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  • Jancis Robinson
Written by
  • Jancis Robinson
24 Oct 2006


The following alphabetical list is a comprehensive guide to the words most commonly used by professionals.


(B) is for bad - descriptive terms generally used to criticise wines.

(G) is for good - those that are usually used to praise wines.


ACETIC, the most common volatile acid. Often found in cool-fermented white wines but a fault when present in excess.


AFTERTASTE, strictly the flavour(s) left after the wine is swallowed, although it is often used interchangeably with finish (see below).


AROMA describes a simple, often fruity smell or flavour present in young wine (c f bouquet). Wines with very strong smells are described as AROMATIC.


ASTRINGENT, critical term usually used for white wines, and sometimes for reds, with a high level of tannins. (B)


BALANCED, a wine in which all dimensions - acidity, sweetness, tannins, alcohol - make a harmonious whole (although tasters are indulgent about high tannin levels in young red wines). (G)


BLIND TASTING, an attempt to identify and/or assess wines without knowing their identity. Masked bottles, not blindfolded humans are involved. 'Single blind' means that tasters know roughly what they are tasting but not the identity of individual bottles. 'Double blind' means that they don't know anything about the wines.


BODY, important characteristic of a wine that is determined chiefly by its alcoholic strength, but also by its extract. The more body a wine has the less like water it tastes.


BOTTLE AGE, the mellowing effect of years spent inside a bottle. .


BOUQUET, flowery word used for the much more complex and multi-layered smells or flavours which develop as a result of ageing wine in barrels and bottles c f aroma.


CHEWY, some but not obtrusive tannins.


CLOSED, not very smelly, assumed because of its early stage of maturity.


CONCENTRATED, good extract and/or intense flavour(s). (G)


CORKED, wine that has been spoilt and smells off puttingly mouldy because the cork has been tainted.  (very B)  


CRISP, perceptible acidity, generally used for white wines. (G)


DRIED OUT, old wine in which the initial fruit has faded leaving a deficit of flavour and extract. (B)


DUMB, not smelly.


EXTRACT, important dimension of a wine, the sum of its solids, including phenolics, sugars, minerals and glycerol.


FINISH, the sensory impact of a wine after it has been swallowed (or spat). Wines can be said to have a long or short finish.


FIRM, with perceptible tannins. (G)


FLABBY, too low in acid. (B)


FLAVOUR. See aroma.


FORWARD, having aged more rapidly than expected.


FRESH, attractively acid (inevitably coupled with the next-but-one term for wines like Beaujolais). (G)


FRUIT is the youthful combination of flavour (aroma) and body that derives from the grapes rather than the wine-making or ageing process.


FRUITY is used either to describe wines with good fruit or, often as white wine marketing speak, as a euphemism for slightly sweet.


FULL, or FULL-BODIED, wine with considerable body.


GREEN, too acid. (B)


HARD, too tannic. (B)


HORIZONTAL TASTING, a comparative tasting of different but related representatives of the same vintage.


HOLLOW, lacking fruit. (B)


HOT, too alcoholic, leaving a burning sensation on the palate. (B)


LEAN, lacking fruit but not acid. (B)


LEGS, see tears.


LENGTH, persistence of the tasting experience on olfactory area and mouth after swallowing. Such a wine may be called LONG. (G)


LIFT(ED), wine with a perceptible but not excessive level of volatility.


LIGHT, or LIGHT BODIED, with relatively little body.


MADERIZED, harmfully exposed to both oxygen and heat. (G for madeira but otherwise B)


MATURE, probably aged to its full potential. (G)


MELLOW, sometimes used in red wine marketing speak as a euphemism for sweet.


MIDDLE PALATE, jargon for the overall impact of a wine in the mouth as in 'There's not much fruit on the middle palate'.


MOUTH FEEL, the physical impact of a wine on the mouth, its texture. Tannins and body surely play a role here.


NOSE can be used as both noun and verb, as in 'It's a bit dumb on the nose' and 'Have you NOSED this one?'


OXIDIZED, harmfully exposed to oxygen.  (B)


POWERFUL, high level of alcohol or extract. (G in this competitive day and age)


RICH, with some apparent sweetness; curiously, much more complimentary than 'sweet'. (G)


ROUND, good body and not too much tannin. (G)


SHORT, opposite of long. (B)


SOFT, not much tannin.


SPRITZ(IG), slightly gassy.


SUPPLE, not too tannic. (G)


TANNIC, aggressive tannins. Ripeness and management of tannins is just as important as actual total tannin level. All young red wines destined for ageing are expected to have some tannins, but these should ideally be counterbalanced by fruit. (B, in excess)


TART, very acid. (B)


TCA, short for trichloroanisole, the mouldy-smelling compound most usually associated with cork taint (see CORKED).


TEARS, the colourless streams left on the inside of a wine glass after a relatively alcoholic wine, more than about 13 per cent, has been swirled. They have nothing to do with glycerol.


VERTICAL TASTING, a comparative tasting of different vintages from the same provenance.


VOLATILE, a wine with such a high level of volatile, not particularly stable, acids that it smells almost vinegary. (B)