Have you found yourself wanting to dive more deeply into the meanings of various wine terms but don’t know where to begin? It can be challenging to articulate what happens at a wine tasting and to speak about the swirling of the fruity undertones bursting upon your taste buds, the delicious taste of oaky red wine and the supple texture of a soft white wine in your mouth. With our descriptive guide to wine tasting terminology and definitions, you can take your knowledge to the next level!
Whether you are hosting a party, going to a wine tasting at a vineyard or want to brush up on your wine tasting terms and how to use them, this guide will help show you the way by starting at the very beginning!
What Is a Wine Tasting?
You might think a wine tasting is only for professionals, but it has become a social tradition many people can enjoy together. Wine tasting is the act of sampling small pours of different types of wines to evaluate them individually. Many tasting rooms provide pens and paper for guests to take notes about their favorite qualities. You may also use your wine tasting notes to jot down common wine tasting terms so you can ask questions about them.
At the end of your wine tasting, you will usually choose a bottle of the wine you enjoyed most. Often, wine tastings also offer pairings with delicious foods like cheeses and desserts.
While wine tastings have a fun, relaxed atmosphere, you will still learn several wine tasting terms and descriptions. Sometimes, knowing these beforehand can assist you in understanding the words your server or sommelier uses when describing a specific wine’s complexity. It can also help you use the correct wine tasting terminology to describe a wine’s taste to someone else.
Wine tasting is a multisensory experience. For example, before sipping a wine, swirl it around your glass to notice its colors. Breathe in the aroma to distinguish what parts of the bouquet your sense of smell picks up.
Next, after sipping your wine, it is up to you whether you would like to spit it into a provided tumbler or swallow the wine to gauge its taste completely.
Wine tastings are an entertaining, informative way to find your next favorite wine!
Glossary of Basic Wine Tasting Terms
Some wine tasting terms have a different dictionary definition than they do in the context of winemaking. Familiarizing yourself with wine terminology can come in handy when you’re at a loss for words to describe a wine’s taste and aroma, so let’s jump right in!
- Barrel fermented: Some winemakers choose to ferment their wines in steel, concrete or oak barrels.
2. Tannins: These are the phenolic compounds in wines that leave a bitter or dry taste in your mouth.
3. Residual sugar: Residual sugar is the unfermented grape sugar found at the end of the wine’s fermentation process. The amount of residual sugar differs from wine to wine. Generally, dry wines have 10 grams per liter of residual sugar, whereas sweeter wines have at least 35 grams per liter of residual sugar and can continue to increase from there.
4. Dry: The term “dry” refers to the wine’s makeup. Generally, dry wine is lower in residual sugar content. If the wine has a 1% sweetness level, it is a dry wine.
5. Sweet: Sweet wine is the opposite of dry wine and includes dessert wines. Depending on the wine, the sugar content can be high, ranging from one to eight grams of sugar per glass.
6. Acidity: The acidity of a wine is what makes your mouth water. Think about eating a lemon slice and how its tartness makes your mouth pucker. Red and white wines both have acid, but too much acidity in wine can make your wine taste too harsh, and too little can leave your wine tasting somewhat bland. A low pH indicates higher acid levels.
7. ABV: The abbreviation for alcohol by volume. You will find this on the back of a wine bottle on the wine label listed as a percentage.
8. Complexity: When a wine exhibits numerous odors and flavors that are hard to put your finger on, it’s complex.
9. Aroma: You might wonder what a person is doing when they swirl their wine around in their glass and take a deep inhale while smelling it. They’re taking in the wine aroma, also known as the “nose,” which can consist of various scents such as fruity, floral, citrus, corky or smoky.
10. Aftertaste: Wine’s aftertaste is the flavors that linger on your taste buds when you drink wine or swirl it around in your mouth before spitting it out. Aftertaste is the most crucial factor in judging wine’s quality.
11. Body: Experts often judge wine for how palatable it is — light, medium or full-bodied.
12. Light-bodied: When a wine is lighter in overall body weight, it tastes delicate and subtle to the tongue. Sometimes, light-bodied wines will have higher acidity and less alcohol and tannin.
13. Full-bodied: Full-bodied wines contain the highest amount of alcohol and feel fuller in your mouth. They pair well with rich and fatty foods like steak and pasta.
14. Blend: Blending different grape varieties helps winemakers produce a more complex and well-rounded product with enhanced flavors, aromas, color and texture.
