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Master your wine vocabulary with this glossary of wine tasting words
and sound like a pro

If you're at a loss to describe the aroma, character, and structure of your wine, the following terms (widely used by us professionals with varying degrees of accuracy) will help you.

A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | V | W | Y

A

ACACIA

The scent of acacia flowers is often present in young Chardonnay wines when its acidity is softened.

ACERBIC

Sharp in nature. Used when acidity is accentuated by the presence of unripe tannins.

ACIDITY

A sharp sensation sensed by the tongue. Acidity plays a fundamental role in how the wine feels in the mouth and the general balance of its flavours. See also CRISPNESS.

ACRID

Describes a wine with unpleasant bitterness, often due to very pungent tannins.

AGGRESSIVE

A wine that's harsh in taste or texture as a result of too much tannin or a high acidity level. Often found in young wines.

ALCOHOL

Alcohol is the principal constituent of wine after water. It eventually loses its burning character (as encountered in brandies) and instead takes on a sweet taste, which is a major contributor to softness in dry wines.

ALMOND, ALMOND BLOSSOM

A flavour of almond blossom is sometimes found in Sauvignon Blanc. The aroma of dried almonds is often found in Chardonnays as they age. Bitter almonds are a feature of very young white wines and can also appear in the nutty taste found in some old red wines. The aroma of toasted almonds often appears in older white wines.

AMBER

The subtle scent of amber can be found in the finest Chardonnay wines and certain sweet wines.

AMBERING

This is a feature of sweet wines of a certain age and is also found in dry or low-sugar white wines.

AMIABLE

Characteristic attributed to a pleasing wine without pretension.

AMPLE

A wine that fills the mouth without a sense of heaviness.

ANISEED

An aroma found as a trace element in the bouquet of certain white wines that have reached a good age.

APPEARANCE

The colour, brilliance, and overall visual impression of a wine.

APPLE

The various varieties of apples each have their own flavours, and each is found in different concentrations in several white wines, such as Muscadet, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, etc.

APRICOT

Aroma characteristic of certain white wines; associated with the Viognier grape when very ripe.

ASTRINGENCY

Sense of dehydration resulting from tannins, mostly those present in red wines. As wine ages, astringency mellows as the tannins are used up and lose intensity and sharpness.

ATTACK

The first impression felt when wine enters the mouth.

AUSTERE

The term applied to red wines whose tannins and acidity are prominent and where a bouquet that might make this more agreeable is absent.

B

BALANCE

The quality found in wine where the various flavour groups (alcohol, acidity, and sweetness in white wines; alcohol, tannins, acidity, and softness in red wines) play off one another in a satisfactory manner, without any single one dominating or underperforming.

BALSAMIC

More of less resinous odours (pine, cedar, juniper, wood, etc.) found in young wines matured in new barrels. Also a feature of ripeness in great red wines.

BANANA

Aroma frequently found in wines meant for early drinking, especially in batches made using carbonic maceration. It should be tempered with other floral and fruit aromas otherwise the nose will be reminiscent of nail polish.

BAY LEAF

Spicy aroma characteristic of certain grape varieties, such as Syrah and Grenache.

BEER

An aroma similar to that of beer is sometimes found in the white Chasselas wines of Switzerland as they begin to lose their freshness.

BERGAMOT

The citrus odour of this essential oil is found in aromatic wines at a certain stage of their bottle ageing.

BILBERRIES

Aroma often associated with wild blackberries (see below) and found under the same conditions.

BITTER

Bitterness is not a feature of good wine, except perhaps in a few reds as a mild and transitory state. It is an anomaly when found elsewhere.

BLACKBERRIES

Aroma often referred to in red wines of some maturity with rich and varied fruit notes.

BLACKCURRANTS

The aroma of blackcurrant fruit or juice is invariably an element of the bouquet of Cabernet Sauvignon, irrespective of the country where it was harvested. It is sometimes found in the fruit scents of a large number of red varieties (Merlot, Syrah, etc.) when they reach their tasting peak.

BODY

Terms such as body and full-bodied are used of wines where the joint dominance of tannins and sweetness is perceptible and imply a certain alcoholic fullness.

BOUQUET

The entirety of the aromatic impressions conveyed by a mature wine in the sense that they combine to form a coherent and homogeneous whole. Various subtle notes alternate and intertwine in a subtle and agreeable ensemble.

