The Language Of The Vineyard
The Language Of The Winery
The Language Of Wine-Tasting

Acetic Vinegary - The wine has been "got at" by bacteria.

Acidity - The essential natural component which gives wine freshness and zing and prevents it from cloying.

Aggressive - Over-alcoholic wine tastes "hot", burns the palate.

Alcoholic - Over-alcoholic wine tastes "hot", burns the palate.

Almond - Bitter almond can denote Tocai from Italy.

Aniseed - Found in red Burgundy and - to a lesser extent - Bordeaux and some Northern Italian whites.

Apple - A smell often found in young white wines, from the Bramley freshness of Vinho Verde, young Loire, Chardonnay and English wines, through to the ripe Cox's of more mature white Burgundies, Champagne and some white Bordeaux. Stewed or baked apple can be a sure sign of Riesling. Unripe apple is often a sign that a wine has not undergone its malolactic fermentation.

Apricot - Common in the white Rhones of Condrieu and Chateau-Grillet and other examples of the Viognier grape, and in wine from botrytis-affected grapes.

Aromatic - Often associated with wines made from grapes such as the Gewurztraminer and Muscat.

Artificial (also Contrived, Confected) - Used to describe wines whose taste appears to have been created chemically.

Attack - The quality in a wine which makes you sit up and take notice.

Austere - A wine difficult to approach, with fruit not obvious. Wait for the flavour to open out in the mouth.

Backward - Not as developed as its age would lead you to expect.

Bad eggs - Presence of hydrogen sulphide, usually a result of faulty cellaring or wine-making.

Baked - Like stewed fruits, probably from an over-warm vintage.

Balance - A balanced wine has its fruitiness, acidity, alcohol and tannin (for reds) in pleasant harmony.

Banana - A smell usually associated with young wine, fermented at low temperatures and - in the case of reds - in an oxygen-free environment. A sign of maceration carbonique.

Beefy - Big, hearty, meaty wine.

Beeswing - A skin which forms on certain old ports, leaving a characteristic residue in the glass.

Big - Mouth-filling, full-flavoured, possibly strongly alcoholic.

Biscuity - Often used to describe the bouquet of Champagne.

Bite - High acidity, good in young wine.

Blackcurrant - Found in Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir wines.

Blowsy - Exaggeratedly fruity, lacking bite.

Body - A full-bodied wine fills the mouth with flavour.

Bottle-sick - Newly bottled wines may take some time (sometimes months) to recover from the shock of air-contact and sulphuring at bottling.

Bottle stink - Wines which have just been opened may have a musty smell - bottle stink - which disappears in the glass.

Bouquet - Smell.

Brettanomyces/"Brett" - A "mousey" bacterial fault about which Californians are often fanatical, finding it almost everywhere they taste, from Bordeaux to the Barossa Valley. Tasters from other countries seem far less sensitive to it.

Butter - A richness of aroma and texture found in mature Chardonnay, and/or evidence of malolactic fermentation.

Caramel - A buttery toffee smell in wines like Madeira.

Cassis - Literally, blackcurrant; used when the sensation is of an intense, heady syrup rather than the fresh fruit.

Cat's pee - The pungent smell of Sauvignon Blanc and Muller-Thurgau.

Cedar - An aroma of maturing claret.

Chaptalized - Chaptalization is the process of adding sugar to fermenting must to increase the alcoholic strength. If overdone, a wine tastes "hot".

Cherry - A characteristic of Beaujolais - particularly Morgon.

Chocolate - For some people, a sure sign of the Pinot Noir grape.

Closed - Has yet to show its quality.

Cloudy - A sign of a faulty wine.

Cloying - A sickly taste, sweetness without acidity.

Clumsy - An unbalanced wine.

Coffee - Special characteristic of old, great Burgundy, though it is also found in some great claret such as Mouton Rothschild.

Commercial - Light, drinkable, undemanding wine.

Complex - Having a diverse, well-blended mixture of smells and flavours.

Cooked - A "warm", stewed-fruit flavour - over-warm fermentation or the use of grape concentrate.

