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Wine Terminology Part 3

Wine Terminology Part 3

Learn all the various terminologies used to identify wine and its distinctive flavours here in our blog at Fine Art Bartending.

Wine is complex, and truly needs to be appreciated with both your senses of smell and taste. Have a read through the last of our wine terminology section to understand more of the language sommeliers and wine connoisseurs throughout the world use when describing the alluring beverage.

Part 1 ("Acid" to "Dry")  Part 2 ("Earthy" to "Musty")

Wine Terminology Part 3 ('Nose to Yeasty')

NOSE: Not the fleshy sense-organ/projection on the human face. Nose is near synonym word for "aroma" and includes "bouquet". Strictly applied it refers to the totality of the detectable odour, (grape variety, vinous character, fermentation smells), whether desirable or defective, found in a wine. One would speak of a mature wine as having, for example, "varietal aromas, flowery bouquet and hint of vanilla oak combining to give a balanced nose". The sense organs of the human nose can be educated by the use of purchased odour comparison kits known by such names as "Le Nez du Vin", "Component Collection" or "Winealyser". These can sometimes be obtained at the various Home Winemakers mail suppliers (etc.) around the country.

NOUVEAU: Indicates young, immediately drinkable wine - (for example a "Nouveau Beaujolais").

NUTTY: Table wines that have been exposed to air display this aroma which resembles that of certain sherry wines. Considered a flaw by some in red wines, but a desired flavour component in certain white wines by others, (eg: Chardonnays with extended "lees" contact in the fermentation vessel).

OAKY: The taste or aroma of freshly sawn oak. A wine, especially a red, is considered as correctly "oaked" when the "nose" carries a bare whiff of vanilla aroma. Sometimes oak flavours overpower other component wine flavours in which case it is considered over oaked. Oak flavour is introduced from contact with storage barrels made from that wood.

New oak barrels contribute stronger flavour to a wine than older storage barrels. The "oaky" components encountered include "vanillin", and so-called "toasty", "charred" or "roasted" elements. "Vanillin" comes from the character of the hardwood. The three others derive from the "charring" of the barrel that occurs from heating the broad iron rings which hold the barrel staves in place after contraction and the flaming of the interior.

OILY: Describes the vaguely fat, slippery sensation on the palate in contact with the combination of high glycerin and slightly low acid content. Mostly encountered in high quality Chardonnays and late harvest sweet wines.

OPEN-UP/OPENING-UP: Some bottled cellar-aged red wines possess the peculiarity that, when the cork is first pulled and the wine poured, the full flavours do not immediately make an appearance. However, after the passage of several minutes in an open glass goblet, the wine develops unsuspected flavour characteristics that can verge on the sublime.

This phenomenon is referred to as "opening-up". Conversely, these flavours can disappear just as fast in just 30 minutes, leaving a subsequent impression of a flat, stale, "over-the-hill" and/or mediocre wine.

OVERRIPE: A grape precondition necessary for making certain styles of Californian Zinfandel wines. Left on the vine to dry in the sun, certain grape varietals will develop the desirable "raisiny" character and concentrated sugar necessary for making specialty wines such as the Hungarian "Tokay".

PEPPERY: Term almost solely applied to "spicy" wines, such as Gewurztraminer among the whites, or the red Rhone Syrah and Australian Shiraz wines. Is a component which can almost be described as pungent in quality, being reminiscent of anise, cinnamon etc.

PERFUMED: Synonym for "floral". Implies also a degree of extra residual sugar.

PLUMP: Less than "fat", but otherwise nearly a synonym.

PONDEROUS: Even less balanced than a "hearty" or "sturdy" wine. The sole impact is one of high alcohol and "body" character. Little or no acid/tannin content. An everyday red wine, similar to a french "vin ordinaire" country wine sold by alcohol content, can be an example.

POWERFUL: Close to being a synonym for BRAWNY.

PRICKLY: Wine with slight residual gas in it. Usually attractive in light young whites, but in reds it is often a sign of refermentation in the bottle or bottling of the wine prematurely.

PRUNEY: Overripe, sun-dried grapes can induce an undesirable pungent quality into table wines; sometimes compared to "the taste of dried prunes".


RACKING: Traditional method of wine clarification. Sequential transfer of wine to several containers, each transfer leaving behind some particulate matter.

RACY: Sharp acidity usually found in young white wine (i.e. Italian Pinot Grigio, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc).

RAISINY: Mildly rich flavour due to excessive heat in the growing area which dries out grapes still on the vine. Considered a fault in most dry table wines.

