The Cryptic Language of Wine

Cork sniffing not required

Is a fleshy wine good? Should you be leery of an aggressive Cabernet? If you want to show off a little and describe a nice white wine as something other than grapefruity, take a spin through our list of fancy wine descriptors.

Foxy

No, this doesn’t refer to a hottie drinking wine coolers at karaoke night. Rather, a foxy wine might contain musty, rather animalistic—perhaps furry—notes that are often found in wines made with Concord grapes.

Angular

Angular might give itself away; sharpness, no soft edges, perhaps a bit assaultive. It describes a wine that hits a particular spot on the palate, and nowhere else, over and over again. It’s not completely pleasing. Your mouth wants the feel-good joy of a truly tasty wine! Maybe it craves something like our next word.

Big

This should be simple to remember: a big wine hits all the right spots in your mouth (in the way the angular doesn’t). It can be either fruity or high tannin (compounds that give wine its astringent taste), and makes your mouth do a little happy dance!

Fleshy

Fleshy wines are similar to big wines, in that they are full of concentrated flavors, and they are meaty, ripe and chewy. It’s all about texture—they truly have a fleshy feel. It’s almost like drinking a good steak. TIP: Common fleshy wines are Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Hermitage.

Flabby

Flabby describes a wine that just…fails, mostly due to a lack of acid. It can be so buttery, so velvety, that the missing punch of acidity makes the whole affair a bitter disappointment for your tongue. If a wine’s pH balance is off, it can end up tasting like syrupy juice.

Earthy

If a wine is earthy, that means it evokes flavors like mushrooms, truffles and forest floors. Earthy is good, in the right doses. TIP: Licking a forest floor is probably not fun, and we don’t recommend it.

Complex

A complex wine has a flavor that changes from the moment it hits your tongue to the moment you swallow it. “Wait, I thought that was chocolate! Wrong-o! It’s berry and spice, with a hint of forest floor!” The brief journey down the hatch can feel like a cosmic leap.

Backward

Like an arrogant teenager, backward wines need to grow up a little. This term describes an aged wine that is underdeveloped and whose flavors have not quite matured. Another word for this phenomenon is closed.

Aggressive

An aggressive wine has usually got too much going on in the tannin department, along with too much acid. An aggressive wine will make you pucker up before it (gently) punches you. Some wine aficionados prefer it that way!

Vegetal

This term covers a broad spectrum of qualities: vegetal references notes of asparagus, cabbage, bell peppers and even sweet peas. A wine is vegetal due to the presence of unripe grapes as part of the blend, and the term can be applied to both red and white wines. If vegetal feels too showboaty, try grassy or herbaceous.

Steely

A steely wine is rather tough, but in an admirable way. Due to higher levels of acidity, such wines are considered sharp or harsh tasting. Experts suggest that steely wines are perfect for stimulating the appetite. Bring out the cheese plate!

Balance

When a wine is balanced, it means the winemaker brought all the elements of sugar, tannins, acid and alcohol together in perfect harmony, like a bunch of people on a hillside singing about world peace and soft drinks.