BOUQUET GARNI

A term used to describe the scents of aromatic dried herbs often found in Mediterranean red wines.

BRETTANOMYCES

Spoilage yeast imparting bad aromas or flavours (mustiness, acetic spoilage, or mould) to a wine. A fault arising during the storage of empty barrels.

BRICK RED

Colour found in mature red wines, where the brownish hue is reminiscent of old tiles or bricks.

BRILLIANCE

The term qualifying the luminosity of a wine - its ability to reflect light. A lack of brilliance, or a dullness, is considered a flaw.

BROOM

The yellow flowers of Spanish broom have a pleasant and penetrating odour, which forms part of the aroma of some Chardonnay and sweet wines.

BURNED

See EMPYREUMATIC

BUTTER

An aromatic nuance sometimes found in very ripe batches of white wine, when low in acid and high in richness. Also attributed to maturation in new oak barrels.

C

CARAMEL

An aroma common in white wines that are past their best, oxidized, or maderised.

CARNATION

Aroma often referenced for some red wines with a slightly austere bouquet.

CAUDALIE

A French term for a unit of length (see LENGTH) after swallowing. One second = one Caudalie.

CHERRY

Various aromas of different varieties of cherries are often found as constituents of the bouquet of many red wines.

CHERRY PLUM

Aroma found in white wines from very ripe years, with an overall richness that imparts an extremely enticing appeal to the bouquet.

CINNAMON

Aroma sometimes found in fine examples of sweet or dry white wines.

CIVET

Fairly pronounced musky scent, not always unpleasant, and reminiscent of game meats. A feature of older red wines.

CLARITY

The transparency of a wine's appearance, which may be crystalline, brilliant, limpid, veiled, hazy, troubled, or opaque.

CLEAN

Said of a wine whose aromas and flavours are upfront and precise, without ambiguity.

CLOSED

A term referring to a wine with a mute or undeveloped bouquet.

CLOSURE

A generic term for a wine bottle stopper, whether natural cork, synthetic, or screwcap.

CLOVES

Scent found in some red wines after a few years of ageing.

CLOYING

Said of slightly thick wines whose heaviness is exacerbated by lack of acidity.

COCOA

Aroma sometimes found in wines with a fruity and spicy nose when they reach great maturity. Also attributed to maturation in new oak barrels.

COFFEE

An aroma that develops in the bouquet of good quality old wines. Also attributed to maturation in new oak barrels.

CORKED

The unpleasant smell of damp and rotten cork or cardboard, arising either from a fault in the closure itself or a lack of hygiene in the cellar.

CRISPNESS

A sensation of freshness attributed to the action of acidity on the tongue. See also ACIDITY.

CUT HAY

Scent typical of wines most often encountered as they pass from a phase of fermentation aromas to those of maturity.

D

DELICATE

Said of wines with a subtle structure, but not lacking in charm or character.

DRY

A term applied to white wines that are not sweet. White wines are called dry where any sweetness is subtle or masked, without this harming the balance of the whole.

E

EASY GOING

Said of a wine that offers immediate pleasure, with few tannins and a good balance of sweetness and acidity.

EGLANTINE

Rose-loke aroma sometimes found in light and very subtle wines.

ELEGANT

Description implying a certain class and an absence of heaviness.

EMACIATED

Said of a wine that has lost its body or its softness, due to too much or faulty ageing.

EMPYREUMATIC

Referring to a category of aromas including tar, soot, burned wood, caramel, singed bread, and also, in a more attenuated manner, tea, coffee, cocoa, tobacco, biscuits, etc. Such aromas are often spoken of as smoky, toasted, roasted, or burned.

F

FADED

A faded wine has lost its brilliance, its best aromas, and its freshness.

FENNEL

An aroma sometimes found in very ripe dry white wines.

FERMENTATION

Fermentation is a type of scent that is not well known and comes from the decomposition of yeasts when the wine is on the lees.

FERN-LIKE

Aromatic characteristic found in white wines of great quality, and which give them an airy bouquet.

FIG

The aroma of dried figs, often combined with that of stewed or preserved strawberries, is a typical feature of soft red port and also of dry red wines from very ripe vintages after some age.

FILLED OUT

Said of red wine with sufficient but not excess tannin and flavour, giving a good impression of body.

FIRM

Typical of a young red wine. Equates to a slight dominance of tannins and acidity.

