Unless you’re a professional sommelier, you’re probably in the majority of people who don’t feel particularly comfortable describing the taste and experience of a wine. The terms often employed by wine-tasting experts is so alien to most of us that it just comes across as slightly pretentious and more than a little confusing.
But while it may be intimidating to the uninitiated, the phraseology utilised by wine aficionados is actually surprisingly functional, and not too difficult to understand once you get to grips with a few key terms, and their intended meaning in this specific scenario.
So to help you out, whether you’re reading wine reviews or trying to find the perfect food and wine pairing, here’s a quick guide to some of the most common wine tasting terms:
Fleshy – often used to describe a concentration of flavours, and most commonly associated with wines that have a low acidity level.
Forward – this is used in relation to when a wine is ready to drink, as traditionally wines improve with age and many are considered not ‘ready’ for years or even decades. A forward wine is considered ready to drink early on.
Full-bodied – wines with a high concentration of fruit flavours and a high alcohol level are usually described as ‘full bodied’.
Length – this term is used to describe how long you can taste a wine once you’ve swallowed it. Generally this is related to quality, as the longer the length (i.e. the longer the flavour lingers after swallowing), the higher the quality of the wine.
Oxidised – this is a negative term used to describe a wine that is too old or has lost its freshness. Often it’s used to describe wine that has a stale taste and/or smell.
Rich – often used to describe wines with a high concentration of ripe fruit flavours.
Soft – wines that are particularly fruity, especially where the acidity levels are balanced.
Tannin – a very common word in relation to wine, tannin is mainly found in red wines and comes from the skins of the grape. It causes a mouth-drying sensation that can be felt strongly in the gums, mouth and tongue.
Unctuous – my personal favourite, it describes a wine that features layers of concentrated fruit flavours, and is usually used in relation to sweet wines.