Corked - A wine spoiled by a bad cork has a musty smell and flavour.

Crisp - Fresh, lively, with good acidity.

Crust - Deposit thrown by a mature port.

Depth - Wine with depth fills the mouth with lingering flavour.

Dirty - Badly made wine can taste unclean.

Dirty socks - Cheesy sourness accompanying badly made white wine.

Dry - Having no obvious sweetness.

Dried out - A wine which has lost its fruit as it has aged.

Dumb - No apparent smell.

Dusty - Sometimes used to describe tannic Bordeaux - literally the "dusty" smell of an attic.

Earthy - Not as unpleasant as it sounds - an "earthy" flavour can characterize certain fine Burgundy.

Eggy - Carelessly handled sulphur can produce an eggy smell.

Elegant - Restrained, classy.

Esters - Sweet-smelling, often fruity compounds.

Eucalyptus - A flavour and smell often found in Cabernet Sauvignon from Australia, Californian Cabernet Sauvignon (Martha's Vineyard) and, though more rarely, in Bordeaux (e.g. Chateau Latour).

Extract - The concentration of the grape's flavours in a wine.

Farmyard - A characteristic of Burgundian Pinot Noir.

Fat - Used to describe mouth-filling wines, especially Chardonnay and white wines from the Rhone and Alsace.

Finesse - Understated, classy.

Finish - How a wine's flavour ends in the mouth. Can be "long" or "short".

Flabby - Lacking balancing acidity.

Flat - Short of acidity and fruit.

Flinty/gunflint - "Stonily" crisp, used of whites; for example Pouilly-Fume.

Flor - A yeast film which grows on top of the fermenting must of fino sherry.

Forward - A precocious wine showing its qualities earlier than expected.

Foxy - A peculiar "wild" smell found in labrusca grapes and wine in the USA.

Gamey - Used of mature Burgundy, Rhone Syrah and Australian Shiraz. It's a smell that combines meat and spice.

Generous - Big, mouth-filling, round.

Geraniums - The smell of the leaves of this flower indicates the presence of an unwelcome micro-organism formed during fermentation.

Glycerine - The "fatty" constituent in some wines, making them taste richer - the "legs" which flow down the inside of the glass.

Gooseberry - The smell of Sauvignon, especially Loire and New Zealand.

Grapey - It's surprising how rare this flavour is: Muscat and Riesling are often grapey; so is good Beaujolais.

Grassy - "Green" smell of young wine, especially Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Franc.

Green pepper - Can be the sign of Cabernet Sauvignon - in Bordeaux, or indeed anywhere else.

Grip - Firm wine has "grip". Essential to some styles.

Gris - Very pale pink.

Hazelnut - Along with toasted almonds, can indicate rich maturing Chardonnay.

Herbaceous - Think of a cross between grass and flowers - "planty".

Herby - Some wines from the south-west of France, as well as from Italy, can smell positively herby - almost like a pizza, fresh from the grill.

Hollow - Lacking depth and roundness.

Honey - An obvious description for most of the great sweet white wines of the world, but also a characteristic - in its richness rather than its sweetness - of some mature white Burgundy and much Chenin Blanc from the Loire.

Hot - Used to describe over-chaptalized, over-alcoholic wine.

Iodine - A smell and taste sometimes encountered in wines made from grapes grown close to the sea.

Jammy - A jammy fruit smell often signifies red wines from hot countries.

Lanolin - Some white wines have an oily softness reminiscent of lanolin.

Legs - The visible evidence of glycerine in a wine, these are the "tears" that run down the glass's side after swirling.

Lemon - Young whites may display a lemony freshness.

Length - The time the flavour stays in the mouth.

Liquorice - Encountered in all sorts of wine - from claret and port to Burgundy.

Lychees - Common in wines made from the Gewurztraminer grape.

Maderized - The rancio character of heat-induced oxidation.

Malic acid - The component of wine converted by malolactic fermentation into softer lactic acid. Smells like green apples in young white wines.

Meaty - A wine to get your teeth into.

Mellow - Soft and mature.

Mercaptans - A smell of rotten eggs or burnt rubber, stemming from the mishandling of sulphur dioxide.

