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Wine Tasting Palate


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General term for the overall impression of fruit in a wine; a favorable description for a wine in good balance, stops a bit short of "juicy," "jammy" and similar terms describing wines in which fruit is dominant.
Yes, it means what you think, and it's been a characteristic (and not necessarily a negative one!) in Burgundy since back at least as far as Voltaire, who used precisely that term to describe it. May be associated with "bretanomyces" . Save the dirty joke
General term for mixed spices, most often the cinnamon, clove and nutmeg mix that I find typical of some red wines aged in European oak.
Lead pencil
Just what the name implies. Odd as it seems, this is a standard description for Chateau Lynch-Bages and many other fine Bordeaux from the Pauillac region.
Another of my personal terms for a wine that breaks the bounds of everyday status in a noisy way: Big, mouth-filling, intense, powerful, memorable. Always meant positively.
Broad synonym for "acidic." In my tasting vocabulary, it's a positive term for crisp acidity in good balance.
Fruit, fruity
Overall description for wines in which fruitiness is the predominant quality without any specific fruitiness coming forward.
Black pepper
Fragrant, floral, and distinctively peppery. A trademark of Syrah, also found in Grenache, Carignan, Petite Sirah.
As the name implies, a forward wine, even "outrageous," that's anything but subtle. More often than not, I'll use this term in an approving way for a wine that's memorable. Adam Lee's wonderful Siduri 1995 Rose Vineyard Sonoma Pinot Noir, for example.
Lemon, lemony, lemon-squirt, lemon-lime
Specific citric flavors, commonplace in dry white wines, demonstrating why these wines go so well with seafood and fish, just as fresh lemons do.
Difficult-to-describe term that may reflect the "stony" character of Chablis or the trademark flavor of Chateau Haut-Brion, or the odd, almost gasoline-like character (aka "petrol" and "diesel") of older Rieslings
Next to "merde," one of the most difficult terms to explain to people who aren't into wine appreciation. Anyone who's ever been stuck in traffic behind a city bus can't imagine that "diesel" or "bus exhaust" or "petrol" could be a favorable description,
Lingering, long
Aftertaste or finish that persists for an unusually long time.
Chocolate, dark-chocolate
Not sweet but rich, pleasantly "burnt" flavor, usually in robust red wines. In some cases may be associated with aging in oak barrels.
Middle, mid-palate
Another technical term (aka"attack" and "finish" or "aftertaste") for the sequence of sensations as the wine hits your palate. This alludes to the impression between first taste and swallowing; you'll sometimes hear a wine described as having "a hole in t
Specific spice term, highly characteristic of some wines (particularly Spanish and some California reds) aged in new American oak.
Tannic, tannins
Containing perceptible tannic acid, a naturally occurring component in ageworthy red wines that imparts a mouth-puckering astringency when the wine is young but that "resolve" (through a chemical process called polymerization) into delicious and complex e
Just like the fruit; most commonly found in Sauvignon Blanc, also commonplace in Gewurztraminer.
Chemical term for "maderized," the reaction that occurs when wine interacts with air in the bottle over years (or, more quickly, after the bottle is opened), and turns brown, Sherrylike and unattractive. A controlled edge of oxidation, however, may be nor
Litchee (Litchee Nut)
A popular fruit dessert in Chinese restaurants. Difficult to describe if you haven't tried it, but very characteristic in Gewurztraminer.
Black cherry
Quite common in red wines, particularly Merlot, Pinot Noir and Chiantis.
Melon is sometimes confused with Pinot Bianco. In fact, some wines labeled Pinot Bianco are actually Melon. It was once a widely planted vine in Burgundy, but today, it is mostly planted in the Loire-Atlantique district of France. It is also called Muscad
So fruity that it's reminiscent of jam or jelly. Often applied to big Zinfandels.
Specific fruit description, often found in Zinfandel (aka "mixed-berry," "bramble fruit") and Beaujolais.
Similar to "grass," only more so.
A specific kind of acidity that's firm and seemingly metallic, typical of some very fine Sauvignon Blancs such as Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé from the Loire.
Orange, orange-peel, tangerine
Specific citrus flavors that I've found in the significantly separated realms of Spanish reds and German whites; it often shows markedly in wines made from red Grenache.
A truly lovely floral quality characteristic of some Italian reds, particularly Barolo, Barbaresco, and others made from the Nebbiolo grape.
Akin to "big" as a description for a full-bodied, full-flavored wine, but perhaps even more so.
Not the opposite of "wet," of course, but the opposite of "sweet." A fully dry wine contains no residual sugar. Most table wines are dry, because dry wines seem to work best in company with food.
