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242 Cards in this Set

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Easy to drink, ready to enjoy. May imply unexpected readiness in a wine that usually requires aging.
Acid, acidity
The tart (or in excess, sour) quality that wine's natural acidity imparts and that gives the wine a sense of body and structure. Required for proper balance; too much or too little constitutes a flaw.
The flavor that remains after you swallow. Surprisingly, this may differ significantly from the taste while the wine is in your mouth. A lingering aftertaste is a virtue, as long as the taste is good!
Contributes to the wine's body and texture (which is one reason why non-alcoholic wines don't taste "natural"); but if the wine is so strong that the presence of alcohol communicates itself as a raw heat, may be a flaw.
A light bitter, nutlike quality sometimes noted in Italian white wines.
Faint licorice, a pleasant element in some Spanish reds; may indicate, however, that the wine has been artificially acidified, a practice that may improve short-term enjoyment but tends to make wines that cellar poorly.
Pleasant apple-fruit aroma, particularly characteristic of Chardonnays made without excessive oak.
Tart apple and red-fruit flavor, often noted in red wines of Languedoc and Provence.
Apricot flavors are often noted in sweet white wines, particularly if affected by botyrtis (see below).
Mouth-puckering, usually noted in tannic reds like immature Cabernet Sauvignon.
A technical term for the first impression the wine makes as it reaches your palate, distinguished (in time sequence) from "middle" or "mid-palate" and "finish" or "aftertaste."
May denote either (1) Simple, one-dimensional; usually applied to young wines of ageworthy quality to denote unrealized potential; or (2) Light yet acidic, not necessarily simple, as in a Chablis.
The sense of structure present in a wine with sufficient acidity. See also "structure" below and note that alcohol and tannins may also be elements of structure or backbone.
All desirable elements present in proper proportion: Acidity, fruit and, where appropriate, tannins.
Specific aroma descriptor, often found in Beaujolais, and specifically in the popular wines made by Georges Duboeuf; it's said to be characteristic of his proprietary yeast strain.
"Earthy," "organic" character reminiscent of country lanes. Expected in red Burgundies, and in proportion, considered desirable.
Resembling Beaujolais: Light, fruity and fresh, a wine more for quaffing than contemplation.
A broad, general term for a full-bodied, flavorful wine. See also "robust," below.
Not common in wines but found occasionally -- particularly in the aftertaste, and usually in subtle, refreshing form -- in some Italian wines and Alsatian whites.
Black cherry
Quite common in red wines, particularly Merlot, Pinot Noir and Chiantis.
Black coffee
A "burnt," slightly bitter quality, often found in mature California Cabernets.
Black fruit
A catchall term for mixed black-cherry, blackberry, plum and similar fruit aromas, commonplace in many good red wines.
Black pepper
Fragrant, floral, and distinctively peppery. A trademark of Syrah, also found in Grenache, Carignan, Petite Sirah.
A common descriptor for young Zinfandels.
"Cassis" in French, a fruity and herbaceous quality that's the hallmark of red Bordeaux.
Another specific fruit description. Not common, but I often find it in Cabernet Franc.
The overall texture or weight of wine in the mouth, most influenced by alcohol, glycerin and, in the case of dessert wines, sugar. See "light-bodied," "medium-bodied" and "full-bodied."
The desirable rot ("Edelfaule" in German) that afflicts grapes -- particularly Riesling -- late in the harvest season, causing the grapes to dry and shrivel, concentrating the sugar in intensely sweet juice that makes memorable dessert wines. Manifests itself in the finished wine as a delicious honey-apricot flavor.
Bouquet, bottle bouquet
As a technical term, the smells that develop with age in the wine bottle, as opposed to "aroma," the smells associated with the fruit. I have little use for distinctions this narrow and try to avoid using them in my wine notes.
Aromatic shrub reminiscent of cat urine (really!) and thus a euphemism for the more pungent "cat spray" or "cat pee" descriptor (see below) found in some Sauvignon Blancs.
Bramble fruit
Botanical term for blackberries and raspberries, the trademark of Zinfandel.
Color description for many white wines: Greenish-gold.
