Key Wine Tasting Terms

Why are the French so good at wine? They speak the language of wine, you might say. As you may guess, a lot of the terms are in French. Today, if you want to enter the sophisticated world of wine, it helps to know some terms that define la norme linguistque of the wine world.

Basic English Terms

Coates Law of Maturity: The widely accepted principle that a wine remains at optimal drinking quality for as long as it took to mature. A wine that took a year to peak should continue drinking at its peak for an additional year.

A demonstration of smelling the aromas and bou...
Smelling the aromas and bouquet of wine in the glass as part of wine tasting (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Horizontal tasting: In order to better understand differences in wineries, horizontal tasting occurs with wines from the same vintage but different wineries while maintaining the same variety, type, or region for more accurate comparison.

Vertical tasting: To get a sense of differences between vintages, vertical tasting refers to tasting the same wine type from the same winery of different vintages.

Acidity: Warmer climate grapes generally have lower acidity than those grown in cooler climates. Wines with too high an acidity taste too sour while wines with too little taste flat and dull.
Aroma: Each grape variety inherently contributes to the scent of a wine. Young wines in particular more strongly embody the aroma of the grape, whereas more mature wines develop a more complex bouquet.
Body: The weight of the wine in the mouth, particularly resulting from the viscosity, or thickness, of the wine due to its alcohol content. Full-bodied wines generally have a higher alcohol content.

Bouquet: Connoisseurs differentiate between the scent derived from the grapes and the scent that develops in combination with the environmental conditions of wine maturation. The bouquet encompasses the non-grape scents that emerge over time in the barrel and bottle.Length: One of the main aspects of a wine’s flavor finish, length is the duration of the flavor remaining in the mouth after swallowing. Also used to describe smell, aromatic consistency over a longer duration usually suggests a higher quality wine.Temperature: Not referring to the measured degree of heat but to the heating sensation of the mouth prompted by the wine’s alcohol content.

Texture: Also called ‘mouthfeel’, texture describes the tactile sensation of the wine in the mouth. Common descriptors include smooth, silky, waxy, and supple.

Smelling the wine as part of wine tasting
Smelling the wine as part of wine tasting (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

French Terms

Clair: The French term for ‘light’ used to modify the perceived wine color.
Doux: The subjective sweetness of a wine, usually resulting from the amount of sugar and its combination with alcohol, acids, and tannins, the latter two of which counteract the sweetness that comes from sugar and alcohol.
Foncé: French for ‘dark’ in modifying the description of a wine’s color.
Sec: The French word for ‘dry’ and sometimes appearing as “demi-sec” to suggest a slightly or moderately sweeter dry flavor.
La bouche – Taste
La couleur: Color is usually the first characteristic noted by wine professionals and is best determined against a white background in a glass tilted obliquely, so that the surface of the wine creates an oval.
La clarté: Examining a wine’s clarity reveals suspended particles that would spoil the look of the wine and, perhaps, its flavor.
Le nez – Smell
La robe – Appearance