WINE 101

These are common ideas and terms you might hear us use when describing wine.
A good link to improve your wine vocabulary


  • The temperature of wine can affect taste: coldness enhances the sense of bitterness, warmth increases the notes of sweetness and alcohol. That’s why you serve whites chilled (to balance out the sugar) and a big (full) red at room temperature to minimize its sharpness.
    • There are four basic categories of wine:
    • Apertif: Traditionally served before the meal and include such wines as dry sherry and vermouth. Many rose’ and white wines also are commonly served as aperitifs.
    • Sparkling Wines: The most festive and may be served before, during or after the meal.
    • Dessert Wines: Always served…you guessed it…after the meal. They include sweet sherries, ports, sweet vermouth and “late harvest” wines such as Johannisberg Reisling.
    • Varietal & Table Wines: Served during the meal and fall into three sub-categories; red, white and blush wines.
  • Wine Storage: Wine must be properly stored and rotated to avoid spoilage. Wine needs to stay in a constant and relatively cool environment. Rapid temperature fluctuations will cause wine to oxidize.
  • Aging: Red wines will improve with bottle aging, but white wine inventory should be rotated by selling the oldest vintage first.
  • Reject the antiquated and confusing notion that only white wine can be served with fish and poultry, red wine with meats. If people have a favorite wine, it will go well with whatever makes them happy. They shouldn’t feel guilty for breaking some silly code.

Wine Terms

The Wine’s Appearance
Blackish: Young red, perhaps very tannic. It will take a long time to mature.
Brick-red: Color of mature claret.
Brilliant: Completely clear.
Cloudy: Something is wrong; all wine should be bright.
Gris: Very pale rose’.
Maderized: Brown or going brown with the effect of oxygen and age.
Purple: A young color; translucent in young Beaujolais, deep in red wine which takes time to mature.
Rose’: Pink-neither red nor white.
Ruby (of port in particular): The full red of young wine.
Tawny (of port in particular): The faded amber of old wine.


Acetic: Wine that has gone irredeemably sour through contact with the air smells of acetic acid or vinegar.
Aroma: The simple grape smell of young wine.
Bouquet: The complex smell arising with maturity in good wine.
Complex: Scents within scents; suggestions of many different analogies with fruits, flowers, herbs, etc.
Corky: An unpleasant, musty smell and taste. Usually the actual cork has let air into the bottle or been contaminated with a mold, making the wine undrinkable.
Heady: Attractively high in alcohol content.
Lively: Usually young, fruity wines with a little carbon dioxide; and indefinable good sign for wine.
Musty: Unpleasant smell, probably from a barrel with a rotten stave.
Sulphury: The hot and nose-tickling smell often given by cheap white wine in which sulphur is used as a preservative.
Yeasty: It can be attractive in a young wine, although it usually means it has been fermenting slightly in the bottle and is unstable.


Earthy: A virtue or fault depending on the context. A common quality of Italian wines.
Flinty: Dry, clean, sharp, steely; often used to describe Chablis.
Flowery: An appealing fragrance, almost flower-like.
Fruity: The aroma and the taste of the grape and nuances of other fruits (peaches, berries) that the wine resembles. Expect more of a sense of ripeness than actual sweetness.
Green: Unripe, unbalanced acidity, raw taste.
Grapey: A great wine has more than grapiness, but a fresh grape smell is always a good sign.
Grassy: The smell of grass or newly mown hay; it often describes Fume’ Blanc.
Nuts: Nuttiness is usually found in well-aged wines.
Oaky: A smell and taste derived from the wooden barrels used to age the wine.
Smoke: Smokiness is claimed for many white wines. It gives a similar sense as oaky.
Tart: Meaning acidic; in excess can make you pucker like lemons can.


Black Currants
Citrus (like grapefruit and lemon)