Brett, brettanomyces
A wild yeast that occasionally afflicts wines, particularly those made under less-than-sterile conditions in older or careless wineries. Controversial; some wine lovers detest the "organic," "barnyard," "leather," "metallic" or even "fecal" aroma that it imparts; others regard it -- at least in minute amounts -- as an element of complexity and a classic characteristic of older red Burgundies and Rhone wines, some Bordeaux and Italian properties and, rarely and always controversially, California Cabernets.
As a color, transparent; as a flavor, high but not excessive in acidity.
A visual term: Exceptionally clear and transparent.
A subjective description for a heavy, intense red wine with depths of complexity; may also refer to a wine of this type that's "closed" or "dumb" (see below) but that shows a sense of hidden glories.
Brown sugar
Not sweetness but a pleasant caramel aroma.
Burnt match
Always a flaw, the smell of a just-extinguished match suggests negligently excessive use of sulfur in wine making.
Butter, buttery
As the name suggests, an obvious taste of butter in the wine. Common in Chardonnays, especially from California, it's often a sign that the wine has gone through "malolactic fermentation" (see below).
Candied, candied fruit
Specific flavor descriptor, just like the bits of fruit found in the traditional holiday fruitcake. I often find it in California Central Coast Pinot Noirs; used to hate it, now love it. One's tastes do change.
As the name indicates. This and other melon flavors are typical of Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Pinot Grigio and Chenin Blanc.
As with burnt-sugar above, a sweet, sugary aroma, not unpleasant, but I often wonder if it hints that the wine was chaptalized (sugar added to increase the alcoholic level in wine made with less than fully ripened fruit); more likely, however, it speaks of toasted oak.
Carbonic maceration
The Beaujolais process, in which whole grapes are fermented without crushing. Creates a very fruity wine with characteristic aromas of bananas, strawberries and cotton candy and often a salad-dressing whiff of vinegar within palatable limits.
French blackcurrant liqueur, classic description for the aroma of red Bordeaux.
Cat spray
An earthily descriptive name (see "boxwood," above) for a pungently musky quality that appears in some Sauvignon Blancs. Although it may sound repellent, many tasters adore it in a white wine -- and I'm one of 'em.
Technical French term that quantifies a wine's "length:" 1 second of finish equals 1 Caudalie.
Check an old-fashioned cedar chest to sample this herbaceous aroma, which is often found in Bordeaux and California Cabernet.
Organic, ripe natural cheese aromas, almost always a flaw, typically indicating filthy wine making and an unwanted secondary fermentation in the bottle.
Akin to black fruit (above), a delightful fruit combination often noted in good red wines.
Specific, descriptive aroma and flavor description, classic in Meursault but often present in other White Burgundies and more rarely in Chardonnays from other regions.
Chewy, chunky
A textural description for a wine so full-bodied that it almost seems as if you could chew it.
Chile pepper
Extreme manifestation of herbaceous qualities in Sauvignon Blanc. Some hate it; some love it. I love it, especially as manifest in one of my favorite Sauvignons, Cloudy Bay from New Zealand.
Chocolate, dark-chocolate
Not sweet but rich, pleasantly "burnt" flavor, usually in robust red wines. In some cases may be associated with aging in oak barrels.
Cigar box
Mixed cedar and tobacco, a surprisingly lovely scent that's typical of some fine Bordeaux.
Generic citrus fruit, a pleasurable element in many whites.
Overall description for a wine with no unpleasant or "off" aromas or tastes.
Hidden. One context: Intense fruit "cloaks" astringent tannins.
Showing little aroma or flavor. May be a temporary condition (akin to "dumb," below) in an ageworthy wine that is past its youth but not yet mature.
Spicy flavor -- look for it in Spanish Rioja -- often associated with oak.
Too sweet, without balancing acidity. When sweetness and acid are in good balance, the result is the natural, fresh sweetness of good fruit juice. Lacking acidic balance, you have the artificial, cloying sweetness of a Life-Saver.
Unexpected but pleasant character, notable in a few good Languedoc reds, said to be characteristic of grapes grown in the local soil -- Domaine Dragon is an intense example -- although in wines of other regions, it likely reflects the influence of American oak.
Containing many elements with none necessarily dominant. May or may not be "delicate" or "subtle," see below.
As I use it, refers to a wine's aroma, taste and aftertaste all being appropriate to each other.
Corked, corky
Always a flaw: Wine afflicted by an undetectable cork fungus (2,4,6-TCA) that imparts an unpleasant musty, damp-cardboard flavor that obliterates all other aromas and flavors in the wine. (Nuance: I've been reminded, correctly, that mild corkiness may diminish the aromas and flavors of a wine without fully overwhelming them; in any case, however, I consider it a fatal flaw.)