Burns the tongue and palate, generally a sign of excessive or unbalanced alcohol.
Specific fruit description, typically associated with Chardonnay aged in toasted oak barrels.
Warm, warming
Usually refers to a wine of high alcoholic strength (aka "hot"), but may also describe a simple wine made from warm-weather grapes (aka "plummy").
Similar to ""full-bodied,"" a wine that impresses itself with weight, texture and flavor on the palate.
All desirable elements present in proper proportion: Acidity, fruit and, where appropriate, tannins.
Modifying "acidity," implies a high level of tart sourness that may be out of balance, although extreme acidity may be an advantage in some wine-food matches.
Flat, fat, flabby
Critical term for a wine without sufficient acidity, therefore lacking ""structure.""
Usually signifies that a wine is immature and needs cellar time, but may also refer to a wine intended to be drunk young, like Beaujolais.
Usually an indication that the wine is ""corked,"" although some older wines may show an initial mustiness that blows off with time in the glass. Corked wines never improve with breathing.
Generally applied specifically to Port and sometimes to other robust reds, the combination of acidity and tannin that provides structure underlying the fruit, especially in a younger wine.
Apricot flavors are often noted in sweet white wines, particularly if affected by botyrtis.
Another variation on "green" or "herbaceous," typically used in conjunction with "dill" to denote a red wine with a marked American oak character, like Penfolds Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon.
Dumb (aka closed)
An ageworthy wine that has lost its youthful fruit but not yet gained the complex bouquet of bottle age, and not showing much of anything during the interim.
A low-acid wine, not tart nor sour. Taken to extremes, it yields a wine that's "fat" or "flabby," but within an arm's length of balance, the wine may be palatable, even gulpable; many mass-market wines are consciously made on the soft side.
A particularly approving synonym for "acidic," this one suggesting a wine with a tart-crisp acidic flavor well balanced by fruit in a style that's particularly refreshing.
Generic citrus fruit, a pleasurable element in many whites.
Pungent (aka acidity)
The number of synonyms perhaps underscoring the critical nature of acidity to a wine's character. As you might guess, this one implies excessive sourness and is rarely used in a complimentary way.
As a color, transparent; as a flavor, high but not excessive in acidity.
An odd and somewhat controversial description. The French "Pouilly-Fumé" and the imitative American "Fumé Blanc" are said to be based on a purported smoky quality in the wine, but I have never been able to detect it. However, lightly toasted (charred) oak
Akin to black fruit , a delightful fruit combination often noted in good red wines.
Tar, tarry
As with "smoky," above, a somewhat controversial term that not all wine tasters agree on. I suspect it's a blend of "meaty" and "black pepper" flavors in red Rhone wines like Cote-Rotie and Chateauneuf-du-Pape.
Acidic tartness noticeable without overwhelming; a favorable term, typical of good whites.
Specific herbal description that I've found most often in vegetal reds like Cabernet Franc and some cool-weather Cabernet Sauvignon.
A wine-taster's synonym for "aftertaste" , the flavors remaining in your mouth after the wine is swallowed.
An odd and strangely appealing character in older, well-cellared Rieslings, particularly those from Germany's Rhine and Mosel. aka"diesel" and "mineral."
Bramble fruit
Botanical term for blackberries and raspberries, the trademark of Zinfandel.
As in "gamey," above, a specific kind of "earthy" quality, quite literally reminiscent of raw beef, sometimes found in red Rhones.
Earthy," "organic" character reminiscent of country lanes. Expected in red Burgundies, and in proportion, considered desirable
Light and refreshing and, well, easy to drink. Not usually applied to the fancier line of wines.
Too sweet, without balancing acidity. When sweetness and acid are in good balance, the result is the natural, fresh sweetness of good fruit juice. Lacking acidic balance, you have the artificial, cloying sweetness of a Life-Saver.
Specific fruit description, often found in Riesling or Gewurztraminer and sometimes in dessert wines.
Green peppers
Herbaceous/vegetal quality generally thought excessive; once a specific pejorative for reds from California's Monterey region, but modern vineyard management has largely overcome this fault.
Literally "soil" in French, a term widely used by wine hobbyists (sometimes as gout de terroir) in reference to the flavors and aromas that soil and geography impart to a wine.
Persists, persistent
Generally describes the length of a wine's finish or aftertaste, roughly synonymous with ""long.""
Forest floor
A light, attractive form of "earthiness" in a wine, a damp and "green" flavor reminiscent of leaves and moss.
Another spin on "earthy," this one very much as the name implies, marrying meaty and organic qualities. Quite common in older red Rhone wines.
