Wine Descriptions: Know Your Wine

shutterstock_102485135Wine tasting is a great activity that can be romantic as a date, or a fun adventure with your friends as you try a whole range of different wines. For non-wine drinkers however, you may feel a little apprehensive, as you have no idea on what kinds of wine you’ll be drinking. If this is the case, you must check out this course on wine tasting, and get a solid introduction to what will happen at the winery.

In a wine tasting, you’ll be guided from the lightest whites, through to rose, reds and then onto the sweeter dessert wines. When you’re tasting you should first take note of the color of the wine, and give the glass a quick swirl. A short sniff will give you an indication of the fragrances present, and then it’s time to taste! Take a sip, and let your taste buds test the flavors. Your tongue detects sweet, sour, salty and bitter, with the sweetness and the acidity (sour) being important components of wine. You’ll rarely find a salty taste in wine, and the bitterness will show as tannins (not being actually bitter). Before you head to the winery, read on to discover the different ways to describe many of the most famous wines. We start with the whites, which you can also learn more about in this recent post.


The Chardonnay grapes are one of the most versatile grapes, and the different flavors and aromas that can be produced with this wine are very influenced by where it has been grown, and the process followed in making the wine. In cooler climates you’ll get hints of apply and lime, whilst in more tropical regions the wine will have a more tropical flavor. If it has been barreled in oak, you may detect a hint of honey or butter flavors, whereas being barreled in steel there will be a more mineral flavor that makes the wine fresh on your palate. The best Chardonnay comes from Burgundy in France, and the coastal wine regions of California also produce very good wine.


Riesling is usually a crisp and clean wine, where you will taste green apple, lime and sometimes a hint of pear. The best Riesling’s also have the same pleasing mineral qualities as particular Chardonnay’s, making them excellent with seafood. As the wine ages, you’ll find there are flavors of honey, as well as an oily aroma that is very attractive. There are many regions producing great Riesling, in Germany, France, New York and parts of Australia.

Pinot Gris

Another grape that takes on a variety of forms is the Pinot Gris. Depending on where they have been grown, as well as the process in the cellar will produce vastly different types of wine. The rich wines with a hint of spice come predominantly from New Zealand and the Alsace region of France, whilst the Italian style Pinot Grigio is usually crisp and refreshing.

Sauvignon Blanc

Best known for the crisp and sometimes grassy flavor, this wine is a treat with seafood, vegetable and poultry dishes. You’ll notice the freshness of Sauvignon Blanc, as well as strong aroma’s that make it very popular worldwide. Try a bottle from the Loire or Bordeaux regions of France, or one of the newer wineries that have sprung up to produce this wine in New Zealand.

After the white wine, we move onto the reds. There are hundreds of varieties of different red grapes, but there are only a handful that you’ll come across regularly. As follows are the most common varieties of red wine you’re likely to experience.


When you first taste Merlot you’ll notice the soft and supple flavors of fruit. This wine is akin to Chardonnay in that it’s agreeable, easy to like, and very versatile in what it can be paired with. Typically you’ll be able to taste blackberries and plums, but occasionally there will be mint, chocolate, and even eucalyptus flavors. This wine is ready to drink faster than other reds, and is great from California and Chile, and even Washington State where it creates a plump and powerful wine that ages very well for a decade or more.

Cabernet Sauvignon

This is a stronger wine than Merlot, having more tannins and also a greater potential to age well. It is grown all over the world, and is often blended to soften the tannins. You’ll taste blackberries, black currants, plums and cassis on your first sip. Typically Cabernet Sauvignon is ages in oak, where it takes on subtle hints of cedar, coffee, vanilla and chocolate. Try a Californian for a smooth and ripe wine, and Chile and Australia also make very good Cabernet Sauvignon that has flavors of bell pepper and green olives.

Pinot Noir

This grape is one of the hardest to grow, but it produces a wine that is ranked among the best in the world. Initially it made its mark in Burgundy, where the delicate wine gave drinkers the taste of red fruits. You’ll experience cherries, raspberries, and strawberries, and the older wines will give a much more complex flavor. In the best you’ll get an earthy taste with the hint of mushrooms and forest leaves. Burgundy in particular is the best for the earthy Pinot Noir, while New Zealand and California also produce this wine fantastically.

Shiraz or Syrah

The most popular red wine in Australia, you’ll find Shiraz to be bold, with big flavors and a spicy aroma. The taste is akin to the black fruits, and you’ll often have a subtle hint of leather. In France, this wine is known as Syrah, where you’ll also find spicy, and darkly delicious wines that are rich in flavor. For aging, Shiraz is fantastic, and the flavors will increase in their complexity as they do. Washington State produces great Syrah, and you’ll see a much wider variety of tastes with Californian Shiraz.

Grenache or Garnacha

These grapes produce excellent wine in both Spain and Australia, and as an early ripening grape it tends towards a higher alcohol level with a low acidity. You’ll get a very fruity and spicy wine with a bold flavor tasting both spices and cherry, that could be compared to a less-intense version of shiraz.


This grape is produced into a wine called Chianti, which has the aroma of rose petals combined with a sharp cherry or berry flavor that pairs excellently with a meal. It’s the primary grape grown in Tuscany, creating a wine that is relatively light in color, and quite acidic.


The star wine of Argentina, this wine is inky dark and has an attractive smoky leather aroma. You’ll taste sour cherry and spices in a tart wine that ages very well in oak barrels. The varieties from Chile and Australia are also very popular, light and easy to drink, with a range of tastes from plum, berries and spices. This grape is often blended with other varieties.

Now you’ve got a bit of an idea of the different wine varieties you’ll be tasting, you may want to up your skills and learn to make it yourself. This course is a great assistant that walks you through the process of making wine. In addition, you’ll need to know how to pair the wines you taste to food, so check out this course and become an expert at selecting the right wines to go along with your meal.

Finally, no good wine connoisseur uses their normal vocabulary to describe their wine. Here is a set of different words you can use to describe all the wines you’re tasting, and really impress your friends.

  • Acetic. A sour and vinegary odor which if too strong makes the wine undrinkable
  • Austere. Used to describe a wine that is the opposite of “fresh”
  • Bouquet. The perfume of a wine, when it’s aromas are floral or in harmony
  • Cassis. Describes wines that have a sweet taste of ripe currants
  • Complex. Used to describe a wine that has many aromas and flavors all in harmony
  • Concentrated. A wine that is the opposite of “watery” or “bland”
  • Corpulent. A wine that is very full-bodied with a rich, round feel in your mouth
  • Density. Describes how concentrated the flavors of the wine are.
  • Elegant. When a wine has a pretty feel in your mouth, with no sharp tastes
  • Forward. A wine which has its flavors right in front of you, and is easy to taste
  • Intense. A wine that has a big, powerful taste when it hits your palate
  • Mocha. When a wine is aged in oak is can develop a taste of coffee flavored with chocolate
  • Refined. A pure and elegant wine without any imperfections
  • Rich. When a wine is dense with flavor
  • Silky. When describing the texture of a wine, and comparing it to silk
  • Vanillin. When a wine tastes of vanilla, you use the word vanillin to indicate the aroma

Armed with these tools, you’ll be all set for your next wine tasting experience, ready to know what you’re drinking and be able to describe the flavors you’re experiencing back to your friends. If you want to take your knowledge to the next level check out this course and really become an expert on wine. Cheers!