Wine dweebs like me are famous – or infamous – for the words we use to describe wines. How they look, smell, taste – all have a seemingly unlimited range of potential descriptors.

I could do a blog about how realistic it is to smell and/or taste “acacia flowers” or “bacon fat”…but that is for another day. A simpler approach is to look at some common words or descriptions to watch out for, because they can mean different things than you would think!

1. Food wine

I have done this one before, so won’t go into any detail. Suffice to say if you see a wine described this way, I would stay away from it. A wine should taste good on its own. If it needs food to cover it up, why would you want to drink it?

2. Flavours of coffee, espresso, chocolate and mocha

This is a dangerous one for me, as it signals that the emphasis in the wine might be less about fruit and more about these so-called secondary characteristics. Can you smell/taste these? Yes you can. But will there also be fruit there to taste…that is a very big question. So buyer, beware!

3. Jammy

I use this one in a positive and negative way. It is an easy one to “get” – everybody has had jam, and knows how concentrated the fruit is, sometimes almost too sweet. You usually see it with two kinds of red wines: Shiraz and Zinfandel. Personally, I like it, particularly when the jam is blackberry and it is ripe but not sweet.

When do I use it as a negative? If I see a Syrah described that way. Same grape as Shiraz, but should be a different style altogether – more pepper, black cherry, and licorice, but not jam.

4. Lean

This is another word that should set your Spidey-senses off! Lean only means not a lot of fruit – end of story. Some try to use it as a positive descriptor (those “anti-fruit” supporters), but for me you just end up with a thin, often woody/herbal taste. So be careful with this one too.

5. Garrigue

This is a French word associated mostly with Grenache-based wines from the Cotes du Rhone. It is supposed to mean a melange of smells/tastes of French herbs – rosemary, oregano, lavender, thyme, etc. On the one hand, I know exactly what garrigue smells and tastes like, and love it! But can I pick out those herbs specifically? Probably not. It can be an acquired taste, so try a cheaper one first.

6. Lush and full bodied

Finally, words that can be applied to red and white wines. For the latter, it is easier to understand. Usually it means there has been oak used, and something called malolactic fermentation. The result is – at least for me – a gorgeous mouthful of wine, fruity but not sweet, with vanilla, butterscotch and even nuts. Think big California Chardonnays like Beringer Private Reserve.

It can mean the same kind of things for red wines, usually Cabernet Sauvignons or Merlots or Zinfandels, with black currants or plums or blackberries (respectively) replacing the citrus Chardonnay fruit. The warning, though – if the words “big” and/or “tannic” go along with description, then be careful. Too much tannin (that mouth puckering sensation you also get from tea that has sat around for too long), can overwhelm everything. It needs time to soften. So you might want to buy for your cellar, but not to drink tonight.

So there you are…a few “Wine Words”, and what to think about when you see them!




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