Wine Lover's Essential Wine Tasting Glossary

Wine Tasting Glossary

A wine tasting glossary can help the novice understand more about the wine he is buying, how it will taste, and what foods it pairs well with. By having an idea of how experts describe wine he can learn to describe the beverage in those same terms.

The Four Aspects of Describing Wine

Wine is a multisensory experience and critics use four of the five senses to describing it.

  • Texture can be the most difficult for a new wine enthusiast to understand. All wine is liquid, after all. Is the wine light or heavy? Does it leave a dry feeling on your tongue? You will be able to describe the texture with a little experience
  • Taste has three parts. How does the first sip taste? Next, describe the flavor as it mellows in the mouth and during the swallow. Finally, describe the flavor of the lingering aftertaste.
  • Nose is the aroma or smell of the wine.
  • Color describes the hue of the wine and ts clarity when viewing the glass with light streaming through it.


The texture describes how the wine feels in your mouth, your sensations while sipping, tasting, and swallowng it.

  • Creamy means that the wine is silky, buttery, and smooth on the palate.
  • A complex wine has everything working for it; balance, texture, flavor, and aroma. Everything comes together in one perfect burst of flavor and sensation in the mouth.
  • The word delicate describes wines that are mild. While it isn't a necessarily negative term, it can refer to wines that are a bit tasteless and light in the mouth.
  • Fat wines are those that make your mouth feel full; they are often heavy. This is a positive thing for sweet dessert wines and Sauternes but should never be found in a Reisling or other light wine. In other wines it can mean a low acid wine with a high glycerin content which gives a slippery, oily feeling to the palate.
  • Stoney and flinty are terms that describe a wine that is acidic and yet heavy giving a sensation of having your mouth filled with an earthy substance.

Taste and Nose

The taste and the aroma of wine are related. Lifting the wine glass to the nose and taking a deep sniff can cause you to more eagerly anticipate the flavor to come. There are hundreds of ways to describe the flavor and aromas of wine.


Some wines have more of a fruit flavor than others. Reds and whites can be fruity. White wines tend to have citrus, apple, and pear flavors, while reds tend toward jammy, berry or dried fruit flavors. An "appley" wine may taste of ripe, fresh, or green apples. Generally ripe apple is a flavor associated with Chardonnay while fresh apple will describe a Reisling.

  • Berry: Blackberry, blueberry, raspberry, strawberry, cassis
  • Tree: Cherry, pear, apricot, peach, apple, plum, pomegranate, cherry
  • Tropical: Mango, papaya, pineapple, melon
  • Other: Fig, raisins, currant


Sweet can be good in wine whenbalanced. If a wine is so sweet it masks its flavors, it may be called cloying, which is a winemaker's flaw. Sweet wines are usually reserved for dessert, however any wine can have nuances of sweet flavor.

  • Anise
  • Butterscotch
  • Caramel
  • Chocolate
  • Honey
  • Licorice
  • Molasses
  • Vanilla


Floral flavors are most often attributed to white wines and it will usually be in the aroma more than in the actual taste.

  • Honeysuckle
  • Jasmine
  • Rose geranium


Spiciness can occur in either white or red wines. Pinot Noir, Syrah, and Zinfandel are all examples of spicy red wines. Spicy whites include Gewürztraminer and Reisling.

  • Black pepper
  • Cinnamon
  • Clove

Other Flavors

There are other flavors used to describe wine in both positive and negative ways.

  • Woody or oaky can mean that the wine took on flavor from the barrels where it aged. This can be postive or negative, depending on the overall flavor of the wine.
  • Herbacious or grassy describes a slight vegetal flavor in Sauvignon Blanc and other wines. When it is present in small amounts it can balance the flavor but in larger amounts it can be distasteful.
  • Smoky can describe a rich, sensual wine. It is related to an oaky flavor but in a more positive way.
  • Toasty is a warm, rich flavor in the same family as caramel and vanilla.
  • Foxy refers to a musky umami flavor found in some wines that may or may not be pleasant, depending on the wine and the taster.


Wine should look good in the glass. There are four components of color when judging a wine.


Held up to the light it should be clear and not cloudy. Most wines will be clear when held up to a light source. Cloudiness can be a result of improper filtering or decanting and can lend an unpleasant taste to the wine.


Hue describes the actual color of the wine and will be dependent on the type. Wine comes in all sorts of colors from deep purplish red to golden or silvery. Just describe the color that you see.


How easily can you see through the wine? Is it so dark that it is almost opaque or is it watery and easy to look through?


A wine's legs describes the viscosity; how much it clings to the glass. Swirl the wine and watch the stripes roll down the glass. These stripes are the legs and help show the sugar content of the wine.

Hundreds of Descriptions

There are hundreds of ways to describe wine and each person will have a slightly differed experience. Don't let lack of self confidence about whether you are using the right terminology, experiencing the right texture or tasting the right flavor diminish your enjoyment of good wine.

Wine Lover's Essential Wine Tasting Glossary