Wine rejoices the heart of man and joy is the mother of all virtues.
-Johann Wolfgang von Goethe – German philosopher
A Book of Verses underneath the Bough,
A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread–and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness–
Oh, Wilderness were Paradise enow!
– From The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam
Aside from its nutritional and healthy qualities, wine has become known as a social enhancer, an icebreaker, a pleasure that is best enjoyed in a convivial setting…with good friends, good food and good conversation. Truly, as Goethe noted, it “rejoices the heart of man” (and woman). The fitting culmination of the long and interesting life of a bottle of wine – from vine to wine as it were – is to be consumed shared and enjoyed.
Tasting, judging and appreciation of wine is a subject worthy of its own book, and indeed many have been written. Suffice it to say however that once the basic process is understood it is largely a subjective matter, highly dependent on the tastes, instincts and preferences of the participant. Herein are a few terms and standards that will provide a basis for knowledgeable imbibing.
Aperitif: Wine that is drunk before a meal to stimulate the appetite
Astringency: A wine with a high level of tannins is said to be astringent in that it leaves a dry, prickly sensation on the tongue
Austere: A dry, rather hard and acidic wine
Balance: A desirable quality in wine wherein fruit, tannins and acidity are in harmony.
Basic: A low cost entry level wine as opposed to a premium offering
Blind Tasting: An event in which a wine is sampled and judged without being identified
Body: The weight and fullness of a wine as it passes over the palate. A full-bodied wine is sometimes described as “meaty” or “weighty”
Bouquet: The aroma of a newly-opened bottle of wine, developed from bottle-aging
Breathing: The brief exposure of wine to air and oxidation after being opened. Usually takes place while decanting.
Champagne flute: A long-stemmed champagne glass with a tall narrow bowl.
Chewy: A rather dense viscous texture expressed in the wine, usually due to a high alcohol (and high glycerin) content.
Citrusy: An aroma and flavor of citrus fruits.
Complex: A diversity of scents and flavors that hold a taster’s interest
Corked: A flawed bottle of wine smelling of musty cork due to a faulty or unclean cork
Country wine: A fruit wine or An intermediate quality level between table and premium wine.
Decant: To pour bottled wine slowly and carefully into a second container before serving in order to remove sediments, which stay behind in the bottle. Also allows the wine to breathe
Dessert Wine: A very sweet wine, or any wine over 15% alcohol
Dry: A wine containing little or no sugar
Earthy: An aroma of clean fresh soil. Usually considered a positive attribute of wine
Estate wine: Wine produced from grapes grown on-site at the winery
Fine wine: The highest category of wine quality
Finish: The aftertaste a wine leaves in the mouth after swallowing
Floral: A flowery component in wine, especially found in Muscat or Viogner grapes
Fortified wine: Wine such as port or sherry, to which alcohol has been added
Foxy: A unique musky character usually associated with Vitis labrusca grapes
Fruit wine: An alcoholic beverage made from non-grape fruit juice
Grassy: wine with a slightly vegetal undertone in the character
Green: Wine made from under ripe grapes, usually has vegetal qualities
Hard: A rough astringent taste, usually from high acidity or tannins, most often found in red wines
Herbaceous: Having a flavor (usually undefined) of herbs. Most often found in Cabernet sauvignon and Merlot
Hot: Not associated with temperature, but rather taken to mean a wine is too high in alcohol giving it a fierce, biting quality
Ice wine: Wine made from grapes that have frozen on the vine. Usually a very sweet, intensely-flavored dessert wine
Jammy: An intense fruit flavor, usually from excellent ripeness
Jug wine: An inexpensive table wine, usually mass-produced
Kosher wine: Wine that is produced under the supervision of a rabbi so that it is considered ritually pure or clean
Late harvest: wine made from grapes left on the vine well past the normal harvest season. Usually made as a sweet dessert wine
Leafy: Similar to a herbaceous character, vegetal or green
Lees: The particles or precipitate in the bottom of a fermentation vessel
Legs: The rivulets that form on the inside of a wine glass when swirled. related to the viscosity of the wine, longer legs usually mean a higher concentration of alcohol
Light: A wine with low alcohol and/or sugar
Lush: Soft, velvety or fruity texture as opposed to a hard or astringent wine
Mead: A wine-like beverage made of fermented honey and water
Meritage: A blended wine made from at least 2 of the 5 Bordeaux varieties
Mouthfeel: The physical sensation a wine creates in the mouth. Terms such as “astringent”, “buttery”, and “hot” describe various mouthfeels.
Nose: The bouquet or aroma of a wine sensed through the taster’s nose.
Nouveau or Nuevo: A wine that is generally drunk young.
Oaky: The aroma or taste of oak, derived from the addition of oak chips during aging, or from aging in oak barrels.
Oxidized: Wine whose taste has been compromised by overexposure to air
Oenophile: A wine enthusiast or connoisseur
Port: A sweet fortified wine with distilled alcohol added to stop fermentation with some sugars still present, and to increase alcohol content
Premium: A higher-quality classification of wine, generally having more aging potential than everyday table wine
Racking: The traditional method of clarifying wine, by pouring into several containers, leaving behind any particulate matter
Residual sugar: Percentage of unfermented sugars in wine
Reserve: Generally the highest-quality classification of wine
Sack: An archaic term for sherry
Sherry: A fortified wine with a distinctive flavor
Sommelier: A restaurant’s in-house wine expert
Sparkling wine: A “bubbly” wine such as champagne, containing carbon dioxide
Spicy: An aroma of pepper, cinnamon or other spices
Supple: A soft, well-rounded and tasty wine
Table wine: A good, mid-level wine that is neither sparkling nor fortified. Usually drunk with meals
Tannin: The substance found in grape skins, seeds and leaves that gives wine a measure of bitterness and astringency. A certain amount of tannins is considered a positive attribute
Underripe: A flavor found in wines made from grapes picked before optimal maturity
Varietal wine: wine made from a single grape variety
Vegetal: An earthy, stemmy flavor in wine, similar to grassy
Velvety: A rich smooth texture, considered very desirable in wine
Vintage: Wines made from grapes that were all grown and harvested in a single year
Vitis labrusca: A grape species native to North America, known for its “foxy” flavor
Vitis vinifera: The traditional French wine grape species, from which most premium wines are made
Well-balanced: A wine that contains all essential elements in good proportions
Wine, as we’ve already pointed out, is meant to be enjoyed. And it is best appreciated by those who have tended the vines, harvested and crushed the grapes, and bottled the vintage and watched it mature. So plant, harvest, vinify, then invite a few friends over, uncork and enjoy!
1. Anti-Snob Wine Appreciation: 7 Tips from Sonoma
2. A Glossary of Wine Terms