Mouth-puckering, usually noted in tannic reds like immature Cabernet Sauvignon.
Fruit bomb
A rather jocular term for a wine in which forward fruit dominates the flavor profile. Although such a wine is almost always pleasant to drink, the term implies a lack of balance, with fruit excessive for the wine's acidic structure.
Cigar box
Mixed cedar and tobacco, a surprisingly lovely scent that's typical of some fine Bordeaux.
Like the fruit; akin to "tropical fruit," below.
Akin to "steely," above, but with a distinct mineral quality alongside the metal. Reminiscent of licking on a pebble, something that most little boys do at one time or another. Classic descriptor for Chablis.
Yet another synonym for "acidic," this one suggesting a light wine with sharp acidity, a good food wine.
Tropical fruit
General term for mixed figs, dates and pineapple, with an emphasis on the latter; highly characteristic of oaky California Chardonnay.
Think of Hulk Hogan or the Incredible Hulk. My half-humorous term for a wine of massive structure and/or tannins.
Contributes to the wine's body and texture (which is one reason why non-alcoholic wines don't taste "natural"); but if the wine is so strong that the presence of alcohol communicates itself as a raw heat, may be a flaw.
"Burnt match
Always a flaw, the smell of a just-extinguished match suggests negligently excessive use of sulfur in wine making.
General term for an oaky wine in which wood characteristics dominate. Not usually complimentary.
Vinegary, volatile acidity
Acetic acid present. Historically a common sign of poorly made or stored wine, now rare in this age of high-tech industrial wine making. Tiny quantities may be present, and acceptable, in wines made by carbonic maceration (Beaujolais), and, startlingly, f
A joking term for an older wine that's well past its peak.
A somewhat less pejorative rendition of "fat" or "flabby," suggesting a wine that's low in acidity but that brings sufficient fruit to offset the lack of structure -- perhaps like a Rubens in the world of art.
Easily perceptible; usually modifies "tannins."
Nutty, nutlike
Undifferentiated nuts, may be present as a subtle flavor element in any wine or as a predominant characteristic in a Sherry, Madeira or Tawny Port ... or, as above, in a ""maderized"" wine that's over the hill.
As a visual term, a red wine of intense color. As a flavor term, akin to "brooding," above, a robust wine with depth and texture.
Cassis" in French, a fruity and herbaceous quality that's the hallmark of red Bordeaux
Medium, medium-bodied
As the name implies, a wine that's neither light-bodied nor heavy-bodied. Because of its middle-of-the-road status, this is rarely worth mentioning in a tasting note.
Specific fruit flavor, often associated with California Chardonnay, particularly if heightened by oak. Primary component of ""tropical fruit,"" below.
Acid, acidity
The tart (or in excess, sour) quality that wine's natural acidity imparts and that gives the wine a sense of body and structure. Required for proper balance; too much or too little constitutes a flaw.
Acidic. Used alone, generally implies unacceptably over-acidic.
A wine that reaches out to you with full aromas and flavors that, as I'll occasionally note in a highly positive metaphor, "leap out of the glass."
A specific nutty quality, usually subtle, not commonplace but pleasant when it occurs. I've found it in Italian Tocai Friulano and some dry Spanish whites.
The overall texture or weight of wine in the mouth, most influenced by alcohol, glycerin and, in the case of dessert wines, sugar. aka "light-bodied," "medium-bodied" and "full-bodied."
Another take on "earthy," often found in older reds; may add a specific adjective, as appropriate, such as "bookbinder's leather" or "saddle leather." Maybe even "Corinthian leather ... " In concert with other earthy elements, may also suggest "brett" .
Over the hill
A wine that's been kept too long (or poorly) and is no longer enjoyable. aka "geriatric."
Like a radio with the volume turned down, the elements are there, but there just isn't much of them. Not usually a favorable term.
The flavor that remains after you swallow. Surprisingly, this may differ significantly from the taste while the wine is in your mouth. A lingering aftertaste is a virtue, as long as the taste is good!
Complex and balanced; implies more participating elements than "delicate," but balance is critical. A wine that's "outrageous" or "in-your-face" may be complex, but it isn't likely to be subtle.
Tree bark
One of the many variations on "earthy," and a specific descriptor for red wines made from Mourvedre.
Roughly synonymous with ""herbaceous"" but probably a bit more negative.
Red fruit
Broad catchall term for red wines with mixed flavors of apples, raspberries, strawberries, etc., and quite typical of Languedoc reds, among others. Compare "black fruit," above.
Spicy with the fragrant pungence of black pepper. Typical of Rhone and Languedoc reds made from Syrah and Grenache. aka "black pepper."