Cotton candy
Just like the pink, sugary stuff sold at carnivals; often detected in Beaujolais and wines made by the carbonic maceration process (see above).
Country-style, country wine
General term for inexpensive wines designed for casual consumption at the table; not a pejorative, just a statement of fact, although wine snobs may call such a wine "coarse." See "spaghetti wine." In the U.S., may also refer to the old-fashioned wines made from native American grapes, Concord, Scuppernong and Muscadines. (See "foxy.")
A textural description that I use most often in discussing Champagnes and sparkling wines.
Acidic tartness noticeable without overwhelming; a favorable term, typical of good whites.
As a visual term, a red wine of intense color. As a flavor term, akin to "brooding," above, a robust wine with depth and texture.
Like the fruit; akin to "tropical fruit," below.
Complex, with many flavors working together, but not overbearing. If it were a painting, it would be in pastels, not poster paint.
Next to "merde," one of the most difficult terms to explain to people who aren't into wine appreciation. Anyone who's ever been stuck in traffic behind a city bus can't imagine that "diesel" or "bus exhaust" or "petrol" (see below) could be a favorable description, but take one whiff of a fine, well-aged Rhine Riesling, and you'll be converted. And if you can't handle the term, call it "mineral" instead.
Obviously like the herb. Characteristic of red wines aged in American oak. Found in many Australian Cabernet Sauvignons and a few from California.
Dirty socks
As the name implies, always an unpleasant flaw and a sign of incompetent wine making. (It has been called to my attention, though, that in rare Burgundies like well-aged Bonnes Mares, a whiff of this may be acceptable; also note the relationship between this unappetizing descriptor and ripe cheeses such as Gruyere. Compare "merde," below.)
The aroma or flavor in question outweighs everything else in the wine. Not usually a favorable description; inimical to "balance."
Not the opposite of "wet," of course, but the opposite of "sweet." A fully dry wine contains no residual sugar. Most table wines are dry, because dry wines seem to work best in company with food.
See "closed" above: An ageworthy wine that has lost its youthful fruit but not yet gained the complex bouquet of bottle age, and not showing much of anything during the interim.
Generic term for a range of aromas and flavors associated with organic qualities like "barnyard," "forest floor," "merde" and "tree bark." May be associated with brettanomyces (see above) but can also result from oak aging or the nature of specific grapes. Mourvedre, for instance, imparts a characteristic earthy aroma. Again, not necessarily a fault, but "earthy" wines tend to be controversial, and a little bit is usually enough.
A secret wine-taster's term meaning "I can't figure out what in the hell this wine smells like."
Very aromatic quality, akin to mint, classic in some Napa Cabernets, yielding endless discussion as to whether the presence of eucalyptus trees alongside Napa's Martha's Vineyard (for example) directly affects the wine.
The development of complex and desirable aromas and flavors (see "bouquet" above) in ageworthy wine cellared under appropriate temperature conditions.
As with "dates," an aroma reminiscent of the fruit. May show in oaky Chardonnays or Sauvignon Blancs.
A wine-taster's synonym for "aftertaste" (above), the flavors remaining in your mouth after the wine is swallowed.
Flat, fat, flabby
Critical term for a wine without sufficient acidity, therefore lacking "structure."
Floral, Flowery
General term for a wine with aromas more reminiscent of flowers than fruit. May be very pleasant, especially in white wines.
Forest floor
A light, attractive form of "earthiness" in a wine, a damp and "green" flavor reminiscent of leaves and moss.
A wine that reaches out to you with full aromas and flavors that, as I'll occasionally note in a highly positive metaphor, "leap out of the glass."
Strong "grape jelly" aroma and flavor characteristic of native American grapes like Concord and sometimes found in more subtle form in red French-hybrid grapes. Probably coined by early settlers in the Americas who called the native grapes fox grapes by analogy with the fable about the fox and the grapes. Foxy wines are not generally well thought of by serious wine lovers, but a well-made Concord wine (or Scuppernong or Muscadine in the American South) can be a pleasant change of pace.
An older wine, fully mature, of such age that it's declining.
General term for a wine with a full, accessible aroma.
