Light-Bodied: This means the wine is lighter in overall body (weight, viscosity). It may seem delicate, subtle, lean, or racy in your mouth. Generally, light-bodied wines will have less alcohol and tannin, with higher acidity.
Full-bodied: Wines that fill your palate with texture and intensity are typically full-bodied. In many cases, these have higher tannin levels, more alcohol, and are darker in color. Common words for full-bodied wines include rich, opulent, intense, structured, and muscular.
Mouthfeel: This describes how the wine feels on the palate, such as smooth, velvety, dry, rough.
Fruit-forward: This common wine term is used when describing the dominant notes of fruit in the nose and mouth. It doesn’t necessarily mean the wine is sweet, just that there’s noticeable fruit characters. Think fresh strawberries, raspberry jam, baked apples, etc.
Earthy: This wine adjective indicates that the wine has “earthy” odors or flavors reminiscent of damp soil, forest floor, mushrooms, or wet leaves.
Savory: Also known as earthy, rustic, or Old World in style. Savory indicates there are more earthy or herbaceous notes with less dominant fruit characteristics. Think kalamata olives, dried herbs, leather, game, or tobacco.
Herbaceous: This term is used to describe aromas and flavors of oregano, mint, dried herbs, eucalyptus, etc.
Minerally / Minerality: Typically, this is used when a wine’s flavors and aromas impart earth/soil notes of slate, wet stone, crushed rocks, or chalk.
Toasty / Oaky: A descriptor used when a wine smells like toasty oak or any of the aromas that oak barrel aging can impart, such as vanilla, caramel, smoke, coconut, and nuts.
Spicy: This wine term is used to describe notes of black or white pepper, baking spices, curry spices, etc.
Vegetal: Vegetal describes the vegetable characteristics detected in a wine, such as bell peppers, asparagus, and grass. If too prominent it is typically considered a flaw, usually from too much skin contact, though there are some grapes, like cabernet franc, in which the vegetal notes are part of the typical profile. It’s all about balance.
Flabby: Flabby refers to when a wine doesn’t really have any acidity to balance it. Not a positive term.
Racy: A lively, lean wine with a lot of zesty acidity is often described as racy. It usually gets its brightness from high acid levels. Highly acidic wines like riesling and sparkling wine can be considered racy.
Supple: When a wine is soft and round in your mouth, or velvety in texture, it’s described as supple. Basically, the tannins are well integrated so it’s not drying or astringent.
Tannic: This term is used when a wine has high levels of tannins, from grape skins, stems, or oak, which could mean it’s more bitter or astringent in taste. While some white wines are tannic, red wines are more associated with tannins since the grape skins are left on during the fermentation process. Red wines with high tannins include cabernet sauvignon, syrah, and nebbiolo, to name a few.
Balanced: Wines that are balanced are considered harmonious in all its elements: alcohol, acids, tannins, sugars — meaning nothing stands out and all the components seamlessly blend together.
While this only scratches the surface on the great big world of wine descriptions, you can use this list to start putting words to the types of wines you like.
That said, even if you’re not quite ready to “talk the talk” with a wine professional, there are other ways you can advance your wine drinking experience. For example, if you’re a die-hard pinot noir fan or only drink sauvignon blanc, let us expand your wine horizons with these 9 Alternative Wines to Try. Or, let the stars be your guide with our official Wine Horoscope for choosing the best wines for your zodiac sign. And be sure to read our Guide to Wine Tasting Like A Pro, as well as our top Wine Storage Tips for keeping your wines fresh at home. Happy sipping.