15. Delicate: White wines with light fragrances and flavors are delicate. These can enhance the flavors of sushi and other fish dishes.
16. Elegant: A refined, sophisticated and aged wine with more developed tannins and a soft or velvety mouthfeel.
17. Buttery: A wine characterized by its creamy texture, which is generally rich with less acidity.
18. Corked: Generally, wines sealed with a cork have a musty flavor and a dry aftertaste. Many people dislike corked wines, which is why some wines come with screwed-on tops.
19. Rich: Matureness and a fruity character produce a richer aroma and taste. Rich wines can be reds, whites or rosés.
20. Jammy: When someone refers to a wine as being “jammy,” it’s because of the sweet berry undertones that come to the forefront when sipped. Jammy wines tend to consist of nearly overripe grapes.
21. Quality: Experts look at different factors to determine a wine’s quality, such as the vines’ environment, the species and varieties of grapes and the enological and viticultural practices.
22. Oxidized: When wine goes through oxidation, it tends to lose its vibrant color and taste. Oxidized wines get exposed to oxygen for long periods. That’s when the acetaldehyde converts to acetic acid, turning the wine to vinegar.
23. Sommelier: Typically employed by a fine dining establishment, a sommelier has professional knowledge of wine and can specialize in wine service, wine and food pairings and wine storage. At a winery, a sommelier will educate you in the wine tasting process.
24. Vinology: Vinology is the scientific study of wine and winemaking.
25. Nutty: A nutty wine has nuances similar to the aromas of nuts. You can find nutty flavors in wine aged in oak barrels.
26. Opulent: When bursting with character and complexity, with rich, smooth and bold undertones, wine is opulent.
27. Yeast: Microorganisms produce enzymes that convert sugar to alcohol. Yeast is necessary for the fermentation of grape juice to wine.
28. Balance: When all different components such as acidity, sweetness, dryness, tannin and alcohol in wine work perfectly together, they form a well-balanced wine.
29. Young: A fresh, crisp bottle of wine sold generally within a year of its vintage is a “young” wine.
30. Bottle sickness: Bottle sickness is a temporary condition sometimes caused by the shipping and handling process. When newly bottled wines travel long distances, they can become unsettled, muting their flavors and aromas. You can “cure” bottle sickness by letting the wine rest for a few days before opening it.
31. Cedary: Cedary wine smells like cedarwood. You may notice these odors in blended wines aged in different oaks.
32. Earthy: Earthy aromas describe positive and negative attributes in wine. Earthiness can be an unwanted quality if a wine smells or tastes like soil. However, on a positive note, it adds complexity to the flavor, which makes it enjoyable for many enthusiasts.
33. Fruity: This termrefers to the wine’s flavor, which derives from a base of non-grape ingredients containing aromatic, fruity notes, such as pineapple, apricot, peach and pear. Fruity wines mostly have a sweet taste with low alcohol content.
34. Fleshy: Fleshy is how a wine feels on your tongue. Fleshier wines have chewy, flavorful and full-bodied qualities.
35. Phylloxera: Phylloxera is a microscopic insect that kills grapevines by attacking their roots. A 19th-century phylloxera epidemic destroyed a large swath of the vineyards for wine grapes in Europe, most notably in France.
36. Fortified: Originally made in Portugal, fortified wine is traditionally a sweet red wine that comes in various styles, including sherry and port wine.
37. Off-dry: When you hear someone call a wine “off-dry” or “semi-dry,” it may contain a small amount of residual sugar to give a perceived sweetness.
38. Musty: When your wine has a damp or stale aroma, wine experts advise it’s best not to drink it. Musty flavors indicate a wine fault.
39. Toasty: Wines aged in oak barrels have toasty aromas and aftertastes.
40. Clone: Cloning is a widely used practice in agriculture and viticulture. Genetically identical grapevines cultivated from a single mother plant are clones.
41. Filtering: Often, winemakers filter their products twice. The first time is to remove the yeast particles, and the second time is to remove bacteria before the bottling process.
42. Savory: Savory flavors cover a broad range of wines that project an aroma opposite to sweet wine and give more of an earthy, dry and vegetal flavor.
43. Vintage date: The year printed on your wine bottle’s label is the vintage date.This term refers to the year the winemaker harvested the grapes.
44. Spicy: When a wine is spicy, it often exudes flavors and aromas of cinnamon, pepper, clove or anise and gives the sensation of a sharp burning feeling in your nose and mouth like when you eat a bit of wasabi.