General term for a wine with good, pleasant fruit aromas and flavors.
Fruit bomb
A rather jocular term for a wine in which forward fruit dominates the flavor profile. Although such a wine is almost always pleasant to drink, the term implies a lack of balance, with fruit excessive for the wine's acidic structure.
Fruit, fruity
Overall description for wines in which fruitiness is the predominant quality without any specific fruitiness coming forward.
Full, full-bodied
A textural description for a wine that feels full and weighty on the palate, typically associated with wines of relatively high alcoholic content.
Modern slang for an "earthy" wine with strongly organic qualities, may be complimentary, neutral or negative depending on its intensity and the taster's personal preference.
Another spin on "earthy," this one very much as the name implies, marrying meaty and organic qualities. Quite common in older red Rhone wines.
A color description, reddish-purple. I'm not alone among wine tasters in enjoying the metaphor of precious metals and jewels ("gold," "ruby," "garnet") to describe the luxurious appearance of fine wines.
The hillsides of Languedoc and Provence are covered with low, aromatic herbs like lavender, and it's traditional among the wine makers of those regions to report these herbal aromas in their wines. It's a useful term, but I try never to use it in a tasting note without explaining it.
A joking term for an older wine that's well past its peak.
Color description for white wines; a full gold color generally reflects either some age or substantial oak.
Just like the fruit; most commonly found in Sauvignon Blanc, also commonplace in Gewurztraminer.
Surprisingly, since wine is made from grapes, this is not necessarily a positive term. It implies a strong-flavored, one-dimensional wine without the subtlety or character that shows as complex aroma and flavor.
Walk through your lawn after cutting the grass, and you'll never mistake this aroma, often found in Sauvignon Blanc.
General term for the range of herbaceous flavors from grass to green peas.
Green olive
Specific vegetal aroma, often noted in Cabernet Sauvignon. May, surprisingly, be closely chemically related to the typical "blackcurrant" or "cassis" of Cabernet.
Green peas
Specific, and usually delightful, description for a "green" flavor found in some white wines.
Green peppers
Herbaceous/vegetal quality generally thought excessive; once a specific pejorative for reds from California's Monterey region, but modern vineyard management has largely overcome this fault.
Generally applied specifically to Port and sometimes to other robust reds, the combination of acidity and tannin that provides structure underlying the fruit, especially in a younger wine.
Light and refreshing and, well, easy to drink. Not usually applied to the fancier line of wines.
Similar to "grass," only more so.
A specific nutty quality, usually subtle, not commonplace but pleasant when it occurs. I've found it in Italian Tocai Friulano and some dry Spanish whites.
A visual description for a wine that's less than clear. In this age of industrial-produced wines, a hazy sample is a rarity, but some "unfiltered" wines may appear less brilliant than most.
Wine with an exceptionally "forward" or "fragrant" aroma (see both above).
Herbal, herbaceous
General term (see also "vegetal," below) for wines with "green," "grassy" or "haylike" aromas.
Hollow, empty
Lacking substance between the first taste and the finish, as in "hole in the middle" under "middle" below.
Specific flavor and aroma description, characteristic of botrytis (above) but may also appear as a flavor nuance in dry white wines.
Burns the tongue and palate, generally a sign of excessive or unbalanced alcohol.
Think of Hulk Hogan or the Incredible Hulk. My half-humorous term for a wine of massive structure and/or tannins.
As the name implies, a forward wine, even "outrageous," that's anything but subtle. More often than not, I'll use this term in an approving way for a wine that's memorable. Adam Lee's wonderful Siduri 1995 Rose Vineyard Sonoma Pinot Noir, for example.
Very dark to opaque color in a red wine.
So fruity that it's reminiscent of jam or jelly. Often applied to big Zinfandels.
Forward, approachable fruit, not necessarily found in a complex wine, but tasty and pleasing.
Specific herbal type, sometimes found in Provence and Languedoc reds. See also "garrigues."
Lead pencil
Just what the name implies. Odd as it seems, this is a standard description for Chateau Lynch-Bages and many other fine Bordeaux from the Pauillac region.
A "green" and "herbaceous" quality, akin to "forest floor," but usually indicates none of the "earthy" nature of the latter.
Yet another synonym for "acidic," this one suggesting a light wine with sharp acidity, a good food wine.
