Wine tasters use descriptions to evaluate the sensory examination of the wines they taste. The terminology can relate to learning a new language thus giving a better understanding and assists in dissipating any mystique which may have arisen relating to the aspects of wine tasting.
Wine tasting is generally divided into 4 sections
1) Color or appearance; 2) Smell or bouquet; 3) Taste or flavour; 4) Finish or aftertaste.
Each section has a variety of words to describe them.
1) Color or appearance – red and white wines have to be described separately. First hold the wine up to the light or in front of a white A4 sheet of plain paper. The terminology is self- explanatory with descriptions for red wine being ruby, purple, tile-red, medium deep and opaque; white wine, pale yellow, yellow green, yellow gold, bright and clear.
2) Smell, aroma or bouquet – many words have been used to describe the bouquet with usual descriptions for red wine being aromatic, berrylike refers to the quality of the rich autumnal fruits such as blackberry, blackcurrant, cherry, plum, damson. Spicy and peppery can refer to the pungency with hints of cinnamon and anise; smokey is usually applied to wines that have been stored in charred oakwood barrels. White wine can be described as fragrant, flowery, citrusy, reminiscent of lemon or citric fruits (acidic) and then think of the summer fruits such as apricot and peach; tropical fruits such as mango or even green pepper; maybe a mineral aroma emerges.
3) Taste or flavour – this refers to the basic sensations experienced by the tongue, the tip will register ‘sweetness’ – residual sugar or glycerine, a little further back at the sides the taste will be ‘salty’; behind that a ‘sour’ taste denoting the acidity will emerge and finally ‘bitterness’ at the near rear centre of the tongue will denote the tannin content of the wine.
4) Finish or aftertaste – this refers to the taste left in the mouth after swallowing and is further described as ‘harsh’ – these generally have a high tannin content and aren’t particularly enjoyable but they may improve with time; ‘hot’ – this gives a prickling or burning sensation which is enjoyable in fortified wines but certainly not in light wines. A ‘soft’ wine has little or no impact on the palate and is often used to describe low alcohol wines. The aftertaste can be lingering with 20 seconds being excellent; short – doesn’t linger; smooth, tannic or non-existent.
A brief run down on popular terminology follows:
Acetic – contains acetic acid or vinegar
Age – white wine can be greenish when young turning to yellow/gold amber as it ages. Red wine tends to have a purplish color when young with Bordeaux turning to a deep red and Burgundy becoming ‘tile red’. Rose wines should remain pink.
Attractive – the taster liked it.
Austere – dry can be hard and acidic without depth and roundness
Balance – denotes the harmonious balance of the wine with acidity balancing sweetness; fruit balances the oak and tannin; alcohol balances against the acidity and flavor. Wine not in balance can be acidic, cloying – too sweet; flat – tastes insipid and lacks flavor; harsh or bitter describe a high tannin content and may improve in time
Body – the effect on the taster’s palate and can be full – fills the mouth with a winey taste, meaty – has so much body almost as though you could ‘chew’ it; weighty – well balanced with a slight excessiveness of flavor
Breathing – pouring or decanting the wine into another container to release the aromas
Brilliant – clear
Buttery – a silk like or creamy taste found in good white wines
Cedar – aroma found in fine red wines
Charming – denotes lightness that doesn’t reach the first expectation
Cloudy – not a good description unless it is a cellar aged wine it usually denotes a mistake in the wine
Complex – separate layers of flavor that may confuse the palate
Delicate – mild
Depth – fills the mouth with a developing flavor that needs more attention
Fortified – alcohol has been added usually in the form of brandy or a sweet wine drunk with dessert
Dry – possesses little if any sweetness
Easy – undemanding
Fleshy – body and texture
Fresh – lively and youthful usually used to describe young light reds or white wine
Fruity – refers to the body where good ripe grapes have been used
Hearty – full and warm
Lean or thin – too much astringency which can be suitable in some wines
Lush – has large amounts of residual sugar
Meagre – lacks body and depth
Musty – has a mildew or mouldy aroma
Nose – aroma or bouquet
Nutty – to describe table wines that have been exposed to the air – can be a flaw but also acceptable in some wines
Rich – a full and opulent flavor
Rotten egg – smell of hydrogen sulphide gas in the wine
Round – gives sense of completeness without any component dominating
Sharp – excess acid
Stale – lifeless and stagnant
Well-balanced – contains all the essential components
Yeasty – yeasts carried on grape skins and moulds – can be acceptable unless it is too pronounced.
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