Ten Terms for Describing Wine - dummies

By Ed McCarthy, Mary Ewing-Mulligan

Wine descriptors are common terms that you can use to describe a particular wine. Descriptors can help you put words to the wine you’re tasting. Unless you want to drink the same wine for the rest of your life, you’re going to have to decide what you like or don’t like in a wine and communicate that to another person who can steer you toward a wine you’ll like.

There are two hurdles here: Finding the words to describe what you like or don’t like, and then getting the other person to understand what you mean.

Following are some common descriptors used to describe wines:

  • Aroma or bouquet: The smell of a wine; bouquet applies particularly to the aroma of older wines. Some aromas associated with wines include fruits, herbs, flowers, earth, grass, tobacco, butterscotch, toast, vanilla, mocha, and chocolate.

  • Body: The apparent weight of a wine in your mouth, which is usually attributable principally to a wine’s alcohol. You can classify a wine as light-bodied, medium-bodied, or full-bodied.


  • Crisp: A wine with refreshing acidity. Acidity is more of a taste factor in white wines than in reds. White wines with a high amount of acidity feel crisp.

  • Dry: In winespeak, dry is the opposite of sweet. You can classify the wine you’re tasting as either dry, off-dry (in other words, somewhat sweet or semisweet), or sweet.

  • Finish: The impression a wine leaves in the back of your mouth and in your throat as you swallow it (an aftertaste). In a good wine, you can still perceive the wine’s flavors — such as fruitiness or spiciness — at that point.

  • Flavor intensity: How strong or weak a wine’s flavors are. Flavor intensity is a major factor in pairing wine with food, and it also helps determine how much you like a wine.

  • Fruity: A wine whose aromas and flavors suggest fruit; does not imply sweetness. You smell the fruitiness with your nose; in your mouth, you “smell” it through your retronasal passage.

  • Oaky: A wine that has oak flavors (smoky, toasty), often resulting from storage in oak barrels either during or after fermentation.

  • Soft: A wine that has a smooth rather than crisp mouthfeel. Soft wines typically have a low amount of acidity.

  • Tannic: A red wine that is firm and leaves the mouth feeling dry. Tannins alone can taste bitter, but some tannins in wine are less bitter than others. Depending on the amount and nature of its tannin, you can describe a red wine as astringent, firm, or soft.