The Good Bit
The jargon of any specialist can be daunting. Wine tasters often use terms and descriptions that can be a bit confusing to beginners. Many of them are obvious – ‘minty’ means the stuff tastes (a little bit) of mint. Here is a layman’s translation of the less obvious terms that might puzzle you.
When you’ve had a look through, see if you can find one of the wines mentioned as having one of the tastes, try a sniff and a swig and see if you agree. Quite an interesting experience – them experts ain’t all out to lunch!
Some of those funny terms explained in words understandable to the layman. And woman. I don’t know if it will help you enjoy your wine more, but too much information is always better than too little.
Vinegary taste or smell that develops when wine is exposed to the air. After a while it’s only good for putting on chips.
All wine contains acids, but should not have too much of them. Young wines are generally more acidic than older ones.
The impression the wine leaves after it is swallowed. Fine wines have a lingering aftertaste, or finish.
A tart apple taste is found in some Rieslings, Chardonnays, and Chenin Blancs.
Semillons, Muscats and some sweet Rieslings have overtones of apricots. Wines affected by botrytis or noble rot may taste similar.
Smell of a wine. Purists say it’s only part of the smell – defined by the variety of the grape.
Simply a nice smelling wine, usually a complicated smell.
Sauvignon Blanc wines sometimes taste slightly of asparagus. So do Pouilly-Fumés, Sancerres and some wines from the cooler parts of New Zealand.
If a wine makes your mouth pucker up, it probably has too much tannin in it. If it’s a young wine, leave it to mature.
Not at all fruity. Think of an expensive vintage French red – the opposite of a young Australian.
The different elements of the wine’s taste – fruit, acidity, tannins, alcohol – are in harmony with no one aspect predominating.
Very young wines, especially those that have been fermented cold, have traces of amyl acetate. As every schoolboy knows, this smells like pear drops, but in tiny quantities, it’s more like bananas.
Many young red wines smell strongly of blackberries. Australian wines, in particular, have a very powerful berry taste.
Simply means the wine has a good strong taste. The stronger flavoured wines usually contain more alcohol, too. St Emilion wines are often referred to as big.
One of the four basic taste sensations. Red wines like Cabernet Sauvignon taste bitter when they’re young because of their relatively high tannin content. Some Italian reds wines are meant to taste slightly bitter. In other wines it could indicate a problem.
Cabernet Sauvignons and Shiraz based wines can taste strongly of blackcurrant.
The feel or glugginess of a wine. Related to the alcoholic strength. Visible in the legs or roads when you swirl a glass. Wines from hotter areas tend to have more body.
Smell. Again. Purists say this is the smell and taste of the whole wine, not just the grape. The complexity of tastes that gives an older wine its appeal. It is affected by pressing, fermentation, filtering and storage.
Perfectly clear, not a trace of cloudiness or haze. Brilliant wines usually have a high acid content.
Wines that contain quite a bit of lactic acid have overtones of cream or butter. The taste is more noticeable in white wines like Chardonnay.
Musty smell and/or taste caused by over-long storage in oak barrels.
Said of wines that have plenty of tannin balanced by a goodly degree of acid to balance it. When you taste one, the sensation in your mouth makes you want to run your tongue round your cheeks and make chewing motions. At least that’s my explanation of it!
Fairly obvious taste allusion. Strong in some Chiantis.
No strange taste or smell.
Obvious. The opposite of Brilliant.
Said of a wine that is served so cold that its taste is muted.
What it says! A complicated smell and taste. Generally, the better the wine, the more complex the flavour. Each sip is different, revealing another aspect of the flavour.
Heavy, overripe taste. Might indicate that the weather was unusually hot shortly before harvest.
A wine that smells more of cork than it does of wine. The offending odour might vanish with decanting. If it doesn’t, the wine is off.
Fresh, clean tasting, usually with high acidity.
No obvious sweetness.
Lack of aroma. Not necessarily a bad thing in a wine that should be laid down for a number of years
The part of the taste that is derived from the particular soil. Can be flinty, clayish, etc.
Wine with a high-ish alcohol content.
Some white wines are said to taste vaguely of figs.
The aftertaste or sensation the wine leaves after you’ve sipped it.
Lacking acid, or even oxidised.
Dry, mineral taste that comes from certain soils, mostly in the Loire Valley.
Smelling vaguely of flowers. Mosel wines are definitely flowery.
Gout de Terroir
Sauvignon blanc wines seem to remind some tasters of grass.
A younger, raw tasting wine. Some white wines are actually pale green.
Obvious, but not a taste you’ll find often in a wine.
Some tasters say they detect an aroma of peppers in some wines, especially from cooler areas.