FLINTY

Aroma found in some lively, light wines, such as Sauvignon Blanc, Muscadet.

FLORAL

Wine bouquet where the aroma of flowers is dominant.

FRESH

A term used to refer to aromas such as mint and citronella, which evoke sensations associated with coolness or refreshment.

FRUIT

The first stage of a wine's bouquet, after alcoholic fermentation, where the dominant aromas are of fresh fruit. The term is more often applied to reds and rosés, although white wines may possess pronounced fruit aromas such as apple, lemon, banana.

FULL

Said of a wine that seems to fill the mouth with a substantial and balanced richness, or an impression of abundance.

FULL-BODIED

A term describing the tactile sensation of softness in wine, when it is rich in alcohol and/or sugar.

FUR

Nuance in the musky group of aromas, found in some red wines with some age.

G

GAMEY

Animal aromas that may feature in the bouquet of old red wines. At its slightest, it is the scent of prepared fur. When more obtrusive, it is the smell of wildfowl. Some develop into more varied venison aromas, while others take on a repellent nature.

GENEROUS

The term most often applied to wines rich in alcohol.

GLUGGABLE

Said of a wine that is easy to drink, due to a lack of astringency and to have the correct proportion of fresh acidity and sweetness without heaviness.

GRAPEFRUIT

Aroma often perceived in very crisp sparkling white wines, which are yet to be stripped of their fermenting agents. This aroma disappears after secondary fermentation and clarification of the wine. Also recognised in some naturally high-acid white varietals.

GRASSY

Aromas or flavours that are reminiscent of freshly mown lawns or vegetal shoots. Generally considered disagreeable.

GREEN

Describes under-ripe fruit characters in a white, red, or rosé wine that is very crisp, where an excess of acidity comes through.

GRENADINE

An aroma typical of Côtes du Rhône and Provence rosés.

H

HARD

Describes red wines with a synergy of tannins and acidity that provide astringency and also aggressiveness. Lack of any soft fruit characters in the wine reinforces this characteristic still further.

HARMONIOUS

Quality ascribed to well-made wines, where each group of flavours (alcohol, acidity, and sweetness in white wines; alcohol, tannins, acidity and softness in red wines) melds pleasantly with the others to create a charming whole.

HARSH

Excessive astringency, where tannins grate in the mouth with real intensity and insistence.

HAVANA

The scent of green tobacco leaves features as a trace element in very fine red wines.

HAWTHORN

Aromatic characteristic found in young, dry, and slightly green white wines.

HAZELNUT

Aroma often found in high-quality white wines after several years of ageing, such as Chardonnay.

HEADY

Characteristic of wines where a rich body is accompanied by elevated alcohol content.

HEAVY

Characteristic of a wine lacking any lightness, suppleness, or freshness.

HONEY

An aroma that is typical of lightly sweet to very sweet wines.

HONEYSUCKLE

Aroma found in some Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc white wines, as well as other gently aromatic grape varieties.

HUMUS

An aroma that is reminiscent of the forest floor or dead leaves encountered in fairly good quality red wines that have aged.

HYACINTH

Floral aroma often encountered with aromatic white grape varieties after a few years of bottle age, such as Sauvignon Blanc, Rhine varieties, fine Muscats.

I

IN BLOOM

Said of a wine that has reached its peak and where its full personality comes to the fore, both in taste and aroma.

INTEGRATED

Said of a wine where all flavour sensations express themselves in unity.

IODINE

A term applied to wines whose aromas evoke the seaside.

IVY

Ivy leaf aromas are often referenced in many Cabernet wines when their bouquet is first forming.

J

JAMMY

Used in tasting to express an aroma or taste that is reminiscent of jam or cooked fruit.

JUNIPER

Aroma often encountered in some highly perfumed wines.

L

LACTIC

Aroma arising from faulty malolactic fermentation or an indeterminate combination of circumstances, more or less resulting in the odour of fermented cheese.

LEATHER

Leather aromas of various kinds are often encountered in certain red wines after a few years of ageing.

LEGS

Transparent streams of liquid that run down the inside of the glass when the wine has been agitated. Indicates a wine's richness in alcohol or residual sugar.

LEMON (CITRONELLA)

Quite a common aroma in young, crisp, and light white wines.

LEMON BALM

An aroma found in young white wines. Close to that of lemon zest, but more rarefied and less acidic.