Country-style, country wine
General term for inexpensive wines designed for casual consumption at the table; not a pejorative, just a statement of fact, although wine snobs may call such a wine "coarse." aka "spaghetti wine." In the U.S., may also refer to the old-fashioned wines ma
As a visual description, very pale, clear as water. As a flavor description, lacking in flavor, weak.
Catchall term for a wine that gives a broad flavor description that's difficult to specify: "Undifferentiated" fruit. A synonym might be "neutral," and neither term is likely to turn up in the notes on a wine that excites the taster.
Overall term describing a wine's sense of body, largely built, as described above, on acidity, with alcohol and tannins as additional elements.
General term for the range of herbaceous flavors from grass to green peas.
As the name implies, undifferentiated berries, typical of Zinfandel and some Languedoc reds.
A specific flavor of mint, usually found only in subtle proportions. Often found in California Cabernets (where it's close kin to ""eucalyptus"") and in Austrian Gruner Veltliner.
Obviously like the herb. Characteristic of red wines aged in American oak. Found in many Australian Cabernet Sauvignons and a few from California.
Subtle, earthy mushrooms. The choice of this pricey fungus as a descriptor strongly implies a favorable intent, as is not necessarily the case with its cousin "mushroom."
Containing many elements with none necessarily dominant. May or may not be "delicate" or "subtle," aka below.
Like plums, above, but more ripe and one-dimensional still. Not usually the indicator of a subtle or high-end wine.
A common descriptor for young Zinfandels.
The sense of structure present in a wine with sufficient acidity. aka"structure" below and note that alcohol and tannins may also be elements of structure or backbone.
Olive, ripe olive, black olive
An odd but not necessariy unpleasant flavor to find in a wine, turns up occasionally in Mediterranean reds and in some of the more flavorful Sauvignon Blancs and White Bordeaux.
The most overtly nutlike of the various nut descriptors; classic definition for Sherry.
Specific herbal descriptor found in some fine Bordeaux and California Cabernets. I believe it's synonymous with "lead pencil" , the classic description of Chateau Lynch-Bages.
Spicy flavor -- look for it in Spanish Rioja -- often associated with oak.
Another rather broad term, usually complimentary, indicating that the wine is full of fruit, approachable and well-balanced.
Dirty socks
As the name implies, always an unpleasant flaw and a sign of incompetent wine making. (It has been called to my attention, though, that in rare Burgundies like well-aged Bonnes Mares, a whiff of this may be acceptable; also note the relationship between t
May denote either (1) Simple, one-dimensional; usually applied to young wines of ageworthy quality to denote unrealized potential; or (2) Light yet acidic, not necessarily simple, as in a Chablis.
A subjective description for a heavy, intense red wine with depths of complexity; may also refer to a wine of this type that's "closed" or "dumb" but that shows a sense of hidden glories.
Zingy (aka acidic)
usually implying a significant but not overwhelming level.
Plum, plummy
Very common description for red wines, particularly budget-range reds made from grapes grown in particularly warm climates. (aka "country-style" and "spaghetti red."
Specific nut description, usually subtle (like "hazelnuts") rather than forward (like "walnuts").
Faint licorice, a pleasant element in some Spanish reds; may indicate, however, that the wine has been artificially acidified, a practice that may improve short-term enjoyment but tends to make wines that cellar poorly.
Another specific fruit description. Not common, but I often find it in Cabernet Franc.
A "green" and "herbaceous" quality, akin to "forest floor," but usually indicates none of the "earthy" nature of the latter.
Chewy, chunky
A textural description for a wine so full-bodied that it almost seems as if you could chew it.
Black coffee
A "burnt," slightly bitter quality, often found in mature California Cabernets.
Green peas
Specific, and usually delightful, description for a "green" flavor found in some white wines.
Specific herbal type, sometimes found in Provence and Languedoc reds. aka"garrigues."
A visual term: Exceptionally clear and transparent.
Velvet, velvety
A rather imprecise texture description implying delicious smoothness, classically used to describe red Burgundy and other fine Pinot Noir.
Complex, with many flavors working together, but not overbearing. If it were a painting, it would be in pastels, not poster paint.
Pleasant spice, akin to "cloves," typical of some reds, particularly those aged in oak.
Stone fruit
Mixed fruits with pits (stones) like plums, peaches, apricots and prunes; very characteristic of Tawny Port, Australian "ports" and some sweet Sherries.
Hidden. One context: Intense fruit ""cloaks"" astringent tannins.
Common color in white wines, lighter and less yellow than gold.

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