Wine Words < Helpful Hints < Wine Expert | Online Wine Store | WSJwine

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Let's keep it vague and romantic

As with most of life's more pleasurable activities, the whole point is the excitement of uncertainty, the element of chance. When you hit a real winner … that's when you should come out with the silly adjectives. Sure, wine speak can be over-enthusiastic, but it's meant well, is driven by passion and love and can often create laughter and happiness. That's what wine is all about. On the other hand, there are those who prefer to be sensible. So for them, a glossary of some of the most often used sensible terms.


The immediate impression a wine makes on entering the mouth (apart from wet!). A wine with no attack feels 'flabby' or light.


Wine's vital statistics. Fruit, acidity, sweetness, alcohol and tannin (see below) should be present in pleasing proportions. Whether a 'Kate Moss' Muscadet … or a 'Dolly Parton' oak-aged Chardonnay, balance is the key.


If a wine prompts you be really descriptive … it's complex. (Plain and simple wines seldom inspire in this way). Complexity is characteristic of good quality, well-made wines.


The final impression a wine leaves after you've swallowed. The longer-lasting and more agreeable the better … some can go on for minutes so it is worth concentrating.


Not necessarily old, but ready to drink now. Most modern-style wines do not need years to mature.


Quality almost unique to red wines and often associated with maturity. Means soft and smooth in the mouth.


Has nothing to do with how much wine you sip at once but everything to do with its richness and concentration of flavors.


Another 'savory' characteristic sometimes from the grape itself … or perhaps from the soil (especially in the wild herb-strewn Midi). Also a pleasant aroma comes from oak. Coopers traditionally 'toast' wine barrels over a flame to achieve this desirable nuance.


Describes savory rather than fruity flavors. Australian Shiraz often has a spicy or peppery edge. So too does Grenache … and for that matter most oak-aged wines. American oak in particular gives a strong, spicy character to wine.


Causes that mouth-puckering, palate-drying effect in some reds … but so long as there's plenty of fruit to balance there's no problem. Tannin, extracted from grape skins during fermentation, is essential in reds intended for long cellaring. Its effect softens as the wine matures.


Opposite of mellow — lots of young, ripe fruit flavors that 'tingle on the tongue.' Nothing wrong with that … in fact often just the ticket!