LENGTH

Duration of a wine's flavour in the mouth after swallowing. See also CAUDALIE.

LICHEN

Herbal aroma present in certain red wines.

LIQUORICE

Aroma and flavour often found at the finish of certain red wines.

LIGHT-BODIED

Said of wines with a distinct lack of richness or structure.

LIME (BLOSSOM)

Aroma found in certain white wines with very subtle bouquets.

LONG

Said of wine with a considerable length of aroma or flavour after swallowing.

M

MADERISATION

Oxidation in white wine to the point of browning its colour and giving it the taste of Madeira. A serious flaw.

MEDIUM SWEET

A descriptor for wines lightly dosed with residual sugar, where sweetness provides more suppleness that an overtly sugary sensation.

MERCAPTAN

Very strong, unpleasant sulphurous odour. Reminiscent of rotten eggs. A chemically faulty wine.

MINT

Two separate aromas should be distinguished here - those of peppermint and fresh mint. Both are found as trace notes in certain white wines and create the freshness and vivacity of the bouquet.

MOUTH-FEEL

A term designating the entirety of the sensations felt in the mouth.

MUSHROOM

Pleasant aroma, similar to Portobello mushrooms, often found in mature wines. It can be unpleasant and resemble mildew if the wine has been made with botrytised grapes

MUSK

An aroma that is reminiscent of animals. It is slightly fetid in a state of reduction, but extremely pleasant when aerated. Often referred to in various high-quality wines of a certain age.

MUSKY

A generic term designating a family of aminal-related smells (fur, game, leather, etc.) that feature in older red wines. When encountered in young wines, such odours are often unpleasant but will disappear with aeration.

N

NERVOUS

Physical character attributed particularly to white wines, and sometimes to reds, where the interplay of high acidity and sweetness create an impression of opposition or tension.

NOSE

The overall olfactory characteristics of a wine.

NUTMEG

Aromatic spice often referred to in very sweet white wines of a certain age, and in some red wines.

O

ONION

Aroma caused by chemical reduction and occasionally found in very old red wines.

ORANGE (FLOWER)

Aroma found in the bouquet of some Sauvignon Blancs and other aromatic white grape varieties.

ORANGE (ZEST)

References are often made to orange zest characters concerning young white wines made from extremely ripe harvests. Also present in some fortified wines.

P

PEACH

Flavours and aromas of white or yellow peaches are often found in aromatic white wine.

PEACH (BLOSSOM)

Very delicate aroma, similar to pistachio or bitter almonds, sometimes found in young and fresh aromatic white wines.

PEAR

Aroma very often encountered in young unoaked white wines and some high-quality red wines. Found in the most evanescent and subtle phase of the nose and the final phase of the palate.

PEONY

The slightly peppery aroma of this flower is also found in wines that share its colour.

PEPPERS (GREEN)

An aroma and flavour that is perceptible in red wines that are rich in tannins and whose fruit flavours are less than ideally ripe.

PINE

Resinous or medicinal aroma referred to in some red wines.

PINEAPPLE

The aromatic quality found in a large number of white wines made from very ripe grapes.

PISTACHIO

Very subtle aroma, similar to bitter almonds but more delicate. Sometimes found in red wines with sophisticated bouquets.

PRUNES

The aroma also known as rancio, defined by hints of stewed fruits such as prunes. Typical of port and old red wines, but considered a flaw in young red wines.

PUNGENCY

Describes a juxtaposition of astringency and tartness, combined with a certain roughness that is more or less repellent.

Q

QUINCE

Aroma found in rich and sweet white wines, linked with other aromas of very ripe or candied fruit.

R

RANCIO

Aromas (prunes, tobacco, leather, Madeira) that develop with age, typical of naturally soft old wines, port, mature red wines, and old brandies.

RASPBERRIES

The common constituent scent of Pinot Noir, Grenache, and numerous other red wines including Beaujolais.

REDCURRANT

An aromatic feature found in light red wines and reds intended for early drinking.

RESIN

A balsamic-like aroma that features in the bouquets of certain red wines.

ROSE

The primary aroma in Gewurztraminer and various varieties of Muscat. A delicate note of faded roses is found in some high quality, old red wines.

ROUGH

High levels of astringency.

ROUNDED

A term applied to wines with no angularity, in other words where softness and suppleness dominate without heaviness.

