VOCABULARY of WINE TASTING

Learn to take wine tasting notes to help you learn about and remember the wines you taste. Here are some categories used to describe wine.

Color

This is what you see when you pour a few ounces into a clear glass.

The color of a red wine once was always red, in varying shades, but in the last several years, red wines that are black without any red cast have become commonplace. With a white wine, we usually expect it to be clear, slightly yellow in color, perhaps with green highlights. If the wine is cloudy, that could (but not always) be a problem.

Winemakers usually attempt to make a wine that is absolutely free of any cloudiness, but in a some instances, wines are usually slightly less clear then they could be. In these cases, the winemakers made a decision not to clarify these wines because doing so robbed them of crucial elements relating to aroma and taste.

To see the true color of a wine, hold a small amount of it over a white background.

Aroma

Some say that how a wine smells accounts for two-thirds of its character. There are hundreds of aroma compounds found in wines. Swirl the wine in your glass and smell before you taste to see what aromas you identify. With practice, you will improve and enjoy smelling and comparing different wines.

Broad categories of wine aromas:

  • Fruits such as berries, cherries, citrus, and tropical fruits.
  • Vegetable-Herbal such as mint, thyme, fennel, tomato leaf
  • Flowers such as rose, hibiscus, lilac
  • Oak from aging in oak barrels: such as vanilla, nuts, cedar, coconut
  • Earth such as clay pot, mushroom, slate, potting soil

Aroma allows us to determine much about the grape variety from which the wine was made. It gives us the basic attributes of the wine, whether or not it is sound or flawed, and can be either alluring or challenging -- or both.

Example: When we refer to a wine showing cherries, it is a vague reference that sets it apart from the strawberries. And strawberries sets the wine apart from one smelling more of raspberries. Neither aroma is better than the other. It is merely descriptive, and only has meaning to differentiate it from other similar aromatics, such as blueberry, loganberry, and blackberry.

Hundreds of aroma compounds are found in wines. Have fun exploring your sense of smell to learn what you identify. There are no right or wrong answers.

Taste

When you taste wine, take a medium-sized sip and let the wine touch every part of your mouth. After you swallow it, or spit it out, take a breath through your mouth. Exhale it through your nose.

People have different amounts of taste buds in their tongues. So some people have a more sensitive sense of taste. Of course the taste is why we drink wine in the first place. When you taste wine, here are things to consider. We will learn about them in more detail in a later article.

  1. Does the taste conform to what we smelled in its aroma?  
  2. Sweetness: Is this wine sweet or dry?
  3. Acidity: Does it make your mouth tingle?
  4. Tannin: How mouth-drying or bitter?
  5. Alcohol: Does it warm your throat?
  6. Body: Is your mouth filled with flavor?
  7. Complexity: If you discern many flavors, it is thought to be a more complex wine.

The main thing to remember is that we all have our own taste buds and preferences. Wine reviewers will give you recommendations and critical opinions, but you decide the wine you like best.

Take a medium-sized sip and let the wine touch every part of your mouth. After you swallow it (or spit it out), take a breath through your mouth.

Texture / Structure

Is the wine bitter? Astringent? Sweet? Hard? Silky? Minerally? All these elements relate to a wine’s texture. Such elements once were thought to be all part of the taste, but the texture of a wine is related to numerous aspects of its manufacture, not least of which is the alcohol content, the acidity, the pH, and about a dozen other constituents.

Finish

The aftertaste of a wine can be long or short; it can be pleasurable or tactile-y odd. Is it sweet? If so, will it work with food? If so, what sort of food?

Summary

The most important of the above terms are aroma and taste, and usually constitute just about all of what you will see described in most wine reviews. If you see no reference to texture, this does not mean the texture was unimportant. The more thorough the reviewer, the more detailed the note will be and probably will refer to texture.

When tasting a wine, think of what foods would pair well with it. There are general wine and food pairing guidelines that we will be sharing with you, soon.