Another take on "earthy," often found in older reds; may add a specific adjective, as appropriate, such as "bookbinder's leather" or "saddle leather." Maybe even "Corinthian leather ... " In concert with other earthy elements, may also suggest "brett" (above).
Lemon, lemony, lemon-squirt, lemon-lime
Specific citric flavors, commonplace in dry white wines, demonstrating why these wines go so well with seafood and fish, just as fresh lemons do.
The time that the "finish" or "aftertaste" (see above) persists in the mouth; generally, the greater the length, the better the wine. The French actually quantify it, using the term "Caudalie," with one unit of Caudalie equivalent to one second of length. See also "lingering, long" below.
Light, light-bodied, lightweight
Another textural description, indicating a wine that crosses the palate without much of a sense of weight or body. May be associated with low alcoholic content.
A European tree with a strongly aromatic quality that's startlingly reminiscent of Band-Aids. Sorry there's no more felicitous comparison, but "Band-Aid" describes it exactly.
Lingering, long
Aftertaste or finish that persists for an unusually long time.
Also "litchee nut," a popular fruit dessert in Chinese restaurants. Difficult to describe if you haven't tried it, but very characteristic in Gewurztraminer.
Another rather broad term, usually complimentary, indicating that the wine is full of fruit, approachable and well-balanced.
Wine that's turned brown and nutty, like a bad Sherry or Madeira, with bad treatment or excessive age. Synonymous with "oxidized."
A wine-making process in which the wine is put through a special fermentation that converts its malic acid into lactic acid. The result is a soft, mellower wine that some wine lovers find "flabby" but that's very popular in the marketplace.
As in "gamey," above, a specific kind of "earthy" quality, quite literally reminiscent of raw beef, sometimes found in red Rhones.
Herbal aromatics, not necessarily unpleasant, may evoke alcohol or witch hazel (see below).
Medium, medium-bodied
As the name implies, a wine that's neither light-bodied nor heavy-bodied. Because of its middle-of-the-road status, this is rarely worth mentioning in a tasting note.
Melon, muskmelon, musky melon
As with "cantaloupe," a musky, melon aroma that's found in many whites -- Pinots Blanc, Gris and Grigio, also Muscadet and sometimes Riesling.
Yes, it means what you think, and it's been a characteristic (and not necessarily a negative one!) in Burgundy since back at least as far as Voltaire, who used precisely that term to describe it. May be associated with "bretanomyces" (above). Save the dirty jokes; like it or not, it's an element of even the greatest older Burgundies.
Middle, mid-palate
Another technical term (see also "attack" and "finish" or "aftertaste") for the sequence of sensations as the wine hits your palate. This alludes to the impression between first taste and swallowing; you'll sometimes hear a wine described as having "a hole in the middle" if the mid-palate impression isn't up to the attack or the finish.
Difficult-to-describe term that may reflect the "stony" character of Chablis or the trademark flavor of Chateau Haut-Brion, or the odd, almost gasoline-like character (see "petrol" and "diesel") of older Rieslings.
A specific flavor of mint, usually found only in subtle proportions. Often found in California Cabernets (where it's close kin to "eucalyptus") and in Austrian Gruner Veltliner.
As the name implies, undifferentiated berries, typical of Zinfandel and some Languedoc reds.
Similar to "full-bodied," a wine that impresses itself with weight, texture and flavor on the palate.
A mild earthy quality, pleasant in restraint, although a musty, mushroomy quality may also indicate a "corked" wine (above).
Usually an indication that the wine is "corked," although some older wines may show an initial mustiness that blows off with time in the glass. Corked wines never improve with breathing.
Like a radio with the volume turned down, the elements are there, but there just isn't much of them. Not usually a favorable term.
Wine taster's term for the overall smell of a wine, its aroma and bouquet. It sounds a little sniffy to me; I feel awkward using it.
Pleasant spice, akin to "cloves," typical of some reds, particularly those aged in oak.
Nutty, nutlike
Undifferentiated nuts, may be present as a subtle flavor element in any wine or as a predominant characteristic in a Sherry, Madeira or Tawny Port ... or, as above, in a "maderized" wine that's over the hill.
Oak, oaky
Showing substantial influence of the oak barrels in which the wine was aged. This may manifest itself in many forms depending on the wine, the source of the oak, whether the barrels were "toasted" (charred) and whether they are large or small, new or old. Oaky white wines often show such flavors as pineapple and tropical fruit. Oaky reds may show strong vanilla aromas, herbal dill, or spices.
