The Definitive Wine Glossary

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One of the things we give ears most often when we take people out into the local wine scene is the overwhelming confusion when people use words like angular or laser-like to try define wine.

What does it mean? What in the world are they mentioning? And mostly, how can you reduce that deer in the headlight look when someone says to you” I love a toasty, fleshy wine … what do you like?”

Well, hide in the supermarket wine isle no more! Here is the definite list of wine geek description and what they mean to the rest of us!

ACIDITY.
Wines with high acidity are zesty and tart. Red wines have a lighter color and more tart characteristics (versus “round”). White wines are often described with characteristics similar to lemon or lime juice.

ANGULAR.
An angular wine seems like putting a triangle in your mouth– it hits you in specific places with high impact and not elsewhere. It’s like having punched in the arm in the same place over and again. An angular wine also has high acidity.

AUSTERE.
This is a very unfriendly wine. It hits your mouth and then turns it inside out. It commonly means the wine has very high acidity and very little fruit flavors. An austere wine is opulent nor not fruit-forward.

BARNYARD.
This means the wine smells like poo. It’s never used anymore describing a wine, unless the wine writer is trying to dig that wine an early grave.

BIG.
Big describes a wine with massive flavor in your mouth that takes up all sections of your mouth and tongue. A big wine is not necessarily a fruit-forward wine, it can also mean that it has big tannins.

BRIGHT.
Bright wines are higher in acidity and make your mouth water. GO TO ACIDITY.

BUTTERY.
A wine with buttery characteristics has been aged in oak and is flat and rich (less Acidity). A buttery wine often has a cream-like texture that hits the middle of your tongue almost like oil (or butter) and has a smooth finish.

CASSIS.
The least fruit-like of all dark fruits. When writers mention cassis, they are often thinking of the gritty and seedy character of actual black currants. Homework assignment: try a black currant and report back.

CHARCOAL.
A wine that is described as tasting like charcoal tastes gritty, it’s usually dry (with higher tannins)and has this rustic flavor. Charcoal is often connected with a similar quality: pencil lead (but less refined).

CHEWY TANNINS.
When you take a sip of wine with chewy tannins, it dries out the interior of your mouth so that you “chew” or clean the tannins out of the insides of your mouth.

CIGAR BOX.
Cigar box flavors are hinting toward sweetness and cedar-wood with an abundance of smoke. When they find a wine they wish they could just slowly sip on a leather chair, this is a super positive and desirable characteristic that wine writers love to use.

COMPLEX.
A complex wine simply means that when you taste it, the flavor changes from the moment you taste it to the moment you swallow. As long as I love complex wines, using the word “complex” to identify a wine is a cop-out unless you go on to describe how it’s complex.

CREAMY.
Creamy is a popular description for sparkling wines and white wines fermented or aged in oak. In Champagne, creamy is a favored characteristic that is associated with the famous bottles of bubbly … such as Krug. Because of something called Malo-Lactic conversion, a creamy wine could be in part. Look for creamy in chardonnay if you like buttery. If you like smooth, look for creamy in cabernet Sauvignon.

CRISP.
The word Crisp with wine is more often used to describe white wine. A crisp wine is most likely simple but goes really well with a porch swing on a hot day.

DENSE.
When a wine writer pairs down his lengthy description of flavors and properties of a wine into one word, he uses dense. Dense is favored for use in bold red wines such as cabernet Sauvignon, Côtes du Rhône, and Brunello di Montalcino but often isn’t a positive characteristic in other wines because it implies that the wine is handicapped.

EARTHY.
A classic go-to move for a wine writer trying to define that awkward green and distressing finish on the wine. They don’t want to hate on the wine; they just want you to know that if you don’t like the wine it means you don’t like earthy, and you’re a bad person.

ELEGANT.
When a wine writer says elegant, he implies that the wine is NOT big, NOT fruity, NOT bold and not opulent. Off-vintages are often referred to as elegant vintages as they have higher acid and tend to have more ‘green’ characteristics. Elegant wines may taste like crap when they first release, but they also tend to age better. Elegant is that retired ballerina who puts the fat-nsassy retired cheerleaders to shame.

FAT.
Wide, Big, Massive, Opulent: These are all similar synonyms of fat. Because it’s flabby, turns out fat is the least desirable of all of them. A fat wine comes in and takes up all the room in your mouth and hangs in awkward places.