Metallic - Taste/smell arising from the use of poor equipment.

Mint - Often found in Cabernet Sauvignons.

Mouldy - Taste/smell arising from rotten grapes, poor wine-making or a bad cork.

Mouth-puckering - Young, tannic or over-acidic wine has this effect.

Mulberry - The ripe berry flavour of some Pomerol.

Mushroom - Can indicate quality reds but also a wine past its prime.

Nose - The smell of a wine.

Nutty - Especially of Chardonnay and sherry.

Oaky - In moderation, pleasant, like vanilla. Especially New-World wines and Rioja.

Old socks (clean) - A promising sign of young white Burgundy, particularly Chablis.

Oxidized - If a table wine looks and smells of sherry, it's oxidized - a diagnosis confirmed by its colour: brown for red wines, deep yellow for whites.

Palate - The flavour, and what you taste it with.

Pear drops - Smell which is usually the mark of a very young wine.

Pepper - Black, not green: the sign of the Grenache or Syrah in the Rhone.

Petillant - Slight sparkle or spritz.

Petrol - A desirable aroma of mature Riesling.

Pine - Aroma found in Retsina.

Plum - Especially clarets, Rioja and Burgundy.

Quaffing, quaffable - Everyday wine, usually soft, fruity and undemanding.

Rancio - Rich, distinctive flavour of certain wines, particularly southern French vins doux naturels stored in barrels exposed to heat.

Raspberry - Aroma associated with Syrah, Gamay and much Pinot Noir.

Residual sugar - The natural grape sugar left in a wine which has not been fermented into alcohol.

Ripe - Grapes were fully ripe when picked.

Robust - Solid, full-bodied.

Rose - Often the choicest clarets, some cru Beaujolais and Cote de Beaune.

Rough - Unbalanced and coarse.

Round - Smooth and harmonious.

Rubber - Some wines can smell rubbery, though not unpleasant. This is an aroma often associated with red wines from South Africa, Beaujolais, Californian Zinfandel and American Pinot Noir.

Salt - A salty tang, almost like iodine, associated with Manzanilla sherry.

Sediment - Precipitation of tannins in red wine due to ageing.

Short - Wine with a short finish.

Silky - Exceptionally smooth.

Smoke - The most famous smoky wine is Pouilly Blanc Fume, made from the Sauvignon Blanc. Alsace Tokay-Pinot Gris, Corsican roses, some Bordeaux, and Syrah from the Rhone may also be smoky.

Spicy - Wines made from grapes such as the Syrah, Grenache and Zinfandel can be positively spicy. Also whites from the Gewurztraminer, Albarino, Arneis, Viognier.

Spritz - Slight sparkle. Or faint fizz. Similar to petillant.

Stalky or Stemmy - The flavour of the grape stem rather than of the juice.

Steely - Attractively crisp, with a firm backbone of acidity.

Strawberry - The taste of some Gamay, Pinot Noir and Rioja.

Structure - Wine with good structure has, or will have, all its elements in harmony.

Sulphur - The antiseptic used to protect wine from bacteria. Its throat-tickling aroma should disappear after the wine has been swirled in the glass for a moment, or left in the open bottle for a while. Often, however, it is "locked in" and prevents the wine from ever being pleasant.

Tannin - The mouth-puckering ingredient in red wine. Softens with age.

Tobacco - Like cigar-box, found in oak-aged reds, especially clarets.

Toffee - Often indicates the presence of the Merlot grape in red Bordeaux.

Truffles - Mushroom and vegetal aromas, especially in red wines.

Vanilla - Aroma of wines matured in American oak casks; also white Burgundy and oak-aged Rioja.

Vegetal - Earthy, wet-leaf smell; cabbagey, often of big Italian red wines.

Violets - Floral red Burgundies and Chiantis can smell intensely of violets.

Volatile - In an unstable - volatile - wine, acids evaporate from the surface giving vinegary, sometimes "greasy" smells.

Yeast - Like newly baked bread; smell found in Champagne, Muscadet sur lie and some nuttily rich white wines.

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