By Kristy Alpert
Silky. Wooly. Velvety. Ever wonder why wine professionals describe wine like they would the contents of a sock drawer? It’s not winesplaining, it’s somm-speak, and it’s a useful language to know when tasting or purchasing wine. Incorporating zany descriptors like these into your vocabulary can help you remember distinctive flavors and more readily identify what you’re drinking. These colorful adjectives are also sure to impress—try throwing out “racy” at your next dinner party to see what we mean. From angular to zesty and all the funky words in between, use this wine descriptor guide to decode what’s in your bottle.
Angular: Young wine with distinctly sharp, bitter, or tart flavors.
Big: Full-bodied and well-rounded in flavor, often high in tannins.
Black Olive: Soft tannins with earthy flavors and a lightly bitter finish.
Blue Wine: Strong flavors of blueberries, blackberries, plums and other blueish fruits.
Brawny: Harsh tannins and high alcohol content; often with raw and woody flavors. These wines benefit from aging to help soften the tannins.
Buttered Brioche: Wines with strong flavors of butter, yeast, and honey or vanilla. Wines produced with malolactic fermentation often carry “buttery” flavors.
Cat Pee: This tangy, funky aroma comes from sulfur-containing organic compounds. This descriptor is most used when referencing Australian Sauvignon Blanc.
Chewy: Bold and full-bodied, with intense flavors.
Cigar Box: Subtly sweet aromas of tobacco and cedar-wood. A positive descriptor for a Bordeaux blend or Cabernet Sauvignon.
Dumb: Wines that don’t express fruit, aroma, terroir, and other desirable characteristics. These wines often benefit from direct exposure to air through long decanting.
Earthy: The opposite of fruity. This descriptor refers to aromas like forest floor, potting soil, and mushrooms.
Fat: Well-balanced, complex, and relatively low acid.
Flabby: Not enough acidity; tastes flat and heavy.
Fleshy: Texturally, these wines feel oily or velvety and thick in the mouth, with smooth and rich flavors.
Flinty: Stony or mineral flavors, like a flint stone striking steel.
Forest Floor: These wines are often more mature and have earthy, wet aromas.
Foxy: Aromas of wet fur, often a bit funky and musky, like the den of a fox.
Fresh Cut Grass: Powerful herbal, green, or grassy aromas often found in Sauvignon Blanc.
Green: High prevalence of underripe fruit flavors.
Heavy: Overly high tannins.
Herbaceous/Herbal: Positive descriptor of a wine reminiscent of fresh herbs.
Hot: Too high in alcohol content.
Jammy: Flavors of stewed fruits, like in a berry jam.
Laser-Like: Bright acidity with focused flavors that shoot through the mouth with laser-like precision.
Lean: Lacking fruit flavors and aromas.
Lifted: Strong acidity, very lively and bright, with heightened aromatics.
Meaty: Hearty, full-bodied wine with flavors that range from bacon to bloody steak.
Moelleux: French term for white wine with a silky, soft, and mellow flavor.
Mousy: Evocative of corn chips, popcorn, or stale urine. A defect in wine.
Pencil Lead: Dry wines with a strong mineral quality in flavor and aroma, similar to the scents of an old schoolbook or pencil shavings; often desirable in Left-Bank Bordeaux wines.
Petrol: Aromas of gasoline; often found in aged Riesling wines.
Plummy: Soft plum flavors.
Pruney: Dried prune flavors.
Racy: Very dry and high in acid content; often used to describe young white wines.
Raw Meat: Unlike “fleshy” or “meaty,” raw meat is almost gamy and a desirable quality in red wines, specifically in Bordeaux and Syrah.
Steely: Steel-like flavors that often come from wines aged in stainless steel vats.
Stemmy: Green or lightly astringent notes in wines; often coming from wines fermented with the stems on.
Tight: Young wines with high tannins that mask its fruit flavors.
Toasty: Toast-like or oaky flavors.
Velvety: Well-balanced in fruit, acidity, and tannins.
Vigorous: Strong, fruit-forward flavors.
Viscous: Dense and full-bodied.
Wet Sidewalk: Strong mineral notes, like the scent of a sidewalk after rain.
Wooly: Earthy, vegetal, and barnyard-like.
Zesty: Lively flavors and balanced in fruit and acid.