RANCIO: Word normally used to describe a flavour perception found in tawny brown, wood-aged and heated fortified wines such as some "Madeira". Refers to the peculiarly blowsy overly-ripe fruit aroma, analogous to overripe bananas, admired in Port-style fortified wines but considered a fault in dry table wines where the detectable presence of oxidized components is frowned on for the most part.

REFINED: Term for well-balanced wines. Mostly refers to reds, such as Zinfandel, that normally turn "powerful" in the barrel. Almost a synonym for "elegant".

RESIDUAL SUGAR: Percentage, by weight or volume, of the unfermented grape sugar in a bottled wine.

RICH: Giving a full, rounded flavour impression without necessarily being sweet. Richness supplied by alcohol, glycerin and oak vanilla nuances in dry wine. The sweeter wines qualify for this adjective if also characterized by ripe, fruity flavours.

RIM: Refers to edge of wine surface as seen through a goblet style wineglass held at an angle of about 30-40 deg. from the vertical and viewed against white piece of paper or cloth using natural light. Used in evaluation of wine age. In "blind" tasting is about the only way to get an informed perception about the probable life and/or condition of the wine from that date on.

RIPE: Favourable adjective bestowed when the varietal characteristics of the grape are optimally present in a well balanced wine. Ripe-tasting wines tend toward being slightly more fruity and sweet than otherwise normal wines.

ROBUST: Vigorous, full with a lot of heart, a big scaled wine.

ROTTEN EGG: Smell of Hydrogen Sulfide gas in wine. Thought to be a characteristic imparted by certain yeast strains. A decided flaw.

ROUGH: Flavour/texture is coarse. Acidity and/or tannin are predominant and unpleasant.

ROUND: Describes flavours and tactile sensations giving a feeling of completeness with no dominating characteristic. Almost the same as fat, but with more approval. Tannin, acid and glycerin are sufficiently present but appear as nuances rather than distinct flavours.

SALTY: One of the basic taste sensations detected by the receptors in the human tongue.

SHARP: Excess acid predominates, disturbing the otherwise balanced flavours.

SIMPLE: Normal, everyday, well-vinified table wine of straightforward character.

SMOKE/SMOKY: Some use the word in the same sense as the smell/flavour that separates smoked (anything) from ordinary (anything). Refers to aroma contributed by the charred oakwood in barrels. It can have a variety of impressions - (eg: such as the remains of a burnt-out fire). Needs a variant, such as "wood-smoke" or "barbecue smoke" or "sooty" to fully convey the meaning.

SOFT: Generally has low acid/tannin content. Also describes wines with low alcohol content. Consequently has little impact on the palate.

SOUR: Almost a synonym for ACIDIC. Implies presence of acetic acid plus excess acid component. (Is also one of the four basic taste sensations detected by the human tongue).

SPICY: Almost a synonym for "peppery". Implies a softer, more rounded flavour nuance however.

SPRITZY: Considered a fairly minor fault stemming sometimes from the onset of a brief secondary malolactic fermentation in the bottle. Consists of pinpoint carbonation typically released when the bottle cork is pulled. Frowned on more if occurring in white wines vinified to be dry.

STALE: Wine with lifeless, stagnant qualities. Usually found in wines that were kept in large vessel storage for an excessive length of time.

STEELY: Mouth-feel and aroma applied to many non-oaked white wines. Duel meaning due to it fermentation in steel and its almost metallic flavour.

STONEY/STONELIKE: Describes a set of perceptions that seem to indicate a relatively young white wine fermented from ripe, but not overly so, grapes under cold fermentation conditions. Classic examples are made from Chardonnay grapes in the Chablis region of France. Wines from the Carneros region of the Napa Valley in California are sometimes so described as well. High acidity coupled with a tactile, mouth-filling sensation that has a cleanly "earthy" flavour characterize this type of wine.

STRUCTURE: Term for overall flavour. Used to suggest complete impression of the wine. Needs a modifier in order to mean something - (eg: "brawny" etc).STURDY(see HEARTY above).

STYLISH: The style is distinctive and characteristic of the grape(s) used. Carries a connotation of briskness or jauntiness. Commonly used to describe an Australian or New Zealand wine.

SUPPLE: Term often used for young reds which should be more aggressive. More lively than an easy wine with suggestions of good quality. The near synonym "amiable" is also sometimes employed but does not quite emphasize the extra connotation of "leanness" implied.

SWEET: Refers to one of the four basic tastes detected by the sensory nerves of the human tongue. In the description of wine taste-flavour the term "sweet" is almost always used as an identifier denoting the presence of residual sugar and/or glycerin. Wine aromas require a descriptive term to identify the source of the perceived sensation - (eg: "ripe", "lush").

