How to speak ‘wine’

Tuesday, September 15th, 2020


–The terms that bounce around in wine reviews and in the wine tasting room can be enough to drive one to drink. Frankly, many of those terms mean the same thing. Learning the language of wine comes down to a few basics that we experience from the first aromas in a freshly poured glass to swallowing that first sip. Knowing how to describe the aroma of the wine, how it tastes and feels in your mouth and what flavors and sensations linger are the secrets to speaking the language of wine.

The aroma of the wine

Nose (aroma) includes all of the scents you detect before each sip. Everything we consume, and how much we enjoy it is directly related to our sense of smell first then our sense of taste.

Take a little time to discover different aromas. The wine-making process opens up such a range of scents and flavors that you don’t want to miss out. Red wines can have a nose full of berries and cherries, even hints of oak, tobacco, and freshly tilled garden soil. White wines can remind one of fresh fruit or fresh cut grass and hints of lemons and limes.

One of the pleasing aspects of enjoying wine is that even though we are giving our taste buds a preview by savoring the wine’s nose, the experience with that first sip can be quite surprising.

How the wine tastes and feels in your mouth

Because taste and smell are so closely related, many of the following terms can also be used to describe a wine’s nose.

  • Mouthfeel and body describe how the wine feels in your mouth. As you savor each sip, you discover many sensations. Full-bodied wines fill your mouth with a smooth, creamy sensation. Light-bodied wines can still feel smooth but lighter, maybe edgier.
  • Dry means the wine isn’t sweet. If you ask for “dry” and get something else, give it a little time. You may be pleasantly surprised at the changes.
  • Fruit forward describes wine with a fruity nose or flavors.
  • Tannins are the compounds in grape skins that add complexity and structure. Tannic wines can leave your mouth feeling dry. Low- or medium-tannin wines like Pinot Noir have gentler sensations.
  • Acidity is the tartness. Acidic wines leave your mouth salivating as lemonade does. Phrases like “high acid” refers to wines like Riesling, while “low acid” might be used to describe richer varietals like Chardonnay or Viognier.
  • Oak refers to the flavors and aromas from oak aging, including vanilla, caramel, smoke, chocolate, coffee and tobacco.
  • Minerality is the non-fruit quality of wine. Some compare minerality to licking or smelling wet concrete. A more alluring description is the fragrance of rocks bathed by a fresh meadow stream. Minerality can be very refreshing to the nose and the palate.
  • Notes references aromas, flavors, or both and is a more nuanced description than “fruit-forward” or “acidic.” Notes of berries, for example, identify a subtle sensation of berries. Detecting the notes of wine is why we savor each sip—to appreciate all the sensations.

Flavors and sensations that linger

Finish describes the final sensations a wine leaves in your mouth. When tasting a new wine, it is important to savor each sip from “nose” to “finish” before taking that second sip.

Savoring a wine’s finish is important because we have taste buds in the tongue, the soft palate, the cheeks and the upper esophagus. Observations starting with the nose enrich as the wine shares its personality with every taste bud. Relax, enjoy, and take notes——the kind you write in your wine journal!

What about other wine words?

These basic terms can help you break the code of wine tasting. Books, magazines and the Internet are other good resources for developing your wine vocabulary. So is just hanging out in tasting rooms and enjoying conversation with your favorite winemaker.

The important thing is to enjoy and have fun!

–By Jackie Iddings

Check out this great Paso Robles Wine Tasting Map


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