Wine Tasting Basics: Words To Describe Wine
You may have heard many odd words to describe wine. You may have heard adjectives like “astringent” or “woody” used to describe wine and not really known what to make of it. Welcome to the club.
The truth is that there is an accepted connotation behind a lot of these seemingly random words to describe wine. For instance, when vintners, oenophiles or just your average joe wine taster use the term tart – usually in a negative sense – they mean that the wine is sharp or overly acidic.
Tart could also mean that the grapes that comprise the wine weren’t allowed to fully ripen. Some red wines from the Bordeaux region are prone to getting called tart because Bordeaux is often made from slightly immature red grapes and can initially be a slightly uncompromising.
Sometimes you’ll hear this type of wine called tannic as well. Tannins are the polyphenols in wine that lend a dry taste. This is really a double-edged sword because tannins give wine its dry and astringent taste while also providing wine’s overall complexity.
Another advantage of putting tannins in wine is that the inchoate red grapes especially rich in tannins preserve better than their riper counterparts. Ideally, natural aging of your favorite wine slowly reduces the tannin content while softening the wine and balancing out the flavor.
Vintners put tannins in wine to make the taste more complex and dry out the “broad” elements in the wine. So, what the heck are the “broad” parts of wine? Don’t worry: this isn’t a misogynistic term it’s just another of those words to describe wine!
Actually, when a wine is said to be “broad” that means that it may be full-bodied but nonetheless missing a certain tannic or astringent element that would make it more complex. It’s often said that a wine’s missing some finesse when it’s overly broad – a full-bodied wine yet somewhat lacking in overall balance.
Find the Balance
Wine is really about getting the balances right. The balance between “broad” and “astringent” as well as the balance between a wine being “sharp” and “smooth.”
If a wine is sharp that means that it simply has too much overall acidity and makes your mouth pucker. This is a problem that chronically plagues some white wines.
The opposite problem, if you will, is a wine that is broad and short. The term “short” here means that the wine is overly bland and doesn’t leave a very discernible aftertaste in the mouth at all.
On the contrary, when you hear that a wine is smooth then you’ll want to try it out. That’s because a smooth wine has a very pleasant texture with little or no grit present. The sensation on the palette is, well, smooth and you’ll notice that while the wine is full-bodied it’s also astringent enough to create a dynamic taste.
So far we’ve mostly dealt with adjectives that connote either a positive or negative tasting experience. A word like “sweet” when used to describe wine, however, is almost value neutral.
Why? Because sweet simply means that there are some notes of residual sugar in the wine, perhaps caused by prolonged fermentation. This isn’t necessarily a problem and, in fact, a lot of wine tasters go for a sweeter, more astringent taste.
A sweet wine could also mean that grapes with a richer sugar content were used. If that same wine were said to be somewhat “woody” that would mean that the wine had an oaky aftertaste from being housed in a wood barrel during the maturation process.
If this is done right then the resulting wine is called vigorous (lively and mature) and you get a balanced final product.