20 Essential Wine Tasting Terms

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Today we’re launching a new section on our blog. We want to make the wine world accessible to as many consumers as possible so we decided to build a brief glossary of the most commonly used wine terms and concepts. For the sake of brevity, we won’t be including descriptive adjectives. Our goal is to make it easier for you to understand the wine trade’s most common concepts. Given the broad reach of the industry, we’re going to divide the terms into categories. Let’s start with enology, specifically the area that is directly related to wine tasting.

To begin with, wine tasting is a sensory process that involves all of our senses: sight, smell, taste and, above all, common sense. When tasting a wine, it is useful to follow a series of steps in a particular order so as to appreciate all of its characteristics. We start with the wine’s appearance, move on to the nose, and conclude with the palate. Below we’ll list a few terms worth knowing for each phase. Some will sound familiar, others less so. That’s the fun of it. Let’s get started!

Sight

  • Opacity: This term applies to red wines. It refers to the intensity of the color. Lower color intensity makes for a transparent wine, whereas a dark, dense wine can be described as heavily opaque.
  • Carbon dioxide: Carbon dioxide is released in great quantities during alcoholic fermentation. A finished wine may contain varying levels of carbon dioxide, which adds freshness and produces a light tickling sensation on the tongue.
  • Tears or legs: These are the streaks you see after swirling the glass. Once the inside of the glass is covered in wine, you can observe the tears making their way down the sides. There is a direct connection between the viscosity of a wine and the presence of different kinds of alcohol, with ethanol being the most common (90-plus percent of the total). However, external factors can also affect the presence or absence of tears, including the temperature difference between the wine and the glass it is served in, the quality of the glass, etc.
  • Rim: This is the color of the wine that appears at the outer edge, where the wine meets the glass, when the glass is tilted. In a young red, the rim will be purple or raspberry, older wines have a garnet rim, and wines with more than five years bottle aging will display a brick-like hue. In young white wines you will see glints of pale greenish yellow that turn gold over time.
  • Color or hue: This refers to the color of the wine and reflects its maturity. Color is influenced by the age of the wine, the variety, the winemaking technique, and the wine’s condition. It refers to the shades of color in a wine. Some related adjectives: white, yellow, pale, reddish, brick.
  • Clarity: Evaluating clarity involves looking at the wine to see if it contains any suspended particles or not. When talking about clarity, it is important to differentiate between haziness that derives from poor winemaking and the sediments that naturally form in a wine during the aging process. Here we can describe a wine as clear, hazy, cloudy, opaque, etc.
  • Lees: Sediments that a wine produces during barrel fermentation. Decanting involves pouring a relatively mature wine from its bottle into another receptacle to aerate the wine and remove these sediments.

Nose

  • Aroma: The combination of volatile compounds that give wine its fragrance. Aromas come in the following categories: primary aromas that derive from the fruit, secondary aromas that derive from fermentation, and tertiary aromas imparted by aging. The concept of aroma includes aromatic nuances. When holding the glass still, we perceive primary aromas characteristic of the varieties used to make the wine: floral, vegetative or fruity, to name a few. Swirling the glass releases more mature aromas that give us information on the winemaking process: spices, oak or toast.
  • Bouquet: The combined sensations a wine expresses at its winemaking, aging and cellaring peak.
  • Clean: A clean wine does not have any off-aromas, i.e. a vinegary smell or cork taint.
  • Intensity: This quality refers to the aroma or flavor of a wine. It implies a certain amount of complexity in the wine’s composition and long-lasting organoleptic impressions. Related adjectives: neutral, clean, good, powerful, etc.
  • Alcoholic: This isn’t a negative term, but reflects the predominance of a characteristic where we can clearly discern the wine’s alcohol content on the nose and palate.
  • Nose/Retronasal: The nose is a shared pathway. We receive a first impression when smelling a wine as we bring the glass up to our nose. Retronasal is the second impression of a wine’s aromas, this time when we swallow the wine (linked to the palate phase).

Palate

  • Attack: This is the first sensation we perceive when tasting a wine.
  • Balance: This is the result of sweet, acidic, savory and bitter flavors complementing each other in a wine. With whites, it involves body (sensation of lushness on the palate), acidity and sweetness (sugar and/or alcohol). With reds, it involves sweetness (sugar and/or alcohol), acidity, body and astringency.
  • Sweetness: Factor that defines the alcohol level of a wine. Adjectives related to this concept include the following: heady, warm, powerful, weak, vinous, hot, etc.
  • Acidity: The sum of all the different organic acids present in the must or wine.
  • Astringency: Produces a bitter, drying or coarse sensation in the mouth. The level of astringency is directly related to the amount of tannins.
  • Body: Characteristic closely linked to alcohol content, extract and flavor compounds that are difficult to define. A full-bodied wine is powerful and vinous.
  • Finish or aftertaste: After swallowing (or spitting out) the wine, we can still perceive the sensations for some time. Based on how long these sensations last, we can describe a wine as short, medium, long or very long.

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