How to Talk About Wine…Our Top 7 Wine Terms

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A few years ago we spoke at a conference in Las Vegas for caterers where we gave two presentations on the subject of pairing wine and food. But our pairing advice couldn’t happen until we first discussed how to evaluate and describe wines.


Communicating taste is not easy – whether it’s the taste of food or the taste of wine. Words seem inadequate, but they’re all we have. Some words are essential in any conversation about wine – like when you’re trying to tell a waiter what kind of wine you want. If you can’t describe it, you probably won’t get what you’re looking for.


There are plenty of wine tasting terms a wine geek could toss out, but here’s our pick for the top 7 terms you can use to explain your taste preferences.



  1. Body . . . is the perception of fullness or texture in the mouth due primarily to the wine’s alcohol. The more potent the wine, the more full-bodied it will be. Think of the difference between the feel of whole milk compared to skim milk.


  1. Complex . . . wine has layers and nuances of flavors. Like an interesting man, a complex wine is not one-dimensional and often achieves complexity with aging.


  1. Crisp . . . describes good acidity and taste without excessive sweetness – just like an apple.


  1. Dry . . . is the opposite of sweet. In a wine that’s completely dry, all the sugar from the grapes has been converted to alcohol during fermentation. There are degrees of dryness, and a wine can still be dry with some unfermented sugar left over. If you taste just a hint of sweetness in the wine, it’s said to be off dry.


  1. Fruity . . . describes the flavor or aroma of fruits in wine. The flavors aren’t limited to grapes. Fruity wines can taste of berries, citrus, apples, peaches and other fruits.


  1. Oaky . . . is the flavor or aroma resulting from a wine’s aging in oak barrels – sometimes described as vanilla. When the insides of the barrels have been charred, the consequent flavor is called smoky or toasty.


  1. Tannic . . . describes the mouth sensations – dry and puckery – attributable to tannins in the wine. Tannins are found mostly in red wines. They play an important part in helping wines age gracefully and will, in fact, mellow with age.



Barbara and Beverly