Wine Language Explained

I have been inundated with so many comments about wine and how its language seems as foreign as Farsi and how pretentious people sound when speaking this wine language that I gotta say – enough!

Learn the wine language already!

Here are enough must-know wine geek terms – some grouped by inverse relationships – to get you started using this mysterious wine language. Keep it bookmarked on your smart phone for review before speaking with a waiter or wine seller.

If you can relate these wine descriptors to your own wine purchases, then you too will master the language of wine. One bottle at a time…


The holy grail of great wine. Good balance is where no one element – e.g. fruit, oak, acid, tannins, alcohol – dominates the nose or the palate.


No residual sugar. Most food friendly style, e.g. table wine. Dry wines are the highest in alcohol since all the sugar has been converted.


Over .2% sugar, thick syrupy dessert wines: e.g. port, ice wine, sauternes, late harvest. Unless fortified, sweet wines have the lowest alcohol.


Acid forward. Food friendly acid cleanses the palate and makes saliva flow, gives you that tingling feeling on the sides of your tongue e.g. pinot noir, sauvignon blanc.


Little or no acid or tannin. Palate coating, thick on the tongue, needs protein to balance especially if tannic e.g. merlot, shiraz, oaky chardonnay.

Hi Alcohol

14 – 17 %, drier, ass-kicking wine for weekend drinking or as an aperitif, e.g. zinfandel, shiraz.

Lo Alcohol

8 – 14%, easy drinking, sometimes sweeter, weekday wine, e.g. german riesling, vinho verde.


Leached from oak barrels, stems or seeds, the tannins make heavy red wines feel hard on the tongue and dry your mouth out. Best consumed with hi-protein foods. e.g. zinfandel, shiraz, after enough oxygen exposure to smooth the tannins.


Where the fruit is the dominant element, common in young or unoaked wines, good for hot foods that need a tart, tangy lift. e.g. torrontés, zinfandel, gewürtztraminer


Where it tastes like wet stone or hot steel, and the mid-palette disappears into a water main. e.g. red Rhone, Burgundy, Sancerre.


Smells like wet cardboard, dirty dog, moldy basement. A corked ottle should be re-corked immediately and returned to its purchase point. Don’t bother with a corked wine’s taste since it’s the smell that matters.

I hope this cheatsheet helps you learn the language of wine. Once you exhaust it and want more aroma and tasting terms, check out wine language according to the queen of wine, Jancis Robinson.

And don’t forget to share this post with your friends.




Mari Kane

Mari is a writer, blogger and WordPress consultant, living in Vancouver, BC, the most wine-soaked town north of the 49th Parallel. She also blogs about WordPress web design at Blogsite Follow her on Twitter or Google Plus.

5 thoughts on “Wine Language Explained

  • May 28, 2012 at 10:48 pm

    This is useful information. Now I can sound pretentious too!

    • May 29, 2012 at 2:04 pm

      Thanks Rick. Don’t forget to hold your pinkie finger out!

  • May 29, 2012 at 12:22 pm

    Valuable info, Mari–thank you. I enjoyed Jancis Robinson’s “glossaries” as well.
    Your dry and racy friend,

    • May 29, 2012 at 2:27 pm

      Thanks Nancy. Stay racy.

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