How to Speak Wine

by admin on January 22, 2008


The art of drinking wine has a language of it’s own. As with any art form we look for elements, qualities, to describe it vividly. If we were scrutinizing or analyzing a Monet we would look at the highlights used, the balance of color, the lines of the painting, the form of each character etc. Wine looks at 3 basic elements, looks, smell, and taste.

Therefore a certain vocabulary, or “speak” was used for those elements that derived from years of experience through wine makers and wine connoisseurs. This language if you will became the norm.

It is also fair to say as American wine makers began getting notoriety and win awards for their wines they have in turn added a plethora of adjectives used today.

Here is a small collection of definitions to describe a wine and it’s effects or experience. Some may even say its Nirvana.

  • Acid: A natural preservative of the wine that gives it flavor.
  • Aggressive: A wine with a bite to it. This usually will define a wine when it is acidic.)
  • Appearance: Refers to whether a wine is light dark, cloudy clear, rich or transparent.
  • Astringent: A taste that lingers in your mouth from an aggressive wine.
  • Backbone: A wine that is well balanced. This would describe a wine that has a full flavor, or has been aged in a wood barrel.
  • Body: The structure of a wine to your palette.
  • Bouquet: The aroma of a wine. This will become more apparent with age.
  • Chewy: A full body, heavily tanned wine.
  • Cloudiness: A look attributed to either old wines or young wines. In an old wine it may be sediment therefore “decanting” a wine would be a suggestion. In young wines it just may be a bad batch.
  • Delicate: A lighter wine on the palette.
  • Dry: A wine that has little residual sugar on the palette.
  • Elegant: A well balanced wine
  • Finish: The lingering flavor left on your palette. The longer the flavor lasts the richer and the savory the wine.
  • Hearty: A robust red wine.
  • Heady: Higher alcohol content.
  • Nose: Refers to the aroma and bouquet of a wine.
  • Oaky: A residual taste of wines being aged in oak barrels.
  • Off dry: A wine that is a little sweeter than a dry wine.
  • Rich: A full body, with a deep lingering taste that envelopes all sense.
  • Soft: A lighter bodied wine with less acidity.

This is far from a complete list of terms and definitions for the wine enthusiast, but it is a good working vocabulary for the average wine drinker. As you learn to speak about what you are seeing, tasting, and smelling in a glass of wine you will pick up other terms from other connoisseurs who will help to expand your vocabulary.

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