Olive, ripe olive, black olive
An odd but not necessariy unpleasant flavor to find in a wine, turns up occasionally in Mediterranean reds and in some of the more flavorful Sauvignon Blancs and White Bordeaux.
Visual description, too dark to see through.
Orange, orange-peel, tangerine
Specific citrus flavors that I've found in the significantly separated realms of Spanish reds and German whites; it often shows markedly in wines made from red Grenache.
Specific herbal descriptor found in some fine Bordeaux and California Cabernets. I believe it's synonymous with "lead pencil" (above), the classic description of Chateau Lynch-Bages.
Broad, general term for "earthy," "forest floor," "cheesy," "leather," "barnyard" and related aromas and flavors.
Another of my personal terms for a wine that breaks the bounds of everyday status in a noisy way: Big, mouth-filling, intense, powerful, memorable. Always meant positively.
Over the hill
A wine that's been kept too long (or poorly) and is no longer enjoyable. See "geriatric."
Chemical term for "maderized," the reaction that occurs when wine interacts with air in the bottle over years (or, more quickly, after the bottle is opened), and turns brown, Sherrylike and unattractive. A controlled edge of oxidation, however, may be normal and even desirable in an old, ageworthy White Burgundy.
Normally used to focus a wine's color description, as in "pale gold" or "pale garnet."
Easily perceptible; usually modifies "tannins."
Specific fruit description, often found in Riesling or Gewurztraminer and sometimes in dessert wines.
Specific fruit description, typically associated with Chardonnay aged in toasted oak barrels.
Specific nut description, usually subtle (like "hazelnuts") rather than forward (like "walnuts").
Spicy with the fragrant pungence of black pepper. Typical of Rhone and Languedoc reds made from Syrah and Grenache. See "black pepper."
Aroma description, usually reflects a heavy floral quality that may be out of balance.
Persists, persistent
Generally describes the length of a wine's finish or aftertaste, roughly synonymous with "long."
An odd and strangely appealing character in older, well-cellared Rieslings, particularly those from Germany's Rhine and Mosel. See also "diesel" and "mineral."
Modifying "acidity," implies a high level of tart sourness that may be out of balance, although extreme acidity may be an advantage in some wine-food matches.
A specific aromatic description that I find most often married with fresh apples in tasty young German Rieslings.
Specific fruit flavor, often associated with California Chardonnay, particularly if heightened by oak. Primary component of "tropical fruit," below.
Classic description of the peculiarly tiny bubbles that flow in a lasting fountain from the bottom of your glass when very fine Champagne is poured.
Plum, plummy
Very common description for red wines, particularly budget-range reds made from grapes grown in particularly warm climates. (See "country-style" and "spaghetti red."
A somewhat less pejorative rendition of "fat" or "flabby," suggesting a wine that's low in acidity but that brings sufficient fruit to offset the lack of structure -- perhaps like a Rubens in the world of art.
Barely carbonated, to the point where bubbles don't appear but the wine shows a perceptible prickling sensation on the tongue. See "petillant," above.
Like plums, above, but more ripe and one-dimensional still. Not usually the indicator of a subtle or high-end wine.
Another synonym for acidity, the number of synonyms perhaps underscoring the critical nature of acidity to a wine's character. As you might guess, this one implies excessive sourness and is rarely used in a complimentary way.
"Quality-Price Ratio," a term primarily used as a shortcut in online wine talk, a favorable reference to a wine of particularly good value. Sometimes seen as "PQR."
Quaffer, quaffing wine
A wine that's simple but refreshing, prompting easy swigging rather than thoughtful contemplation. See "gulpable."
A particularly approving synonym for "acidic," this one suggesting a wine with a tart-crisp acidic flavor well balanced by fruit in a style that's particularly refreshing.
When perceptible as a specific fruit, generally the sign of a simple table wine made from warm-weather grapes (as in "plums" and "prunes" above). Perfectly acceptable as a subtle element in a flavor mix, though, and reaches nirvana in the typically raisin-flavored Hungarian Tokaji dessert wine.