FLABBY.
Flabby means the wine has no acidity. It’s a negative connotation so don’t say it to a wine maker! They will spear you with their forklift.

FLAMBOYANT.
A flamboyant wine is trying to acquire your attention with an abundance of fruit. The writer picks up on this and calls it out. No joke.

FLESHY.
Imagine the iron-laden sensation of having a piece of raw steak in your mouth that is fleshy. Do you like Wine Folly?

FOOD FRIENDLY.
This wine falls on its face unless you have it with food. It’s lacking something that eating something will fulfill. Consider; wines that stand on their own are better drunk without food.

Doh!
GRIP or GRIPPY TANNINS With each succeeding sip, your mouth dries up similar to how my mouth did in the Minerality Tastes Like Rocks? video. Wine with grip is hard to drink, better to sip.

HINT OF.
Hint of = This-Wine-Definitely-Has-This-Character-Especially-on-the-Finish. Expect things like oak, herbs, fruits, and soil or gym socks in the flavor when there is a hint of it in the description.

INTELLECTUALLY SATISFYING.
This is a rare, but special occurring term used by one of the most famous wine critics, Robert Parker. If you are not satisfied by this wine on a hedonistic and intellectual level then you don’t deserve to drink it, Robert Parker is sure that. This is probably true, because these words are reserved for the wines we can’t afford anyway … sadface.

JAMMY.
Sommeliers and wine experts cringe when they hear this term while the rest of us delight. Jam is delicious, and it is part of the PB&J experience. In wine, jammy indicates a wine with a cooked berry sweetness that is syrupy and often is used to describe American wines like zinfandel, grenache, cabernet franc and Australian shiraz … don’t be a hater.

JUICY.
Juicy like the wine was grape juice just a moment ago.

LASER-LIKE.
Another one of Robert Parker’s idioms that I can help mentioning. GO TO DENSE.

LEES.
Lees are an actual winemaking term describing the dead bits of yeast particles that generally sink to the bottom of a wine. Lees are stirred up once a day to make a wine have a thicker, more oily, creamy texture.

MINERALLY.
Imagine that smell of fresh wet concrete; now imagine that flavor in your mouth. Don’t worry we did if you don’t have time to lick the concrete.

OAKED.
Oh oak! The ultimate non-grape impact to the flavors in wine. In white wine it adds butter, vanilla and sometimes coconut. In red wine it adds flavors often referred to as baking spices, vanilla and sometimes dill. There is a milieu of different countries that make oak wine barrels and wine geeks freak out over who makes the best (American v. France). We don’t vote.

OPULENT.
This word is a baseline word to a style of wine that is rich, bold and smooth. If you are a rich, smooth, bold wine guy, “Opulent” is your word.

REFINED.
Refined is a subset of elegant wines. These wines have the “less is more” ideology about them.

SILKY.
Silky is the red-wine equivalent word to creamy with white wines. Then you will most likely enjoy silky on your tongue, if you like silky for bed sheets. GO TO CREAMY, VELVETY.

STEELY.
A steely wine has higher acid and sharper edges. It is the man-ballerina of wine.

STRUCTURED.
A structured wine has high tannin and acid and is hard to drink. People say “structured” because they think that if you give the wine a few years, it’ll soften up and be yummy. GO TO AUSTERE.

TIGHT.
This wine is not ready to drink. When I taste a tight wine it usually has very high tannins, hard to identify fruit characteristics and is hard-to-drink. This wine could take advantage of being decanted (see How to Decant Wine).

TOASTY.
Toasty is most commonly a reference to a wine that’s oak-aged in Medium Plus Toasted Oak. It doesn’t taste like toast (sorry to disappoint) it’s more like slightly burnt caramel on the finish.

UNCTUOUS.
When a wine is unctuous, it is oily.

UNOAKED.
A wine that is unoaked doesn’t have vanilla, cream, butter or baking spices in it. An unoaked white wine is more zesty with lemony flavors (see Minerally), while an unoaked red wine tends to be more tart.

VELVETLY.
Lush, smooth and silky are all synonyms of a velvety wine. To imagine velvety, visualize watching perfectly smooth chocolate pouring into a mold on a Dove chocolate commercial.

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