While almost everyone can agree that wine is delicious, everyone has their own tastes. Some of us love rich, bold reds but could do without crisp whites. Others are the exact opposite. Some have a very specific set of flavors they like, while others will drink just about any fermented grape juice.
What we can all agree on, though? The right wine at the right moment is one of the little wins that makes life special. To help you experience this more often, we’d like to cover some important vocabulary and concepts that will help you describe wine. Hopefully this helps so you learn what you do and don’t like in vino.
Find the Key Component
The first step you be to find the most obvious and important element of a wine, and then work down to the details. If you like funky wines, despite how broad a term that is, then ask for them. If you like super aromatic wines, let us know! While a lot of the magic in wine is in the details, plenty of it is also front and center.
Not all wine is fruity, though almost all wine has some level of fruit flavor. This makes it a good place to start.
A very common and useful phrase is “fruit-forward.” This refers to when and how intensely you taste fruit flavors. “Fruit-driven” is another common phrase that means nearly the same thing.
Fruit-forward wines have intense fruit flavors right up front, meaning they are the first and most intense thing you taste. Their aromas are generally also heavily weighted towards fruit.
After determining if a wine is fruit-forward, the next step is to describe the actual fruit flavors. Learn what types of fruit flavors you enjoy in your wine, and you will be able to either ask for advice in our, or any, shop. You can also do research yourself to find grapes and styles that showcase those flavors. As an example, pinot noir is known for a fruit profile consisting of raspberry and cherry, while malbec has notes of darker fruits like plums and blackberries.
A nice shorthand way of describing fruit is by their color and type. “Dark fruit” refers to flavors such as blueberry, while “red fruit” would include strawberry and raspberry. “Tropical fruit” and “citrus” are extremely common as well, particularly in white wines.
Describing Other Flavors
Fruit is far from the only flavor profile in wine. Herbal, more savory wines are quite common, especially from cooler regions. Floral tones show up all the time. As with fruit flavors, the point is not always to be completely accurate, but rather to understand in broad strokes the flavors you do or don’t like. While it’s very common for wines to have specific herbal tones like tarragon, rosemary, or thyme, more often than not “herbal” works just fine.
Other key flavor components to be aware of include minerals, smoke, spices and earth. Minerals show up often in crisp white wines, and give a similar impression to drinking very clean, fresh spring water. In reds they’re more metallic and/or rocky.
We’ve covered texture before, so we’ll stick to the basics here. Some adjectives to keep in mind include rich, bold, and heavy for bigger, more powerful reds such as cabernet sauvignon, and fresh, crisp and lively for lighter reds, rosé and whites.
Crucially, however, is knowing how to describe texture when it defies expectations for the style. A great example is California chardonnay. Some styles are as creamy, rich and opulent as even the biggest reds, so it’s important to specify texture in addition to flavors. At the store, we often get asked about richer, fuller rosé, since usually the style is so light.
That’s it for some of the basics. Don’t be afraid to come up with your own terms and phrases, too. Getting in the habit of trying to describe the wines you like will lead you to a better appreciation for wine in general, and will help you to pick out the bottle that best suits any occasion.