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Tasting Terminology - Sound like a Pro Part 3

In this final article of the three part series, “Tasting Terminology –Sound like a Pro” we round out the alphabet with R-Z.  Remember, the best way to get comfortable with the terminology is to drink some wine, record your taste perceptions, and match them to these common descriptors.  It's also fun to read the labels and “tasting notes” available on many wines or wine shop shelves.  In no time, you'll be sounding like a pro!

Residual Sugar – The amount of sugar that remains unfermented in a wine.  This term is used to describe the sweetness of a wine, and is only unfavorable if the residual sugar levels are not characteristic of the wine.

Rich – A full bodied wine with relatively high alcohol levels.  Wines with higher alcohol content feel thicker in the mouth, closer to a cream texture than water.  Rich wines usually undergo malolactic fermentation and some exposure to oak.  Grape varieties that can be rich include Chardonnay, Viognier and Chenin Blanc (Vouvray) from France.  Rich is a favorable descriptor.

Rough – An unfavorable term used to describe a wine where acidity and/or tannins are overly dominant in the wine.

Round – A favorable term similar to balanced.

Sharp – Need you ask?  Sharp describes excessive acidity in a wine, creating an undesirable imbalance in the wine.

Smoky – Term used to describe the flavors imparted during the vinification process, usually by smoked oak wood barrels.

Soft – Soft indicates that acidity, tannins, and alcohol, while present, are at very low levels.  This results in a wine that while quaffable, is understated and not usually memorable.  Soft is a neutral to unfavorable descriptor.

Spicy – A term used to describe the presence of spice flavors (pepper, cinnamon).

Stony – Perhaps more commonly called “flinty” this term is describes a relatively young wine that exhibits a noticeable earthy, metallic mouth feel.  Common grape varieties that may be flinty are Chardonnay (particularly Chablis), Pouilly Fume and Sancerre (Sauvignon Blanc).

Structure – Commonly used and yet not widely understood term.  Structure is exhibited in a wine where one or more of the components of structure (acidity, tannins, and alcohol) dominate.  In contrast, a balanced wine is a wine where all components are equally present.  Wines with structure are considered more age worthy, as time in the bottle allows the predominant element to soften.  Describing a wine as having structure is favorable; however, too much structure can leave a wine harsh or overly acidic.

Supple - This term is used to describe a wine (usually red) that has potential - better than “light” or “lean”, yet not completely representative of the grape variety.  A less than favorable descriptor which may be neutral depending on other attributes of the wine e.g.  “This red is supple yet exhibits the classic flavor profile of a Cabernet Franc”.  

Sweet – Term used to identify the presence of residual (non-fermented) sugar.  Favorable as long as the levels are consistent with the wine – e.g. a Sauternes should be sweet, but a Chardonnay should not.

Tannic – Describing a wine as tannic refers to the presence of tannins in the wine.  Tannins occur in the skins, seeds and stems of red grapes.  Tannins can be an element of structure and help preserve wine during an extended aging process.  Tannic can also be used in a negative context as in “this wine is overly tannic for a wine of this variety”.

Thin – “Never too rich or too thin” does not apply to wine.  Rich is a favorable term while thin is used to describe a wine that is overly light, lacking in acidity, flavor, alcohol or tannins.

Under ripe – An unfavorable term describing a wine made from grapes that had not reached complete ripeness, and hence are lacking in flavor and overly acidic.   

Warm – An infrequently used term to describe a wine with high alcohol content but in balance with other offsetting flavors.  Unlike “hot”, warm is usually considered a favorable term.

Yeasty – A general term used to describe the presence of tastes/smells from a variety of yeasts that are present on grape skins, or introduced in the vinification process.   The use of the term can be both favorable, when the flavors are smoky and light adding to the overall bouquet, or unfavorable if excessively dominant.

As always, the best way to explore these terms and put them into practice is to taste several wines.  Read the description on the label, and see if you can match any of the characteristics.  Keep in mind, no winemaker is going to describe their wine as “thin” or “overripe” – you will only see the favorable terms on a label. 

Here's an excerpt from the tasting notes for the Frank Family Vineyards 2005 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon – see if you can dissect the meaning.

The lively fruit is balanced by well-structured tannins providing a plush, yet structured mouth feel that is elegant and supple with lasting grip.

See, it's not really that hard!

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·  Tasting Terminology -- Sound like a Pro Part 2!
·  Tasting Terminology -- Sound like a Pro!


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