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Wine tasting is an art, a pleasure, and for some, an occupation. Professional wine tasters make a living by assessing wine for quality, aging potential, commercial value, complexity, and character. A refined palate and an extensive vocabulary are the tools used to construct a description of the wine using specific wine tasting terms. For the average consumer, these terms can seem like nothing more than indecipherable wine tasting jargon.
When it comes to wine tasting terms, most of us think of those ambiguous descriptors on the back label of a wine bottle. When selecting a bottle of wine for purchase, we might read this label hoping to decipher some clue as to whether the wine would be to our liking. But we are often left confused, wondering how a beverage could taste “soft,” “jammy,” or “zesty.” Whether and how a wine embodies these wine tasting terms may remain a mystery to the general public. There are, however, some wine tasting terms that can be agreed upon or, at least, accepted.
Perhaps it is best to begin with the wine tasting terms that describe the process of wine tasting and the wine itself, rather than the actual taste of the wine. We will get to that later. A few wine tasting terms describe the act of observing the wine. Wine tasters “twirl” the wine around in the glass, which lets the wine “aerate” or “breathe”. This is supposed to soften and enhance the taste of the wine. Twirling also allows the wine taster to observe the viscosity of the wine. A more viscous wine will trail slowly down the side of the glass, creating “legs” or “tears”.
Next the wine taster will smell the wine. Some wine tasting terms denote the smell of the wine, including the terms “nose,” “aroma,” and “bouquet”. Other terms indicate how the wine actually smells, such as “fruity,” “bright,” “earthy” and “fresh.” There are more specific wine tasting terms that indicate an individual smell, called an aroma. Common aromas are indicated using the terms “fresh fruit,” “dried fruit,” “floral,” “vegetal,” “mineral,” “animal,” “buttery,” “spicy,” “nutty,” “oaky,” and “honey.” Many of these wine tasting terms can also be used when describing the taste of the wine.
The wine tasting terms used to describe the taste of the wine can be categorized similarly to those used for looking at and smelling wine. For example, one does not just take a swig, but rather “sips” and “maneuvers” the wine around in the mouth. Maneuvering the wine refers to moving it over the entire tongue, and then sucking air through the wine to bring the flavor of the wine to the back of the throat.
When the wine is swallowed or spit out, the aftertaste is described by the terms “finish,” which indicates what one tastes, and “length,” or how long the taste lingers. The “non-volatile” flavors; salty, sweet, bitter, sour, and savory, should be “balanced” and appropriate to the style of the wine. The acidity of the wine can be described by the terms “fresh,” “crisp,” and “dry.” “Tannin” or “tannic” are wine tasting terms used to describe the substance that coats the mouth, and has a bitter, dry feel. Other wine tasting terms such as “weight” and “body” also indicate the feel of the wine in the mouth. A wine can be “heavy,” “light-bodied,” “medium-bodied,” or “full-bodied.”
Once the characteristics or aspects of the wine’s taste have been determined, we come to perhaps the most subjective set of wine tasting terms. These are the specific flavors that the wine taster detects in the wine. Since these words indicate the flavors of other things, and are not limited to describing the taste of wine, we can omit the use of quotations. These flavors include butter, earth, cherry, coffee, black currant, floral, pepper, lemon, pear, grass, orange, vanilla, nut, smoke, spice, and mineral. More unique and, perhaps, less appetizing flavors include bubblegum, eucalyptus, flint, game, gasoline, leather, yeast, tar, tobacco, and cat urine, to name a few.
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