A Millennial’s Wine Tasting Glossary: 15 Tasting Terms Simply Explained

Unlike skeet shooting or rhythmic gymnastics, wine tasting falls into a unique category of pursuits where the description of the activity is far more difficult than the activity itself.  Reading and deciphering the terminology of wine experts can be intimidating and off-putting.  Have no fear!  As the resident Sommelier and unofficial “Master of Swag” at VINEBOX, I’m here to demystify some common wine terms with all the frivolity and irreverence a Millennial can muster.  Here’s a quick guide to get you started:

Acid/Acidity - One of the four tastes of wine.  Often described as sour, tart or (lol) acidic, it can usually be detected on the sides of the tongue and mouth. AKA our parents’ “molly.” 

Barnyard - An outdated term used to describe the faint poo smell in wine... now considered a shitty way to describe wine, pun intended. 

Big - A wine so full of flavor it coats your mouth with all types of tannins and fruit, but not necessarily either or both.  Let’s explain with regional dialects: 

Northeast: “This wine is wicked big, like Big Papi jacked a flavor homer into my mouth.” 

South: “Howdy y’all, I tell you what, this wine is big as hell brother.  Wooo-wee!” 

West Coast: “Bruh, this wine is hella big. Like 360 kickflip down some stairs big, bruh.”

England: “Oy, this wine is rather big, good sir.” 

Bouquet (pronounced boo-kay) - How everything in the wine smells; flowers, rocks, birds, fruit, oceans, poop, sticks, fire, everything… 

Buttery - A perceived creaminess from oak wood aging on the wine. Some lower tier wineries actually add chemicals (e.g. diacetyl) to achieve this. #cheaters 

Complex - Should be used for wines that change from the moment you sip to the moment you swallow, but is more often used as a copout for noobs and pros alike.  If you can’t actually describe how the wine is complex, avoid this term. “Yeah, it’s like red and complex and stuff, like, it’s deep, man...” 

Creamy - Most commonly used to describe a white or sparkling with oak aging, but often refers to the matter of malo-lactic conversions (taking malic acid and converting it to lactic, like milk).  This makes the wine smoother than Rob Thomas vocals backed by the sexy guitar melodies of Carlos Santana. “And it’s just like the ocean under the moon...”

Crisp - We’re talking white wine that is probably pretty simple (not complex, you know?) and serves the same purpose as lemonade or La Croix.  Refreshing on a porch or in the park or out of a coffee mug in the morning so your roommate doesn’t judge you.  Just kidding, Heather! I would never do that… 

Earthy - So Wikipedia will tell you this mostly refers to forest floor or mushroom flavors and smells, which I can get behind.  But it’s a broad term for everything that has to do with Earth, right?  So an earthy wine could smell like portobellos and taste like moss or it could smell like Egyptian mummy wrapper and taste like old tree bark. Kind of a copout, but has its place. 

Fat - This word, at least in regards to wine tasting, carries negative connotations. Synonymous with flabby, fat refers to wines that just hang out on your palate, lean in awkward corners and aren’t the most welcoming.  If you’re into wines like this, try “thick” or “juicy” to get your point across.  Like Trinidad James said, “She ain’t fat homie, nah, just a little thick.  Anything them skinny little hoes can do, she can do it better.” 

Grip - Refers to tannins in the wine.  Use this term to describe wines that aren’t the easiest to drink and make your cheeks pucker up like the time you forgot about your tea and oversteeped it. 

Jammy - Imagine the fruit flavors found in wine and cooking the liquid down to syrup to make, well, jam.  If a light-bodied wine like Pinot Noir can be compared to a fresh strawberry, a more syrupy wine like zinfandel would be the equivalent of strawberry jam.  “Jammier” wines are probably inexpensive and easy to drink and pair well with peanut butter and white bread. 

Minerally - Go lick some concrete or limestone.  Or not, but that’s what we’re talking about.  A safer option would be to sniff the sidewalk right after it rains.  *Disclaimer: VINEBOX does not want you to lick the sidewalk, especially if you live in a high density urban area. 

Toasty - Not the perfect landing spot for a pat of butter or smashed avocado, but instead a reference to the toast on the barrel in which the wine was aged.  Btw, toasted barrels are way more Instagram-able (and totes more original) than pics of your avocado toast. 

Unctuous - Much like Natalie Imbruglia, I’m torn on this one.  It’s pretty douchey to walk around calling things unctuous, but the word carries a certain weight to it and can, in very specific circumstances, make you sound tres chic.  When using it to describe wine, you’re indicating that the wine is oily or has a glycerin sort of mouthfeel.  You could definitely just use either of those descriptors instead and not risk being labeled a douchebag.

These are just a few of the hundreds of words people use to describe wine (stay away from more obnoxious terms like “rubber hose” and “grandma’s purse”).  Check out our blog and our website for an expanded glossary of wine terms and other ways to treat yo’self and learn up on rad things like pink wine, steak and puppies.  Cheers!

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