Wine Terms to Sound Like a Sommelier

Are you looking to expand your wine knowledge quickly and effectively?

We’re bringing you sixteen wine-tasting terms to help you expand your expertise and vocabulary. Now, you can finally answer questions like, “What does full-bodied wine mean?” 

Keep reading for what to know during your next wine tasting.

1. Oenology

The first word to familiarize yourself with wine terminology, oenology is the study of wine and winemaking. It’s different from “viticulture,” which refers to the science behind growing and harvesting grapes. An oenologist is an expert in both the science and art behind crafting great wine.

2. Wine List

Wine lists have been around since Egyptian times, although their purpose was to keep inventory instead of ordering. In a restaurant, a sommelier cultivates the wine list and educates the staff.

You will typically see wine names, possibly sectioned off between reds and whites, next to both bottle and glass prices, giving you the option of ordering wine for yourself or the table. 

3. Full-bodied

Full-bodied refers to the heaviness of wine on the palate. This term is often used to describe bold red wines like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Bordeaux. Some white wines, like oaked Chardonnay, can also be considered full-bodied. This term also considers the alcohol content, which influences the wine’s density and viscosity. A wine with a higher alcohol content will likely taste heavier and more full-bodied.

4. Nose and Palate

“Nose” is a fancy term referring to the scent of wine, while “palate” is used to describe the taste of wine on the tongue. If you’re tasting with friends and want to impress them with your knowledge of wine aromas and flavors, these two sommelier phrases should do the trick. To take it a step further, “primary” aromas are fruity and floral scents, while “secondary” aromas refer to heavier smells like herbs and spices.

5. Legs

When you swirl your wine in the glass, you might notice a few streaks on the side after it settles. These streaks clinging to the glass are known as “legs,” which is the condensation left behind as the wine evaporates slightly. Wine legs could be an indication of a fuller-bodied, high-alcohol wine, as heavier wines are more likely to cling to the glass. Streaks that disappear quickly could mean your wine is thin with less alcohol

6. Bouquet

This term refers to the tertiary aromas caused by the winemaking process. For example, if your wine smells like oak, candied fruit, forest floor, smoke, leather, tobacco, or vanilla, this means it underwent oak aging in barrels. “Bouquet” is primarily used to describe aged wines. So if your wine is bright smelling with red fruit aromas, it’s likely young and, therefore, won’t have a “bouquet.”

7. Lush

If something is “lush,” it’s likely rich, sumptuous, decadent. If your wine is velvety, soft and viscous, it’s likely a dessert wine with a high amount of residual sugar. Use this phrase when sipping dessert wines that are sweet as honey, like Port or Sauternes.

Wine Terms to Sound Like a Sommelier Infographic | Macy's Wine Shop

8. Angular

Typically used to describe young wines, this term refers to the sharp, pointed taste caused by high acidity. Wines like this will not taste round or smooth but instead, stand out with a bit of a pleasant bite. 

9. Flabby

The opposite of angular, a “flabby” wine may taste dull, loose, soft, flat, or unstructured. The acidity of these wines is typically lacking. If your wine tastes underwhelming or lacks complexity, it may be a bit flabby. 

10. Flinty 

When one says a wine is “flinty,” they mean there is a certain mineral taste, like wet stone or gravel. Flintiness is actually a sought-after trait by wine experts, as it is associated with the mineral-rich soils of France’s Burgundy and Loire Valley. This wine word describes the types of grapes that were likely grown in gravel or limestone soils.

Pouring a glass of red wine | Macy's Wine Shop

11. Grippy

A “grippy” wine is laced with texture and astringency in every sip. This sensation is caused by tannins, which are organic compounds found in grape skins, seeds, and stems. Since red grapes are soaked in the must (grape juice) for a longer time than white grapes, dark, full-body reds are the ones primarily labeled “grippy.”

12. Jammy

Wines like Zinfandel and Australian Shiraz are “jammy” styles of wine, which means they taste like cooked berries or preserves. Shiraz, in particular, is a lovely, bold blend of fruit-forward notes and black pepper, sometimes confusing the palate as to whether it’s sweet or savory. What’s interesting is that some wine producers actually don’t like this term. But for the layperson, it’s helpful for describing how dense and fruity certain wines are.

13.  Hollow

A “hollow” wine is exactly as it sounds. While the taste may be excellent up front with a pleasant finish, the middle of the wine will lack complexity or substance. Think of it as a watery taste mid-palate. 

14. Hot

If the wine’s alcohol content is high enough to burn the back of the throat, it’s considered “hot” by wine experts. In general, if the wine is unbalanced with an alcoholic taste that stands out, you may be sipping a “hot” wine. Check the wine label to see if the ABV (alcohol by volume) is around 13%, as this is considered to be a higher alcohol content. 

15. Steely 

When sipping a crisp, dry white wine like Sauvignon Blanc or Riesling, terms like “steely” might be appropriate. This term refers to bright wines that are unoaked (not aged in oak barrels) and instead aged in steel tanks during wine production, which helps preserve their brightness. Sparkling wines and Rosé wines are usually crafted using steel tanks.

16. Supple

A supple wine is soft and round with smooth tannins and unaggressive acidity or alcohol levels. Everything from the structure to the flavors is harmoniously balanced. If there isn’t one particular trait that stands out and the wine is mellow on the palate, it can be described as “supple.” 

Woman drinking a glass of red wine | Macy's Wine Shop

Wine 101

Use these wine descriptions the next time you’re at a tasting event to leave your friends awe-inspired. 

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