Wine and Cheese: The confusing language of wine

Wine and Cheese: The confusing language of wine

By Bob Lipinski

Bob Lipinski

With so many buzzwords, terms, phrases and descriptions about wine being broadcast, spoken and written about, it’s understandable to be uncomfortable speaking or even ordering wine at your favorite restaurant or wine shop.

To alleviate confusion and misunderstanding about wine, I’ve defined the most commonly used terms.

Acidity: Tartness or sharpness in the taste of wine due to natural acids. Not to be confused with sour or astringent.

Aroma: The smell or odor of a grape or grapes used to make the wine.

Balance: A wine whose components — sugar, fruit, tannin, acid, alcohol, wood and so forth — are evident but don’t dominate one another.

Body: The viscosity, weight on the tongue or the mouth-filling capacity of a wine. Is it light bodied (skim milk), medium bodied (whole milk) or full bodied (heavy cream)?

Bouquet: The smell or odor of wine that has been aged in a barrel or bottle.

Complex: Wine with many elements, odors, flavors, tastes and subtle nuances, which seem to harmonize.

Corked: An unpleasant musty odor (mushroom, wet cardboard) or flavor imparted to wine by a defective (moldy) cork.

Herbaceous: Wines that have an aroma and flavor of herbs, such as sauvignon blanc, cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc.

Oxidized: A wine that has lost its freshness due to exposure to air.

Dry: Wine with little or no noticeable (tip of tongue) sugar, usually containing less than 0.5 percent sugar. 

Oaky/Woody: The odor and/or flavor of wines aged in newer oak barrels or aged too long in barrels.

Sweet: Wines that have moderate-high levels of residual sugar, which can be detected on the tip of the tongue. This is determined by the winemaker and not due to the grape variety.

Fruity: Wines that have a defined, pleasant aroma and flavor from grapes.

Tannin: Slightly bitter and astringent compound derived from the skins of grapes but also present in stems, seeds and oak barrels.

Finish: Flavor impressions left in the mouth after the wine is swallowed. Some wines finish harsh, hot and astringent, while others are smooth, soft and elegant.

After tasting, it’s important to describe the wine and discuss it with fellow tasters so you can communicate effectively. It is best to describe the wine and make notes, so you can remember what the wine tastes like in contrast to other wines. Your notes will allow you to revisit a wine you tasted and create a mental picture of that wine.

Bob Lipinski is the author of 10 books, including “101: Everything You Need to Know About Whiskey” and “Italian Wine & Cheese Made Simple” (available on He conducts training seminars on wine, spirits and food and is available for speaking engagements. He can be reached at OR