Wine has a culture around it that is intimidating. Whether attending a wine-tasting event, or popping a cork for a snazzy evening with your date, you want to be able to talk about wine without sounding like an uncultured oaf. Here is a handy clip-n-save guide to all the fancy terms we use to describe a wine’s flavor. Now you can sound like the snootiest wine snob on the block!
Note that flavor and smell go together. So some terms mean more about the odor (bouquet or aroma) of a wine than its flavor.
Acidity – The sharp or sour flavor; compare the taste of sharp cheddar cheese. All wines should have some acidity, but not too much. A wine with too much acidity is sour and may be oxidized, producing vinegar. Too little acid and the wine will be flabby and dull.
Balance – A wine is balanced if it isn’t too much of any particular characteristic. You want the three components of fruit, tannin, and acid to be in harmony. Be the Zen master!
Body – This describes how concentrated the wine feels in your mouth. A full-bodied wine will have heavy flavor and feel denser, a light wine will taste and feel more like a fruit juice.
Broadness – A wine is said to be broad if it has a full spectrum of tastes and aromas. The more broad, the more complex. The less broad, the more simple. Intellectual types like a wine that is broad and fascinating, so they can play wine professor and bore everyone with half an hour of wine jargon.
Buttery – A taste that is creamy and rich. It also has to be not too acidic. Only certain wines have buttery as a taste goal – notably Chardonnays. Like Marmite, you’ll either love it or you’ll hate it.
Cedar – A taste specific to Bordeaux wines, a cedar taste will be the faint aroma of a cedar chest and an herb-like flavor. Smack your lips and act surprised.
Clean – A simple wine without any taints or traces of quirky flavors. Your average bottle on the shelf at a supermarket is factory-produced and therefore very clean. May also be derogatory, to say that a wine is boring or uninteresting.
Extract – The solid matter left over from the skin and pulp of the grapes, and hence only present in red wines. A wine with heavy extract will have a full body; a wine with even more extract will be jammy.
Finish – The aftertaste. A wine that leaves a strong, lingering aftertaste is said to have a satisfying finish. The finish may be any one of the characteristics of flavor; what’s important is how long it lasts.
Flabby – Boring, flat, dull, uninteresting. This is an insult to the wine; reserve it for the most buttery or fruity wines, or ones that are truly dull. Boxed wine from Walmart.
Flinty – Another characteristic that’s used to describe one specific wine. Flinty, as the name suggests, has a taint of flint stone, and is only found in Chablis wine, especially when it’s young. Cock an eyebrow and act intrigued.
Fruity – Obviously, this is the taste of fruit. Most wines have some taste of fruit, since grapes are themselves a fruit. But fruit shouldn’t always be the dominant taste characteristic of the finished wine. Wines that taste too fruity may be flat, dull, flabby, or too young.
Ian Love runs a great Australian Wine Club and is the owner of Online Wine specialist West Valley Wine.