TANNIN: A naturally occurring substance in grape skins, seeds and stems. Is primarily responsible for the basic "bitter" component in wines. Acts as a natural preservative, helping the development and, in the right proportion, balance of the wine. It is considered a fault when present in excess.

TARRY/TAR LIKE: Descriptive term used when comparing odor detected in the "nose" of a wine with similar odour retained in a memory trained by the use of a comparison kit of scent essences. Such kits include tar, apricots, mushrooms and other flavouring essences isolated from wines.

TART: Synonym for "ACIDIC".

TASTE: Refers to the basic sensations detectable by the human tongue. Current scientific opinion defines these as "sweet", "salty", "sour", "bitter" and "MSG" (Monosodium Glutamate) flavours all registered by the tongue taste receptors. The traditional view of the tongue having four distinct surface zones to register those tastes has recently been revised by a report of new research discoveries (ie. see "Nature" magazine, April 5, 2000).

TEARS: Synonym for "LEGS".

TERROIR: French language term for all the characteristics of the vineyard site thought to be imparted to a particular wine. It is a term that includes geographic, geological, climatic and other attributes that can affect an area of growth as small as a few square metres.

THIN/THIN-BODIED: Opposite of "full-bodied".

TOASTY: Other, similar descriptors are "caramel" and "toffee". Some also add spicy flavours, such as "cinnamon" or "cloves".

TOBACCO: Descriptive term, used by some, to describe a flavour component resembling the taste of raw tobacco leaf in the finish of certain red wines. Seems to mainly apply to Cabernet Sauvignons from Bordeaux, France or the Napa region of California. "CIGAR BOX" is a common term often used as a near synonym especially if a cedar- wood note in the aroma is detected. (Non-smokers may have trouble with this word and its implication).

TOUGH: Usually implying too much tannin.

UNDERRIPE: (see also ACIDIC, GREEN). Resulting flavour when grapes that failed to reach optimum maturity on the vine are used in the vinification process.

UNFILTERED: Opposite of "filtered". However, does not exclude other clarifying processes such as "fining" etc.

UNFINED: Opposite of "fined", but does not exclude other clarifying processes such as "filtering" etc.

VANILLA: Component detectable in the "nose" of a wine. The novice taster can compare odours with the vials of artificial ones provided in kit form.

VANILLIN: Component contributed by oakwood barrel staves. Considered to add a degree of "sweetness" to red wines when present in barely detectable amounts, so adding to a desirably complex style prized by connoisseurs.

VARIETAL CHARACTER: The particular flavour characteristics associated with a grape picked at optimum maturity - (eg: distinctive "berry like" taste of California Zinfandels, "blackcurrants" of Cabernet Sauvignon etc).

VEGETAL: Considered a flavour flaw when present in distinctive amounts over and above that occurring naturally in the grape. "Grassy" has somewhat the same connotation.

VITIS LABRUSCA: The grape species believed to be an impure, cross-pollinated version of the wild grape native to North America. Makes tasty juice, jelly but has wine flavour often termed as "foxy".

VITIS VINIFERA: The premier grape species used for the world's most admired wines. Also referred to as the "European vine".

VOLATILE: Powerful, attack aroma. Usually denotes high level of acidity, alcohol and/or other flavour faults.

WARM: Possesses high alcohol flavour offset by counterbalancing flavours and other desirable qualities. Unlike "hot", is a positive attribute.

WATERY: Synonym for MEAGER or THIN.

WEIGHTY: Well-structured/balanced wines with an implication of mildly excessive flavour or "heaviness".

WELL-BALANCED: Contains all of the essential elements - (alcohol, flavours & astringency) - in good proportions.

WINE THIEF: Sampling tube made from clear glass or plastic tube having a narrowed opening at either end. The tube is lowered into the wine container, usually a barrel, allowed to fill to a predetermined level and is then withdrawn, keeping the upper end sealed with a finger, so collecting a sample of wine. The wine sample is then disgorged into a wineglass or shallow "tastevin" cup held ready for use by the taster. (Cooks will recognize the similarity to the kitchen implement known as a "turkey baster").

WOODY: Almost a synonym for OAKY. However, implies an overstay in a wooden container which resulted in the absorption of other wood flavours besides "oak".

YEASTY/YEASTLIKE: Term describing odours deriving from varietal yeasts carried on grape skins, molds etc. Includes both desirable and undesirable characteristics. Examples would be the presence of "brett", (brettanomyces), a strain of yeast that produces "gamey/smoky" odours that are considered to add to the character of the wine when barely detectable. Considered a flaw when presence is pronounced. Another, similar example is the "dekkera" wild yeast strain which gives a "fresh dirt" flavour component.

Part 1 ("Acid" to "Dry") Part 2 ("Earthy" to "Musty")

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