Say What? Tasting Terms Demystified

September 11, 2014

Wouldn't it be cool to be a wine expert?

The kind that travels the world sampling and mentoring wine makers. Jet off to Western Australia to visit Margaret River and Mount Barker then on to Sicily (did you know that Italians produce more wine than any other country?) and finally back to good ole California where Napa and Sonoma rule wine making. Sounds fancy, huh? There's no way that any of us ordinary folk can possible study enough, travel enough, or taste enough wines to be able to use all of the pro terms in an educated manor.

Let's simplify the goal: To taste wines with friends and be able to voice opinions on said wines like a pro!

Terms to define:

Acidity - Used as an adjective to describe sharp or sour flavors, acidity is vital to wine. It helps red wines keep their color and gives white wines their balance. Too much acidity, and the wine is tart and unpleasant; too little and wine is flabby and uninteresting.

Tannins - Tannins are part of the balancing act. They balance the fruit. In technical terms, tannins refers to a group of bitter chemical found in skins, pips and stems of grapes, and also in the oak barrels that are used in the aging process.

Body - Body describes the weight of the wine in the mouth. Light bodied wines typically won't have as much alcohol and extract (the "stuff" at the bottom of the bottle) like a full-bodied wine will. Full bodied wines often get the most recognition at tasting events even if they aren't ideal for a whole evening.

Buttery - Yum! Buttery is use to describe the rich and creamy characteristics often found in barrel-fermented Chardonnay.

Flabby - If a wine doesn't have enough acidity to balance other flavors, it might be called flabby! Buttery Chardonnays can fall victim to this description if they are too rich and fruity.

Green - A negative term, green refers to a wine that tastes youthful, unripe, raw, and acidic. Yuck!

Gamey - This one's usually reserved for older wines that exhibit smells and flavors much like a damp forest or unwashed farmers' feet. Can this be a good thing? You be the judge.

Fresh - Usually associated with white wine, this descriptor is used when a wine is clean, aromatic, light bodied and with balanced acidity.

Fruity - Since grapes are a fruit, this should come as no surprise. Of course, some wines are "fruitier" than others. This can be attributed to better winemaking techniques that bring out more of the fruit character.

Jammy - A negative tasting term, jammy wines are those that taste of baked, cooked, or stewed fruit. You want wines to be fruity, but not overdone.

Oaky - Oak is good, too much oak is, well, oaky. This term is used if the wine was given too much oak treatment. You'll know as the wine will smell and taste of freshly sawn wood. This descriptor is extremely subjective as folks can differ on their "oaky" threshold.

Lean - Lean wines are high in acidity and low on fruit, mostly used as a negative term.

So, come on in to Bluegrass an pick up a few bottles to share with friends. Try using these terms (with a stuffy French accent!) to describe what you're smelling and tasting. And let us know about it on Facebook!