This list of wine terms and definitions will give you a head start at your next wine tasting. It is often helpful to carry a small notepad with you to tastings so you can jot down your impressions of wines. Develop your own list of wine terms: using your own words to describe different tastes and aromas will help you to remember and apply them.
Wine Definitions: Basic
Acidity: Describes a tart or sour taste in the mouth when total acidity of the wine is high. “Tart” and “twangy” are two descriptors for acidity.
Aftertaste: The taste or flavours that linger in the mouth after the wine is tasted, spit or swallowed. May be “harsh,” “hot,” “soft,” “lingering,” “short,” “smooth,” or nonexistent. See also ‘Finish.’
Aroma: Usually refers to the particular smell of the grape variety, i.e., “appley,” “raisiny,” “fresh” or “tired.”
Body: The weight of wine in your mouth; commonly expressed as full-bodied, medium-bodied or medium-weight, or light-bodied.
Bouquet: A tasting term used to describe the smell of the wine as it matures in the bottle.
Finish: The taste that remains in the mouth after swallowing. A long finish indicates a wine of good quality.
Legs: The viscous droplets that form and ease down the sides of the glass when the wine is swirled.
Length: The amount of time the sensations of taste and aroma persist after swallowing.
Mouthfeel: How a wine feels in the mouth and against the tongue.
Nose: See ‘Aroma’
Palate: The feel and taste of wine in the mouth.
Quaffer: A wine to drink (not sip).
Wine Definitions: Character
Acrid: Describes a wine with overly pronounced acidity. This is often apparent in cheap red wines.
Assertive: Upfront, forward.
Attractive: A lighter style, fresh, easy to drink wine.
Balanced: Indicates that the fruit, acid, wood flavours are in the right proportion. A wine is well balanced when none of those characteristics dominates. Wine not in balance may be “acidic,” “cloying,” “flat” or “harsh.”
Big: A wine that is full-bodied, rich and slightly alcoholic tasting.
Character: A wine with top-notch distinguishing qualities.
Crisp: Denotes a fresh, young, wine with good acidity.
Cutting Edge: Stylistic, hip.
Closed: Describes wines that are concentrated and have character, but are shy in aroma or flavour.
Complete: A full-bodied wine rich in extracts with a pronounced finish.
Complex: Describes a wine that combines all flavour and taste components in almost miraculous harmony.
Delicate: Used to describe light- to medium-weight wines with good flavours.
Dense: Describes a wine that has concentrated aromas on the nose and palate, desirable in young wines.
Depth: Describes the complexity and concentration of flavours in a wine. Generally refers to a quality wine with subtle layers of flavour that go “deep.” Opposite of ‘Shallow.’
Developed: Refers to the maturity of a wine.
Elegant: Describes a wine of grace, balance and beauty.
Empty: Flavourless and uninteresting.
Fading: Describes a wine that is losing colour, fruit or flavour, usually as a result of age.
Flabby: Lacking acidity on the palate.
Flat: Having low acidity; the next stage after flabby; or refers to a sparkling wine that has lost its bubbles.
Full-Bodied: Fills the mouth. Opposite of ‘thin-bodied.’
Graceful: Describes a wine that is subtly harmonious and pleasing.
Neutral: Describes a wine without outstanding characteristics, good or bad.
Potent: Describes a strong, intense, powerful wine.
Robust: Describes a full-bodied, intense and vigorous wine; possibly inflated.
Round: Describes a well-balanced wine in fruit, tannins and body.
Seductive: A wine that is appealing.
Short: Describes a wine that does not remain on the palate after swallowing.
Simple: Describes a wine with few characteristics that follow the initial impression. Not necessarily unfavourable; often describes an inexpensive, young wine.
Soft: Describes a wine with low acid/tannin, or alcohol content with little impact on the palate.
Supple: Describes a wine with well-balanced tannins and fruit characteristics.
Thin: Lacking body and depth.
Wine Definitions: Taste
Barnyardy: Smell of farm animals. Negative.
Bite: A marked degree of acidity or tannin. An acid grip in the finish should be more like a zestful tang and is tolerable only in a rich, full-bodied wine.
Bitter: One of the four basic tastes. Considered a fault if the bitterness dominates the flavour or aftertaste. A trace in sweet wines may complement the flavours. In young red wines it can be a warning signal, as bitterness doesn’t always dissipate with age. A fine, mature wine should not be bitter on the palate.
Buttery: It refers to both flavour and texture or mouthfeel.
Chewy: Describes rich, heavy, tannic wines that are full-bodied.
Corked: The wine tastes of cork, it is unpleasant to smell and taste, slightly musty.
Dirty: Covers any and all foul, rank, off-putting smells that can occur in a wine, including those caused by bad barrels or corks. A sign of poor winemaking.
Earthy: Describes a wine that tastes of soil, most common in red wines. Can be used both positively (pleasant, clean quality adding complexity to aroma and flavour) and negatively (barnyardy character bordering on dirtiness).
Flinty: Describe the aroma or taste of some white wines; like the odour of flint striking steel.
Fruity: Describes any quality referring to the body and richness of a wine, i.e., “appley,” “berrylike” or “herbaceous.” Usually implies a little extra sweetness.
Grapey: Describes simple flavours and aromas associated with fresh table grapes.
Green: Tasting of un-ripe fruit. Not necessarily a bad thing, especially in a Riesling.
Heady: Used to describe the smell of a wine high in alcohol.
Herbaceous: The taste and smell of herbs.
Murky: Lacking brightness, turbid or swampy.
Musty: Having a mouldy smell.
Oaky: Describes the aroma and taste of oak.
Oxidized: Describes stale or ‘off’ wines.
Peppery: Describes the taste of pepper in a wine; sharper than ‘Spicy.’
Perfumed: Refers to a delicate bouquet.
Smoky: Describes a subtle wood-smoke aroma.
Spicy: Describes the presence of spice flavours such as anise, cinnamon, cloves, mint and pepper, often present in complex wines.
Sweet: One of the four basic tastes. Describes the presence of residual sugar and/or glycerine.
Tannin: Describes a dry sensation, with flavours of leather and tea.
Tart: Sharp-tasting because of acidity. See also ‘Acidic.’
Toasty: Describe a hint of the wooden barrel. Usually associated with dry white wines.
Velvety: Having rich flavour and a silky texture.
Zesty: A wine that’s invigorating.