different wine varietals in glasses

Common Wine Tasting Terms

Words and definitions you may want to know when buying, drinking, and descrivbing wine.

ABV: The abbreviation of alcohol by volume, listed by percent on a wine's label. The alcohol in wine comes from the yeast converting grape sugar into ethanol. Fortified wines are made from adding alcohol to wine.

  • <10% ABV: Low
  • 10 - 11.5% ABV: Medium-Low
  • 11.5 - 13.5% ABV: Medium
  • 13.5 - 15% ABV: Medium-High
  • >15% ABV: High

ACIDITY: Generally higher in white wine and lower in red wines. Balanced acidity is critical in a good wine.

ALCOHOL: Alcohol augments the flavors of wine. Too much alcohol flavor is a lack of balance.

APPELLATION: A legally defined geographical location used to identify where the grapes in a wine are grown. Examples:

  • United States: AVA- American Viticultural Areas (ex. Paso Robles AVA)
  • France : AOC (AOP), IGP
  • Italy : DOC, DOCG, IGT
  • Spain : DO, DOCa

AROMA: The fragrance released by the wine process.

ATTACK: The immediate impression of the taste of a wine; the initial flavors that can be detected.

BALANCE: The relationship between acidity, tannins, alcohol, and flavors. In harmonious, well-balanced wines, no single attribute overwhelms others.

BODY: How thick or thin a wine is and how substantial it feels on the tongue (noted as degrees of light, medium, or full) due to the level of alcohol, residual sugar, extract, and glycerol.

BOUQUET: The complex aromas of a wine that develop during the aging process.

CLARITY: Refers to a wine's quality of clearness. The clarity of a wine can range from clear to slight haze to cloudy. Lack of clarity used to indicate spoilage--but many wines are unfiltered and may have a slight haze due to sediment.

COLOR DEPTH: The intensity of a wine's color depth varies widely (watery, pale, medium, deep, to dark). Red wines get lighter with age while whites tend to get darker.


  • White- greenish, yellow, straw yellow, gold, amber
  • Red- purplish, ruby, red, garnet, brick, brown
  • Rosé- pink, salmon, orange, copper
  • The hue of a young wine can give some indication of the grape variety it came from (ex. Riesling- pale green; Chenin Blanc: yellow).

CORKED: Cork Taint or TCA gives a moldy odor (wet cardboard) and dulls the overall flavors of the wine. A serious wine fault.

CRU: A French term meaning "growth" which signifies a vineyard area of recognized quality.

DRY: Wines that have high acidity or tannins compared to sweetness. Generally, sweeter wines are less dry, though there are exceptions.

EARTHY: Consisting of flavors and aromas such as soil, chocolate, and mushrooms.

FINISH: The flavors that linger after swallowing the wine and their duration. A long finish is a sign of a good wine.

FLORAL: Consisting of mainly flowery, perfume-y flavors and aromas such as lavender, rose, jasmine, and lilac.

FORTIFIED WINE: A wine that has been preserved by the addition of spirits, typically made of neutral-tasting grape brandy. Example: Port.

FRUITY: Consisting of mainly fruit flavors and aromas such as tropical fruits, berries and other vine fruits, orchard fruits, and citrus.

HERBAL / SPICY: Consisting of flavors and aromas such as Allspice, Anise, Fennel, Licorice, Basil, Black pepper, Cinnamon, Clove, Dill, Eucalyptus, Ginger, Horseradish, Mint, Peppermint, Spearmint, Nutmeg, Saffron, Thyme, Vanilla, White pepper.

MID PALATE: The sensations and flavors on the palate between the attack and the finish.

MINERALITY: The presence of sulfur compounds in wines that taste like minerals and chemicals like tar, candle wax, granite, rubber, diesel/petrol, slate, wet rocks, chalk, or flint.

MOUTHFEEL: The tactile sensation of wine in the mouth (thick, thin, smooth, harsh, active, flabby, creamy, watery, etc.).

NEW WORLD: Wine from non-European countries with generally hotter climates (ex. U.S., Australia, Argentina, South Africa, Chile, etc.). The typical style of non-European wines is generally fruitier, fuller, and higher in alcohol.

NOSE: The overall impression of the aromas of a poured glass of wine.

NUTTY/ROASTED: Wine descriptors used on their own or that refer to Almond, Brazil nut, Coconut, Coffee, Hazelnut, Peanut, Popcorn, Toast, Roasted Almond, and Walnut.

OLD WORLD: Wine from the traditional winegrowing regions of Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East. Can also refer to style (less fruity, lower in alcohol). Old World wines typically named after location (ex. Burgundy, Chianti) rather than grape.

OXIDATION: When wine is exposed to too much oxygen, a chain of chemical reactions occurs that alters the compounds in the wine. Signs of oxidation include smells similar to bruised apples in white wines and artificial raspberry flavor and nail polish remover in red wines.

PALATE: A combination of senses that are stimulated when you drink. It refers to the mouth (tongue, taste buds, and overall interior of the mouth) and the nose.

PHENOLS: A group of several hundred chemical compounds found in wine that affect the taste, color, and mouthfeel. Tannin is a type of phenol called a polyphenol.

REDUCTION: Nearly the opposite of oxidation. Modern winemaking techniques prevent oxygen from reaching the wine, thereby enhancing fruit flavors. But this process can produce sulfur compounds (at low levels = minerality; high levels = overpowering sulfurous aromas).

SULFITES: A preservative that is either added to wine or present on grapes before fermentation (ppm = parts per million).

  • Wine: 10ppm to 350ppm
  • Bacon: 700ppm
  • French fries: 2,000ppm

STRUCTURE: The framework or backbone of acid and/or tannins that supports the wine's body; necessary for aging.

SWEET: Describing a wine where sweetness is prominently featured in its flavor.

TANNINS: The astringent component of a wine. Tannic wines are dryer, sucking the moisture from your mouth. Red wines (and a few white wines) get their color and tannins from contact with grape skins during fermentation. Tannins can also come from oak barrels and are sensed at the top of the tongue.

TERROIR: Originally a French word that is used to describe how a particular region's climate, soils, terrain, and traditional winemaking practices affect the taste of the wine.

VARIETY/VARIETAL: Refers to a subgroup of a grape species and is distinguished from other varieties by hereditary traits like color, how it grows in a certain climate, whether or not it's suitable for making wine, etc. (ex. the Cabernet Sauvignon grape variety). Some were cultivated long ago and subdivided into clones (ex. the Pinot Noir grape variety). Varietal wines are wines named after the main (at least 75% in most cases) grape variety that the wine was made from.

VEGETAL: A wine descriptor used on its own or can refer to Asparagus, Beet, Beetroot, Black olive, Bramble, Green pepper, Cucumber, Grass, Green olive, Green pea, and Lentil. Desirable in some grape varieties, but can be considered faults due to under-ripe grapes in others.

VOLATILE ACIDITY (VA): Acetic acid is the volatile acid in wine that turns wine to vinegar. In small levels it adds to the complexity of flavor and in high levels it causes the wine to spoil.

WOODY: A wine descriptor used on its own or can refer to Cedar, Cigar box, Oak, Pencil shavings, Pine, and Resinous.

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