Have you ever gone wine tasting and felt overwhelmed & confused by the words your tasting host used? There are a plethora of terms used in the wine industry to describe wines and how they smell, how they taste, and how the appear. It takes hours and hours of study and tasting to learn all of the terms that experts know. It’s good to have a few terms up your sleeve when you go wine tasting so you can get the most out of the experience. We’ve put together these 15 wine tasting words to help get you started and help you sound like a pro the next time you are out tasting.
Aged: Wine is an ever-changing organism that grows with age. A wine that was made more recently will taste differently than one that has been in a bottle for years. Typically wineries are giving you young wines to taste in anticipation that you will purchase it and keep it until you are ready to drink it. However, on occasion you’ll encounter a library tasting where older wines are available for tasting.
Aroma: Every time you taste a new wine, your first step should be to smell it to experience the aroma. Swirl the glass to release the aroma and stick your nose down in the glass. This may feel awkward at first, but will give your brain important information to help you determine what the wine might taste like. Without first getting the aroma, your brain will miss some important details you need to fully understand what you will later taste.
Legs: This is one of those wine tasting words that is easy to understand once you know what it means. After swirling your glass of wine, you might notice some of the liquid clinging to the sides of the glass. These are the legs and the thicker the clinging, the higher the alcohol level. This is a great indicator of what to expect in terms of alcohol before tasting the wine.
Palate: Your palate is essentially what you use to taste. Everyone tastes differently depending on how developed their palate is. A new wine drinker might have a difficult time detecting flavors on their palate where as a wine connoisseur could detect multiple items in a wine. A highly developed palate is not required for wine tasting. Rather, the more you taste the more your palate will develop, so get started tasting and thinking about the flavors you find in each sip.
Dry: Wines are categorized by their sweetness level, or lack thereof. A dry wine contains little to no sugar, leaving a dry feeling on your tongue. Dry wines are typically red and pair well with savory foods.
Off dry: Wines defined as off dry are almost always white and contain some residual sugar. They can be easy drinking, but the amount of sweetness can vary depending on the acid level in the wine.
Sweet: Usually sweet wines fall in the category of dessert wines and contain a larger amount of sugar. Many new wine drinkers like sweet wines, but they are amazing when paired with sweet foods. Typically these wines are given last during a wine tasting.
Fruit forward: When detecting the flavors on your palate, wines that provide more fruit flavors like strawberry, cherry, blackberry, etc. are defined as fruit forward. Novice wine drinkers may think wines typically fall into this category, but many wines present savory flavors instead.
Savory: Things that might be detected in wines that present savory flavors are earth, mineral, leather, tobacco, and herb. These flavors do not indicate dry or off dry wines, but are in addition to those characteristics of wine.
Body: Body explains how wine feels when it’s in your mouth and is broken up into 3 types: light, medium, and full. Once you take a sip of wine, let it sit in your mouth for a few moments to help you determine its body. Still not making sense? A common analogy for how to explain body is milk. Light body wines are like skim milk, medium body is like whole milk, and full body are like half and half. Next time you taste wine, let it sit in your mouth for a bit and then try to determine its body.
Tannin: What makes a wine taste dry? Generally it’s the tannin, which is a natural element found in fruit skins (like red grape skins) and wood (like oak). So it makes sense that wine made from red grapes and aged in oak would present tannin. Tannin brings a bitter texture, not flavor, to wine similar to that of black tea.
Acidity: New wine drinkers, or those who don’t prefer wine, are often put off by a sour taste. This is presented by the level of acidity in the wine. Over time, think about the acid level you prefer in wine to determine what you prefer. If you like wines that make you pucker more, you like highly acidic wines like Riesling.
Finish: After you take a sip of wine and swallow it, you experience the finish. This is the feeling that wine leaves behind in your mouth. It can by spicy, smooth, or bitter, and it can play greatly into how well you like a wine.
Balance: How many of the elements play together when you take a sip of wine defines balance. If the acidity, body, tannin, sweetness level work together well, you’ve experienced a balanced wine. If the fruit forwardness is overwhelming in your sip, then the wine is out of balance. A balanced wine is always going to be the most enjoyable wine.
Complexity: This is one of the hardest concepts to understand in wine and takes some practice to recognize. When you taste a complex wine, you notice a series of characteristics popping up in your mouth within seconds as you take a sip. Wines where you can only taste cherry would be considered one-note. But with a complex wine, you might detect cherry, chocolate, tobacco, tannin, and spiciness all in one sip and not all at the same time.
These are just 15 wine tasting words, but the ones that you’re likely to hear from your wine host during a tasting. You can learn best what these really mean by practicing detecting each term each time you taste wine.