Tasting strongly of tannin; undeveloped.
High in alcohol, very full-bodied.
Smelling of fresh grass or hay. Merlots are sometimes described as herbaceous.
Generally reminiscent of herbs; mint, sage, thyme, etc.
A taste of honey (hey – good title for a film). Can be found in late-harvest wines, especially those affected by botrytis.
A wine that tastes more of alcohol than anything else.
The rivulets that run down the side of the glass after you’ve swirled it. Mostly a mixture of glycerine and alcohol.
Usually used of a wine that is light in alcohol. Also refers to the texture – how it feels in the mouth. A good thing in some wines; not in others.
Crisp, fresh, etc.
Rich wines are generally high in sugar, alcohol and glycerine. A good Sauternes is a perfect example.
A smell of burnt matches can come from the use of too much sulphur dioxide (a preservative). It should have dissipated if the wine is a few years old. Some people say they can detect the smell in some Pinot Noirs that haven’t been treated with the chemical.
Fully developed, ready to drink.
Smooth and soft, not a trace of a harsh element.
A vague minty taste can come from ageing in oak casks.
The smell of mould or rot. Can come from the grapes, cask or cork.
Vigorous fruit, powerful body and flavour; robust. Good barbecue wine.
Some Bordeaux wines have a slight smell of fresh mushrooms. Could be from the soil.
Not quite the same as mouldy, but you know what musty smells like. Could be caused by being left in the cask too long.
Simply the smell of the wine.
Overtones of hazelnuts can be found in some Amontillado Sherries.
Complex smell and taste that comes from ageing in oak casks or barrels. Should give the wine interest and character, but not be overly strong.
Not quite dry, a perception of sweetness too faint to call the wine sweet.
Occasionally found in a wine that’s not been stored correctly.
Wine that’s on its way to becoming vinegar.
Slightly different taste, but similar in origin, to honey.
Slight fizziness caused by the carbon dioxide formed during fermentation. Most noticeable in wines that have been refrigerated during fermentation.
Just about discernible in a very elderly port.
Similar to Apples.
Taste in a wine made from grapes that have partly dried (accidentally or on purpose) before harvest.
Not too difficult to discern in a Shiraz.
Think of retsina.
Difficult to define, this one. Yukky is maybe the best scientific term.
Experts say that some South American wines have salty overtones. But then I’ve heard of chaps who drop a few grains of salt into a glass and say it’s a marked improvement. One day I’ll try it…
Lots of acid and/or tannin.
Little or no aftertaste.
Opposite of complex.
Smell that can come from certain kinds of oak cask.
Can mean low alcoholic content, lack of acidity or the grapes were over-irrigated. See Mellow for contrast.
Acidic or vinegary.
The fizz in a wine can come from the (usually secondary) fermentation or from carbon dioxide that’s been forced into the tank.
With overtones of clove, cinnamon, pepper, etc.
Tending toward high acidity.
The way a wine is built; its composition and proportions.
A wine with plenty of stuffing is Big.
Sulphur dioxide is used to preserve wine. The French say they don’t do that sort of thing. They say… The smell should vanish during ageing.
Flavoursome; a wine that is ready for drinking now.
The amount of sugar that remains in the wine after fermentation has ceased governs how sweet it will taste. Even dry wines have some sugar. In a good wine the sugar is balanced by the right degree of acidity.
You know exactly the taste if you’ve bitten into a grape seed. Makes your mouth pucker up. Too much tannin can come from an excess of grape stems mixed in with the fruit or over-zealous pressing. A strong tannin taste in a young wine doesn’t necessarily mean a fault – the tannin vanishes with age and is an important part of the structure of a red wine.
An excess of Body.
Lacking body and flavour. A watery wine.
Past its peak. How can I describe it? Does the wine taste as if it has grey hair?
Never found this myself, but experts say it indicates a bad yeast. I hope you won’t find it either – sounds dreadful.
Astringent or hard; wiry; Tannic.
Pleasant (in the right quantity) scent imparted by ageing in oak casks.
Vaguely like some sort of green vegetable or other.
Mellow, but without an excess of sweetness. Smooth and rich in texture.
Firm, lively fruit, strong body; assertive flavour.
Most of the flavour of a wine is conveyed to the nose by evaporation. Alcohol evaporates at a lower temperature than water, so the flavours are concentrated in the alcohol. See bananas and acetic.
A wine with a lot of Body.
Overly strong smell of the wood of the cask or barrel. Might mean the wine was kept too long in the cask or that the wood was contaminated.
A bready sort of smell. Can contribute to the overall flavour of the wine as in very dry sherry or some champagnes. Too obvious a taste can mean the wine was badly filtered