Wine Tasting Glossary


Common words used to describe wine and what they mean. Using proper wine terminology will not only impress your friends, it may also help in selecting a wine based on the tasting notes should tasting of the actual wine not be available at the time.

  • AROMATIC: Descriptive term for wines of markedly flowery, spicy or grapy character
  • AFTERTASTE: Term used to describe the taste left in the mouth after swallowing the wine. Both character and length of the aftertaste are part of the total evaluation. May be harsh, hot, soft and lingering, short, smooth, tannic, or nonexistent.
  • BALANCE: Denotes harmonious balance of wine elements - (ie: no individual part is dominant). Acid balances the sweetness; fruit balances against oak and tannin content; alcohol is balanced against acidity and flavor. Wine not in balance may be acidic, cloying, flat or harsh etc.
  • BIG: The overall flavor of a wine, white or red, that has full, rich flavors. "Big" red wines are often tannic. "Big" white wines are generally high in alcohol and glycerin. Sometimes implies clumsiness, the opposite of elegance.
  • BODY: The effect on the taster’s palate usually experienced from a combination of alcohol, glycerin and sugar content. Often described as "full", "meaty" or "weighty".
  • BRIX: Measurement system used for sugar content of grapes, wine and related products.
  • CRISP: Wine has definite but pleasing tartness, acidity. Generally used to describe white wines only.
  • DRY: Dry/Off Dry: Little or no sugar = "dry", slightly sweeter = "off dry". However, in champagnes and sparkling wines the term meanings are reversed: "dry" is the sweetest, "extra dry" is sweet, and "brut" is the least sweet.
  • FULL-BODIED: As opposed to "thin" or "thin-bodied". Fills the mouth, has a winey taste, alcohol is present, the wine has "weight on the tongue".
  • LATE HARVEST: Indicates grapes that are picked as late as possible in the season for maximum sugar content.
  • LEGS: Term used when referring to the liquid rivulets that form on the inside of a wineglass bowl after the wine is swirled in order to evaluate the alcohol concentration present. Usually the higher the alcohol content, the more impressive the rivulets appear because of reduced surface tension effects.
  • MOUTH-FILLING: Wines possessing intense flavors which seem to affect every sensory nerve in the mouth.
  • NOSE: Not the fleshy sense-organ/projection on the human face. It's near synonym word for "aroma" and includes "bouquet".
  • 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 flavors overpower other component wine flavors in which case it is considered overoaked. Oak flavor is introduced from contact with storage barrels made from that wood.
  • PERFUMED: Synonym for "floral". Implies also a degree of extra residual sugar.
  • RESIDUAL SUGAR: Percentage, by weight or volume, of the unfermented grape sugar in a bottled wine.
  • STRUCTURE: Term for overall flavor. Used to suggest complete impression of the wine. Needs a modifier in order to mean something - (eg: "brawny" etc).
  • TANNIN: A naturally occurring substance in grapeskins, 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.
  • TOASTY: Other, similar descriptors are "caramel" and "toffee". Some also add spicy flavours, such as "cinnamon" or "cloves".
  • WELL-BALANCED: Contains all of the essential elements - (ie: alcohol, flavors, acid or astringency etc) - in good proportions.