S

SAPPY

A professional term used to express an expansiveness of aromas and abundance of flavours as the wine passes through the mouth.

SEVERE

A wine under the joint dominance of tannin and acidity, accompanied by austere aromas. Not appealing.

SHARP

Said of wine with marginally dominant acidity and tannin, giving a slightly aggressive edge. Not appealing.

SILKY

A term expressing the sheer feel of a wine in the mouth. Very appealing.

SMOKY

Aroma evoking a wood fire. Also attributed to maturation in new oak barrels. See also EMPYREUMATIC.

SMOOTH

The physical characteristic of wine with high viscosity, a result of a judicious balance of tannin and acidity and no shortage of softness.

SOFT

Name given to the overall effect of various sweet constituents in a wine (alcohol, glycerol, sugar), especially in red wines, and in particular when this group of substances dominates and is enhanced by a lack of hard sensations.

SOFTNESS

Characteristic of wines lacking acidity relative to their tannin content, which is normal.

SOLID

Said of wines possessing a good, sound framework of tannins on a balanced base of fruit and acidity.

SOURNESS

Characteristic most often associated with a wine that is beginning to spoil.

SPICES

A considerable number of aromas. Includes the full range of spices used in cooking and baking. Sometimes found in various white and red wines that have reached some maturity.

STALE

The characteristic odour of wines that have been left open without a stopper, and generally accompanied by the loss of any expected aromas in the wine.

STALKY

A disagreeable, acerbic character with a more or less herbaceous character. Caused by prolonged maceration with shredded grape stems during vinification.

STAR ANISE

Similar aroma to aniseed, but more intense.

STRAWBERRY

The aroma of wild strawberries is common in young red wines intended for early drinking. Stewed or preserved strawberry aromas are often found in tandem with those of dried figs in soft red wines and old, dry red wines.

SUCROSITY

Neologism used in tasting to express the level of a wine's apparent sugar content, which may be, in ascending order: fruity, medium-sweet, sweet, or syrupy.

SUPPLE

Texture displayed by restrained tannin and acidity, allowing the natural softness of the wine to shine through.

SWEET

White wines are rosés are called sweet what a perceptible amount of sugar remains in the wine, imparting a soft feel and sweet taste.

T

TANNIN

A substance extracted from grape skins giving red wines their structure and some character.

THICK

Said of red wines with such soft tannins that subtlety or harmony is lost.

THIN

A term applied to a wine of a weak consistency, where all of its constituent elements are generally lacking.

THOROUGHBRED

Said of a wine that has incomparable elegance and distinction.

THYME

Aroma found fairly frequently in certain white wines from the south of France.

TIRED

Said of a wine that has lost its coherence and its tone.

TOASTED

A note of toasted or grilled bread is found in some red wines, and toasted almonds is an aroma encountered in fine white wines as they begin a phase of reduction in the bottle. Also attributed to maturation in new oak barrels.

TOBACCO

Notes of green tobacco leaves, associated with the hints of Havana beloved of parfumiers, are sometimes found in very fine red wines.

TRUFFLE

Very distinguished aroma found in high quality, old red wines. White truffle is sometimes encountered in certain vintages of aged white of sweet wines.

V

VANILLA

An aromatic element of numerous white and red wines. It develops naturally in the woody part of the grape stem and oak barrels.

VEGETAL

Aromas that are reminiscent of the world of plants. Also said of tannins that supply a certain astringency due to a lack of maturation or robust extraction.

VELVETY

Said of a wine whose mouth-feel evokes velvet.

VENISON

See GAMEY.

VINOUS

Said of a wine whose richness in alcohol is clearly apparent. Also known as alcoholic.

W

WALLFLOWER

A small ornamental plant whose aroma is often compared with the finest Chardonnays and Chenin Blancs.

WARMING

A term expressing the sensation of warmth in the mouth, under the influence of a certain richness in alcohol.

WAX

The aroma of wax is common in some great expressions of Chardonnay and Sémillon, especially some sweet wines from the Loire Valley.

WEAK

Implies, on the one hand, a certain lack of alcohol and, on the other, a shortfall in constitution indicating potential fragility and difficulties in storage.

WOODY

One of the balsamic group of aromas, found in wines aged in the barrels.

Y

YOUNG

A wine is considered young if it has retained a good portion of its initial fruit aromas and flavours.