Wine Tasting Terms to Know

Swirl your wine, breathe deeply, take a taste, and think about what comes to mind. Here is what to look for when tasting wine.

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Pouring a glass of red wine.


Pouring a glass of red wine.

Photo by: marco zanardi

marco zanardi

Pouring a glass of red wine.

Fruit: When you get right down to it, wine is just fermented grape juice. It can smell and taste like various fruits but also evoke vegetables, flowers, spices or anything else in your sensory memory. The more wine you taste, the easier it is to make these associations.

Dry: The term dry simply means "not sweet." Most wines are dry, though some can be semi-dry (i.e., a bit sweet) or fully sweet.

Acidity: That tingle on and around the sides of your tongue is called acidity. Tasters use the words "crisp," "tangy" and "racy" to refer to wines with pronounced acidity.

Tannin: The dryness that a red wine can impart to your tongue or inner cheeks is called the wine's tannin. Some grape types produce wine that tends to be tannic; others, not so much. Tasters use the words "puckering" and "astringent" to describe a highly tannic wine.

Oak: When wine is fermented or aged in oak barrels it can take on hints of vanilla, smoke or tobacco. A tip-off to oak is when the wine's label mentions it, as in, of course, "oak aged" or when it alludes to barrels, as in "barrel fermented" or "barrel selection."

Alcohol: When the wine tastes or smells "hot," that's called alcohol. It's a subtler version of the sensation you get when sniffing brandy.

Body: The weight or how heavy wine feels in your mouth is the basis of the wine's body. You can think of light-bodied wine as roughly equivalent to water, medium-bodied wine to skim milk and full-bodied wine to a rich mouth-filling glass of whole milk.

Mark Oldman is a wine expert, acclaimed author and lead judge of the hit series The Winemakers.

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