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Understanding your Wine Profile

There is perhaps nothing more important in your wine education than learning to understand and refine your wine profile.  A wine profile is simply a means of articulating the style of a wine you enjoy.  Think of it the same way you would when someone asks you what kind of food do you like?  Or conversely are there any types of food you really don't care for.  Most people can readily answer these questions – I prefer fish to red meat, light mild fish to shell fish, most any kind of green vegetables except Brussels sprouts and broccoli, and any kind of potato or pasta.  You get the idea.

A wine profile is the same idea except you substitute the smells, tastes and feels of a wine.  In this article we'll review each of the key elements of the wine profile and help you discover, or perhaps better articulate, what you already know.  Throughout you will see frequent references to the profile of a wine – particularly in the grape varieties section.  Understanding your profile will make exploring new wines easier.  It will help you elicit recommendations from your local wine shop manager or waiter when purchasing a wine.  And remember, like your food palate, your wine profile should be a work in progress, always being challenged with new and different entrants from around the world.

At we define four elements that comprise a wine profile.  The elements are smell (S), taste (T), feel (F), and price (P).


Most frequently referred to as “the nose”, wines have an immense array of smells.  Read most any description of a wine and more than half the word count will be describing the aromas and flavors (smell) of the wine.  The reason for this is quite simple.  The human nose can detect nearly 10,000 smells, and a trained nose can actually identify over 1,000.  This number of potential descriptors dwarfs all of the other categories combined.  Smells encompass fruit, floral, earthy, petroleum, and spice just to name a few. Smells are realized both by sniffing the wine and drinking the wine.  During the drinking process, those little holes in the back of your mouth allow smells to go into your brain.

Smell is a very direct sense. In order for you to smell something, the material must give off molecules and they have to make it to your nose.  Everything you smell, therefore, is giving off molecules - whether it's a garlic clove, perfume, the just mowed lawn, egg salad, or a deliciously ripe peach.  Molecules from these substances are called volatile chemicals (meaning they convert to a gas easily), and can travel significant distances as they roam from the source to your nose.  And, the second part is equally importanlit; they must be able to make it to your nose.  Just remember what food “tastes” like when you have a cold, or better yet, try sipping a little wine with your nose tightly pinched.  I dare you to guess the wine.


It's ironic that wine “tasting” involves very little actual tasting.  The human mouth and tongue are only capable of detecting four things – salt, sweet, sour, and bitter (I know there is a fifth, umami, but I'll save that for another article).  The only one of these that is often present in wine is sweetness, or the presence of detectible glucose in a wine.  Wines are classified based on residual sugar, the amount of sugar that remains following the cessation of the fermentation process.  Wines are classified as dry (no sweetness), semi-sweet, or sweet.  Residual sugar – one of the few elements that the human body can actually taste (as opposed to smell) - can be detected at levels of less than one half percent (roughly equivalent to a teaspoon of sugar in a quart of water).  Salt in wine may be present in a very few wines that are grown near seaside areas, bitter is generally an undesirable attribute, and may be indicative of a flawed wine, and sour is the same.


There are a relatively few things that affect what the wine feels like in your mouth, however, they are some of the most important elements of your wine profile.  How often do you not like a particular food because of the texture?  In no particular order, here are the top four elements that affect what a wine feels like when you put it in your mouth.

·         Alcohol content – Alcohol content can impart a sense of warmth and fullness in the mouth, most commonly after swallowing (the finish).  Frequently interchanged with the term body, lower alcohol content wines such as German Riesling, Portuguese Vinho Verde or a French Vouvray, will feel lighter in the mouth, more like the texture of water.  Full bodied wines high in alcohol content such as California Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, many Syrahs, and Amarone or Barolo, feel heavier in the mouth, more like cream than water.

·         Acidity – Does your tongue tingle?  Think of the way your mouth feels when you bite into an orange or lime or heaven forbid a lemon.  That crisp almost electric feeling that usually starts the saliva flowing is the presence of one or more acids.  The feeling produced by acid is most prevalent on the tongue.

·         Tannins – Pucker up!  You can detect the presence of tannins because they affect an astringent (think cotton balls, pomegranate or tea) feeling in your mouth.  This is the result of a chemical reaction which actually suppresses saliva production, creating a sense of roughness on the inside of your cheeks.  Tannins can affect your entire mouth whereas acidity is only sensed on your tongue.  Many people will say they can “taste” tannins.  This is probably unlikely as most tannins have little aroma. 

·         Sparkling or still – Sparkling wines contain millions of tiny carbon dioxide bubble and are easily detected.



Yes, what you pay for the experience.  Many of us might like filet mignon, truffles and lobster tails, but that doesn't mean we have it every night.  The food we eat every day is affected by our ability to pay, and so it is with wine.  This is why many consider the best wine to be one that you absolutely love that is very inexpensive.  When you find one of these, stock up!

Putting it all Together

What is presented above, the STFP approach, is a simplified way of developing a wine profile, but it works.  A common and desirable term used in describing a wine is “balanced”.  A balanced wine is one in which aromas, alcohol, acidity, and tannins are in harmony, that is, no one element dominates the mouth feel.

As you taste different wines, record your observations, what you like or don't like about a particular wine, and what you paid for the bottle.  Combine the notes and soon you will be walking into your local wine shop asking for a dry, full bodied, balanced, Chardonnay with tree fruit (peach, pear, apple) aromas.  See – it's that easy!

About now some of you may be asking what about color?  I prefer whites, or I prefer reds.  Why isn't that a part of the wine profile?  Well think about it, unless you have a real color fetish, the color of the wine has virtually nothing to do with the four criteria, and people who say they prefer red, are really saying they prefer the elements of the profile that are more often associated with a red wine.  Now to be fair, when tasting wine, you should look at the wine.  However, the examination is to observe color richness, clarity, and other characteristics that are early indicators of what the wine will smell/taste/feel like.

But enough of the details, here's a table that lists some of the more common descriptors used for each of the four elements of the wine profile.  Many of the individual articles on red and white grape varieties will have a similar chart specific to that variety at the end of the article. 












Fruit smells

  • Raspberry
  • Strawberry
  • Peach
  • Lemon
  • Grapefruit
  • Apple
  • Melon
  • Black Cherry

Floral smells

  • Lavender
  • Violets

Earthy smells

  • Leather
  • Grass
  • Hay

Food smells

  • Toast
  • Vanilla
  • Carmel
  • Honey
  • Butterscotch
  • Green Pepper
  • Nutty
  • Yeast



Dry – no detectible sweetness, less than 0.9% residual sugar.

Medium Dry – 1% - 1.8% residual sugar.  Detectible by most people as having a touch of sweetness


Medium – 1.9% - 4.5% residual sugar. Detectible by all


Sweet – more than 4.5%, primarily desert wines and fortified wines.



Alcohol Content

  • Full
  • Medium
  • Light


  • High
  • Medium
  • Low


  • High
  • Medium
  • Low
  • None

Sparkling / Still





Well price is price and you can set you own range, however common break points in wine reviews are:


·         Under $10

·         $10 - $20

·         $20 - $30

·         Over $30 per bottle


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Printer-Friendly Format
·  What is that taste? Part 3
·  What is that taste? Part 2
·  What is that taste? Part 1
·  So what exactly is terroir anyway?
·  The Rap on Sweet Wines
·  Wine Tasting - The Noble Aromas
·  Tannins - What exactly are they?
·  Wine temperature - Five simple rules


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