The Wine Wizard’s Tips for Understanding Wine Terminology

I’m sure we’ve all read descriptions of wines and thought to ourselves, “What are they talking about?!” Some descriptive words for wines, like “linear,” “brawny,” “fleshy,” “meaty,” and “fat” leave me perplexed. With training, I know now what those words mean—but I feel like they add fuel to the “wine snob” fire.

Let me share an approach to describing wine I hope you find much easier to understand. I use three categories of descriptors: fruit, non-fruit and structure.

All white wines fall into one or more fruit families: tree, citrus, stone, tropical and melon. All reds have aromas and flavors of dark, red and/or blue fruit families. As you smell and taste your wine, identify the fruit families that reveal themselves.

If your wine was aged in oak, it could impart vanilla and baking-spice qualities. If your wine is from the old world (Europe), you might find an earthy, mineral quality. Other common non-fruit flavors include licorice, tobacco, leather and chocolate.

Structure is simply the combination of tannin (that puckering feeling in your gums), acidity (the wine’s mouthwatering quality), alcohol level (sometimes referred to as body), and how dry the wine is. A balanced wine has the right mix of all these without one over powering the other.

That’s it! Now you can be an official wine snob, too.

—Andy Carl, Woodbury’s Wine Wizard