, new styles and have fun doing it.  And, if you come across some odd or interesting aromas in your wine they may be listed and explained in our Funny Wine Descriptions.

Published on
20 Dec 2022


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