Tasting terms

When I am thinking off trying something new what goes through my head?

Well, I am not particularly price-driven, but of course eventually this comes into play as apparent quality versus price is an exponential relationship.  So, assuming that a wine is well made and balanced, it is, grape varieties aside, factors such as sweetness, acidity, tannic character, and the flavour profile which are important, for the stage in the wine’s life – its evolutionary point as it were.  So time stamped tasting notes really are mandatory.

Some merchants’ tasting notes are purely qualitative – so they have limited utility.  And then, if the aim is to communicate an organoleptic experience in order to sell wine, why make it difficult at best or inaccessible at worst, with poorly defined and esoteric descriptors?  Finally, wine is a living thing, so, to reiterate, a tasting note must be dated.

Here is a list of how I, as a wine consumer, classify some wine tasting terms in common use … and I also make a later more detailed analysis of the majority of these – work in progress, and others.

Vague and inaccurate terms

  • Forest fruits – this really is a misnomer, in a forest there is limited light and sparse fruit, woodland or hedgerow fruit are more accurate – in any event there are six: blackberry, crab apple, damson plum, elderberry, rose hip and sloe plum, which can be identified separately.
  • Mineral(s), minerality – see my post.  This term is for the cognoscenti, its sense is poorly conveyed and poorly understood by the majority, including experts. It is a big turn off for many consumers, who view the term as elitist, and who may avoid wines so described.  It is I believe, a feature of wine making, with sulphur cutting the aromas short, so a ‘hint of sulphur’ or a ‘reductive hint’ would suffice, or perhaps drying stones would be more attractive –  at least drying stones are easy to test and verify one’s sensibilites.
  • Petrol – to my mind this really is a strident note of lime, or for the cognoscenti bergamot perhaps; petrol is not a term to use to engage new business for riesling.
  • Wet stones – actually I think, the aroma of wet organic content drying on a warmer stone. To be a little pedantic the term should be ‘drying stones’.

Terms with no aroma

  • Buttercup – not only with no scent, but all parts are highly toxic.
  • Calcium.
  • Chalk.
  • Flint – flint struck by iron or steel maybe, but it is smell of the sulphur in these metals which is liberated on impact, and nothing to do with flint which has no aroma.  Instead use the more commonplace sulphurous, or perhaps struck match.
  • Granite.
  • Graphite – often used instead of, I think, pencil sharpenings, which are cedar in good quality pencils; graphite has no intrinsic aroma. Pencil leads are a baked product of clay with graphite, and still has no aromatic qualities.
  • Gravel.
  • Iodine – some, but not all iodine-based products, display an antiseptic-like aroma.
  • Powdered rock.
  • Steel – one cannot smell steel, much the same as gold, platinum, tin, copper …, it is only when steel is oxidising in the presence of organic content that there is an aroma.

Terms that are too esoteric

  • Balsam – is a fir tree, with a fresh pine aroma, so why not say pine?
  • Black raspberry.
  • Forest undergrowth, forest floor and sousbois – I suspect that leaf humus is meant, which is a more commonly understood and easily verified aroma.
  • Iris (orris) root –  has a faint aroma of violets – so why not use the latter?
  • Japanese dashi sauce.
  • Quinine – was an early anti-malarial medicine, now used in low concentration as flavouring in tonic water.
  • Mulberry – fresh mulberry is not only difficult to come by in the UK, it is also very difficult to pick ripe berries, as the flesh is very soft.  There are white, red and black varieties.  The black ones taste like a cross between loganberry and cranberry.  Dried white mulberries taste like dried goji berries.
  • Persimmon – the national fruit of Japan.  Tasting my first, I thought it unremarkable with an indistinct low-key aroma, and a flavour reminiscent of fresh fig flesh, and quite sweet.
  • Petrichor – a word coined in the 1960s to describe the aroma arising from rain falling on dry earth, an alternative to the romantic term ‘minerality’ perhaps.
  • Pomelo – a citrus fruit very much like a grapefruit, so why not say grapefruit?
  • White camphor – had me scrabbling around, turns out to be the same as eucalyptus, so why not use this everyday aroma.
  • White currant confit – Harrods calls ..
  • White raspberry.

Some commonly accessible descriptors that are useful and easy to verify, with some reservations depending on the audience

  • Natural and commonly available.
  • Balsamic – the resinous family, including cedar, eucalyptus, juniper, pine, incense, sandalwood, vanillin … but balsamic is not commonly understood, so it is better to use the discrete terms.
  • Black olive tapenade.
  • Leaf tea.
  • Old polished/varnished wood.
  • Sucrosity – now this is useful, if only everyone knew what it meant – which is an impression of sweetness on the palate, rather than the presence of residual sugar; so I think some Argentinian malbecs display sucrosity, also grenache noir dominated southern Rhone blends. But, whilst suited to professionals and the cognoscenti, for common consumption it is better to say a sense of sweetness.
  • Vinous – a wine-like aroma or flavour, lacking identifiable varietal character, but again this is not in common usage, so better to say commonplace.

I like these descriptors

  • promising aromas.
  • a warm nose.
  • a richer dimension of tropical fruit.
  • fragrant.
  • fruit forward.
  • a mature, ripe fruit flavour.
  • honeyed.
  • mellow.
  • rich, creamy.
  • fine acidity.
  • lean – acidity dominates.
  • thin and stretched.
  • complex with good tannic structure.
  • well-structured.
  • beautifully balanced.
  • silky palate.
  • kiss of oak.
  • deft use oak.
  • elegant, easy to drink.
  • light and delicate on the palate.
  • full, rounded.
  • rich, plump, spicy, complex.
  • a finish that goes on and on.

Updated 13/11/17

About citbp

I am interested in everything about wine, from site selection to tasting.
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1 Response to Tasting terms

  1. Minnie says:

    This has been such an interest read. I host wine tastings to guests and l find minerality does not excite other guests who no deeper understanding of the term. Great learning platform.


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