Obscure wine-tasting term with several conflicting definitions. Perhaps etymologically akin to "rancid" in English, but not so pejorative. Emile Peynaud lists it as synonymous with "maderized" (see above); Alexis Lichine notes that it may represent the "nutty" flavor of Sherry, the "cooked" taste of some California sweet wines, and the "pungent" flavor of Madeira, Marsala and Malaga, and the "characteristic" flavor of older Banyuls from Southwestern France; Amerine and Roessler find it in older, oxidized, usually sweet red wines; and other sources point to it in Cognacs and Brandies de Jerez. The point in this extended series of quotes, frankly, is to suggest that the term is too vague, and too obscure, to be of much use.
Specific fruit description, often found in Zinfandel (see "mixed-berry," "bramble fruit") and Beaujolais.
Red fruit
Broad catchall term for red wines with mixed flavors of apples, raspberries, strawberries, etc., and quite typical of Languedoc reds, among others. Compare "black fruit," above.
Residual sugar
Technical term for the natural sugar that remains in naturally sweet wines after the conversion of fruit sugars into alcohol.
General term for the overall impression of fruit in a wine; a favorable description for a wine in good balance, stops a bit short of "juicy," "jammy" and similar terms describing wines in which fruit is dominant
Rising bread dough
Very specific aroma description for a fresh, yeasty quality that I often find in Champagnes and White Burgundies. Note, however, that Champagne-makers consider this a flaw and prefer the euphemisms "toasty" or "biscuity" to describe this scent. I like it either way.
Rather old-fashioned term, from the French, for a wine's overall color and appearance. Anyone under 60 who uses it is probably being a snob.
Akin to "big" as a description for a full-bodied, full-flavored wine, but perhaps even more so.
Slight, usually acceptable harshness in a wine, characteristic of "country-style" and "spaghetti" wines.
Rubber band
Unpleasant sulfurous flavor. Like "burnt match," it may blow off with time in the glass but indicates the likelihood of excessive sulfuring by the wine maker. Also typical of some French-hybrid reds made in Eastern U.S. wineries.
Reddish-orange. Like "garnet," a jewel color used as a metaphor for fine red wine.
Very specific (and rare) floral-aromatic spice describing an occasional red wine. (I've found it in Spanish and Greek reds.)
Finish or aftertaste that doesn't last. Opposite of "long" or "lingering."
An odd and somewhat controversial description. The French "Pouilly-Fumé" and the imitative American "Fumé Blanc" are said to be based on a purported smoky quality in the wine, but I have never been able to detect it. However, lightly toasted (charred) oak barrels can impart a notably smoky quality to white wines, and some Fumé Blancs in particular take advantage of this.
General textural term, favorable; contrasts with "rough" or "astringent," above.
A low-acid wine, not tart nor sour. Taken to extremes, it yields a wine that's "fat" or "flabby," but within an arm's length of balance, the wine may be palatable, even gulpable; many mass-market wines are consciously made on the soft side.
Acidic. Used alone, generally implies unacceptably over-acidic.
Spaghetti wine
A jovial term for the kind of simple, uncomplicated quaffing wine (see above) that's perfect for washing down spaghetti or pizza. Need not be a negative term, unless you're a wine snob.
Specific aroma description, may be associated with
General term for mixed spices, most often the cinnamon, clove and nutmeg mix that I find typical of some red wines aged in European oak.
Stalky, stemmy
Very specific vegetative descriptions, rather rare, most often found in unappealing Pinot Noir made from young vines or underripe grapes.
A specific kind of acidity that's firm and seemingly metallic, typical of some very fine Sauvignon Blancs such as Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé from the Loire.
Stone fruit
Mixed fruits with pits (stones) like plums, peaches, apricots and prunes; very characteristic of Tawny Port, Australian "ports" and some sweet Sherries.
Akin to "steely," above, but with a distinct mineral quality alongside the metal. Reminiscent of licking on a pebble, something that most little boys do at one time or another. Classic descriptor for Chablis.
Common color in white wines, lighter and less yellow than gold.
Specific fruit aroma descriptor, commonplace in Beaujolais.
Overall term describing a wine's sense of body, largely built, as described above, on acidity, with alcohol and tannins as additional elements.
Complex and balanced; implies more participating elements than "delicate," but balance is critical. A wine that's "outrageous" or "in-your-face" may be complex, but it isn't likely to be subtle.
