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How to describe the taste of a wine: our tips for smelling, tasting and talking about it

The language of wine is not only the privilege of professionals. Putting words to what you taste is first of all listening to your senses and above all, daring to transcribe your feelings. Here are some keys to unlock the poetic universe of wine tasting.



Why smell a wine before drinking it?

In Cyrano de Bergerac, Edmond Rostand wrote - among other things - about the nose: "This monument, when do we visit it? And what a monument! Of our five senses, olfaction is the most complete and instinctive. In the West, it is also the least studied sense, whether culturally, philosophically or medically. It is not surprising, therefore, that it is the sense we know least well.


Smelling wine, a story of emotion

The construction of our olfactory bulb and its ability to decode aromas - which are in the form of molecules - are defined by DNA. The bulb works on a key-lock principle, each molecule being a key that fits into a specialized lock. If a lock was missing, we would never be able to identify the corresponding molecule. We also remember a smell partly because of the emotion it gives us, according to a double encoding principle: smell and feel. If the emotion is weak, the memorization will only be half done. Hence the famous

"I know this smell, what is it again?". Thanks to the so-called emotion, a smell can remind us of a specific place or event. Thus, the description of a wine is always a linguistic interpretation, based on our personal experiences - smells and tastes that we have encountered and that have marked us. In this way, the language of wine is unique to each person.


How to sharpen your sense of smell?

In order to sharpen your ability to smell and recognize odors, it is important to practice, smelling everything around you. Children do this all the time, adults much less so. To build an olfactory reference system that is as diversified as possible, it is necessary to be curious: food, plants, flowers, but also the outside environment: forest, countryside, rain on the warm earth, air that announces the first snow... It is also necessary to pay attention to what we eat, to the texture of food, and to the effects that they provide. The olfactory memory is a memory that gains in precision with training, just like sports. A watchword for the wine language padawan: smell life!


Trust your feelings and express them

The sensory world offers a vast space of freedom. No one is right or wrong. You just have to know how to overcome your shyness, listen to your sensations, and let the words come out. Wine has the advantage of combining aromas with flavors, but also with tactile sensations, thus offering a vast choice of information to express what one feels. The language of wine is above all playful, poetic, emotional and free. Disagreement is part of the game, and the differences in appreciation are simply the proof of a great diversity of interpretations. Thus, remember that there is no miracle recipe to describe a wine. You just have to listen to your sensations and dare to put words to them.


How to talk about a wine? Expressions to know

Between cryptic words, suggestive expressions and metaphors worthy of a CIA agent from the 1960s, the vocabulary of wine tasting seems to have been created to make wine a complicated pleasure. To help you describe a wine in a simple way, here are some expressions to master.


The wine is closed

A murderous sentence, which in reality designates a wine whose nose and mouth seem to be extinct, or even non-existent. A piece of advice: blow your nose, before getting a decanter, a larger glass, and above all, patience, to give it a chance to open up...


The attack is frank

Not a shadow of a war metaphor here, simply a very graphic way of expressing the very first sensation produced in the mouth. It can be an impression of power, a velvety wave on the tongue, or a particularly surprising aroma, which produces a gustatory shock from the first sip. The equivalent of a love at first sight, in liquid form.


It is a woody wine

A trend that is not necessarily in vogue anymore, which in fact designates woody, vanilla aromas, rather raspy tannins, still firm, that we generally find on red wines still young, when the fruit is still frozen by the power of the barrel. It will be necessary to be patient to let the wine soften over the years.


It is a lively wine

Far from being necessarily a light wine, this is a wine that tingles the edges of your tongue from the first sip. A biting acidity, which can be found on dry white wines, or on reds uncorked in their prime, which also leads to say of a wine that it is tense, or nervous.


What amplitude...

You don't need to be a statistics expert to be amazed by a wine whose aromatic palette combines richness and depth, going for example from floral aromas to smoky notes, passing by fruity and spicy notes... A complex and generous wine, with which one could stay for hours.


It is still a green wine

If the famous Portuguese Vinho verde can have an absinthe color, the term "green" is used here to evoke the acid and vegetal side of still young wines. Not necessarily unpleasant to the palate of chlorophyll lovers, but definitely the proof of a grape harvested too early.


This wine has a good roast

Beyond flattering the butcher, we are talking about a wine with a taste and texture close to that of a sweet wine. The divine culprit, a microscopic fungus answering to the sweet name of botrytis cinerea, gently attacks the grape. And as the skin withers, the sugars concentrate, leaving a dry, but delicately roasted feel to the grape.


It is a wine on the fruit

One should not imagine here a wine riding a strawberry in amazon, but rather a juice with fruity aromas, resolutely light, not very tannic, and most often spared by a long maturation in barrel. More and more popular for their ease and lightness, these so-called "thirst-quenching" wines are perfect flasks for summer.


What a length...

Behind a formula proper to swimming champions, here is a term that refers to caudalies, a unit of measurement that defines, in seconds, the persistence of a wine in the mouth. Beyond 12, we can speak of a wine with a beautiful finish, which lasts and leaves a pleasant memory in its wake ...


These are the most classic expressions, which will allow you to get by in most situations. Some of them are delightfully outdated today, and others have recently appeared, but the language of wine is also a matter of generation.

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