45. Racy: Racy wine is a style of wine more than a flavor or aroma. Racier wines generally have lively acidity.
46. Brut: In France, brut is the driest sparkling white wine category and means dry, raw or unrefined. When winemakers speak of brut, they refer more to a style than a variety of wine.
47. Fermentation: Fermentation is when yeast converts sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide, turning grape juice into wine.
48. Hot: When a person refers to a “hot” wine, it means the wine is relatively high in alcohol and leaves a burning sensation at the back of your throat when you drink it.
49. Ullage: The gap between the cork and the wine is the ullage, also known as the fill level. Wine buyers pay attention to this when buying a more mature vintage, as it tells them the wine’s health.
50. Tartaric acid: There are three primary acids in wine — tartaric, malic and citric. Tartaric acid influences the final product’s taste, color and odor.
51. Herbaceous: Herbaceous refers to the herbal aromas found in wine.
52. Racking: Winemaking involves much more than merely harvesting grapes. After the fermentation process completes, racking will need to follow. Racking is when the winemaker moves the product from one vessel to another to separate the wine from the grape skins, seeds, stems, leftover dead yeast cells and other particles that settle to the bottom of the tank.
53. Vinted by: Vinted indicates a finished wine purchased in bulk and then given a cellar treatment before bottling.
54. Lees: During the wine maturing phase, dead yeast cells and other particles remain behind after fermentation.
55. Lingering: When a flavor remains on your tongue after you swallow wine or spit it out after tasting, it is known as lingering.
56. Dense: When you taste a young wine and it is challenging to make out the individual aromas and flavors because it is too “closed” to note each separately, we refer to this as dense wine.
57. Hollow: Wine that lacks flavor depth or is less fruity is hollow.
58. Extract: The contents that make up a wine’s flavor, body and color. Extraction methods are all different, depending on the outcome you want for your wine.
59. Foxy: Foxy wine is a musty or a distinctive note found in some wines. If the foxy aroma is too strong, it can make the wine seem out of balance.
60. Demi-sec: Demi-sec is a French word and directly translated means “half-dry,” but the term describes medium-sweet wines or champagne.
61. Fining: Fining is the method of removing unwanted material from wine while it’s still in the cellar. Some winemakers opt to skip this step because they believe it mutes the wine’s natural flavor and texture.
Food Pairings to Try With Your Favorite Wine
Many definitions can give you a better understanding of the wine tasting terminology we’ve covered above, but what happens when you’re ready to host your wine tasting party and don’t know what food to pair with your wine?
Here are our recommendations of foods to pair these top six wines with when you host your next wine tasting event.
- Chardonnay: As the world’s most popular white wine, chardonnay is best to pair with sushi or shellfish. Choosing a chardonnay depends on your preferred flavor profile, as these white wines come with either a sharp and crispy aroma or a rich and oaky flavor.
- Sauvignon blanc: When pairing sauvignon blanc with the perfect meal, it’s best to look at lighter options. For example, if you plan to serve tapas, a cheese, nut and fruit platter complements the deliciously crisp, delicate white wine.
- Pinot noir: Filled with a mixture of fruity and foresty flavors, pinot noir is well-known for its mushroom aromas and pairs well with earthy ingredients such as a hearty lamb dish or a filet mignon and roasted vegetables.
- Champagne: Champagne is a sparkling wine virtually synonymous with celebrations and famous worldwide for its bubbles. It consists of a blend of three grapes — chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier. Champagne is best alongside salty foods or at weddings with appetizers before the main course.
- Merlot: Loved for its soft textured berry flavors, merlot — which translates to “little blackbird” — comes from red-skinned grapes and is a top-rated wine after cabernet sauvignon. It is also the world’s second most planted grape. Merlot pairs best alongside a wholesome chicken dish with vegetables.
- Cabernet sauvignon:Cabernet sauvignon is the most popular wine and a fan favorite in the United States — as well as the most planted grape in the world! Mixed with bold tannins and fruity flavors, it pairs well with red meat dishes. Cabernet sauvignon will not disappoint alongside a tasty, boldly flavored beef stew.
Take our Wine Pairing Quiz to find the perfect pairing!
Shop Our Wine Selection at Marketview Liquor
Impressing your guests with a wine tasting and pairing will be a walk in the park now that you’ve reviewed our comprehensive glossary of wine tasting terms. We have a full range of wines available to ship directly to your doorstep. Browse our website to mix and match your cases, creating the perfect blend of different wines for your next wine tasting.