Tannic, tannins
Containing perceptible tannic acid, a naturally occurring component in ageworthy red wines that imparts a mouth-puckering astringency when the wine is young but that "resolve" (through a chemical process called polymerization) into delicious and complex elements of "bottle bouquet" (above) when the wine is cellared under appropriate temperature conditions, preferably in the range of a constant 55 to 60 F.
Tar, tarry
As with "smoky," above, a somewhat controversial term that not all wine tasters agree on. I suspect it's a blend of "meaty" and "black pepper" flavors in red Rhone wines like Cote-Rotie and Chateauneuf-du-Pape.
Specific herbal description that I've found most often in vegetal reds like Cabernet Franc and some cool-weather Cabernet Sauvignon.
Broad synonym for "acidic." In my tasting vocabulary, it's a positive term for crisp acidity in good balance.
One of my personal terms, akin to "outrageous" or "in-your-face" but perhaps with a little less volume.
Technical French term describing the characteristic aromas and flavors of wine from grapes grown in a particular vineyard or region, incorporating the contributions of both soil and climate to the wine's unique style or "typicity."
Similar to "light-bodied" but usually more critical. Doesn't imply a pleasantly light wine but a bland, uninteresting one.
Technical term for a barely off-dry wine with just sufficient sweetness to be at or near the "threshold of perception" for the average taster. Many California Chardonnays, especially at the low end, are made in this style to appeal to the American public's sweet tooth. (Most frequently encountered in reference to sweetness, by the way, but may be used to discuss barely perceptible quantities of any aroma or flavor element.)
Toast, toasty
Descriptive flavor and aroma term that may result from making wine in lightly toasted or charred oak barrels; I've also found it as an element of unknown origin in fine Champagnes and older Bordeaux.
Tobacco, tobacco-leaf
Specific vegetal aroma quite common in some Bordeaux and California Cabernet.
Tree bark
One of the many variations on "earthy," and a specific descriptor for red wines made from Mourvedre.
Tropical fruit
General term for mixed figs, dates and pineapple, with an emphasis on the latter; highly characteristic of oaky California Chardonnay.
Subtle, earthy mushrooms. The choice of this pricey fungus as a descriptor strongly implies a favorable intent, as is not necessarily the case with its cousin "mushroom."
Catchall term for a wine that gives a broad flavor description that's difficult to specify: "Undifferentiated" fruit. A synonym might be "neutral," and neither term is likely to turn up in the notes on a wine that excites the taster.
Specific spice term, highly characteristic of some wines (particularly Spanish and some California reds) aged in new American oak.
Technical term meaning "type of wine grape." Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Zinfandel, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling are all varietals. In a wine note, "varietal character" means that the wine shows the expected aromas and flavors for the grape from which it is made.
Roughly synonymous with "herbaceous" but probably a bit more negative.
Velvet, velvety
A rather imprecise texture description implying delicious smoothness, classically used to describe red Burgundy and other fine Pinot Noir.
Vinegary, volatile acidity
Acetic acid present. Historically a common sign of poorly made or stored wine, now rare in this age of high-tech industrial wine making. Tiny quantities may be present, and acceptable, in wines made by carbonic maceration (Beaujolais), and, startlingly, fine dessert wines.
Another of those "I don't know what to say" terms implying an undifferentiated, simple "wine" aroma without any elements that really stand out for description.
A truly lovely floral quality characteristic of some Italian reds, particularly Barolo, Barbaresco, and others made from the Nebbiolo grape.
The most overtly nutlike of the various nut descriptors; classic definition for Sherry.
Warm, warming
Usually refers to a wine of high alcoholic strength (see "hot"), but may also describe a simple wine made from warm-weather grapes (see "plummy").
As a visual description, very pale, clear as water. As a flavor description, lacking in flavor, weak.
Another variation on "green" or "herbaceous," typically used in conjunction with "dill" to denote a red wine with a marked American oak character, like Penfolds Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon.
Generalized term for light, delicate flowers in a wine's aroma, one that I almost always greet with pleasure.
Witch hazel
An aromatic medicinal scent, not unpleasant, reminiscent of vermouth.
General term for an oaky wine in which wood characteristics dominate. Not usually complimentary.
Pleasant scent of yeast, often noted in sparkling wines. Compare "rising bread dough."
Usually signifies that a wine is immature and needs cellar time, but may also refer to a wine intended to be drunk young, like Beaujolais.
Another synonym for "acidic," usually implying a significant but not overwhelming level.