Crazy Wine Descriptors

You have probably been around someone who uses crazy words to describe their wine. If you drink enough wine, you may be one of those people. So why do we use these terms? Wine descriptors help us put words to our wine. Imagine if someone were to ask you to describe what an apple tastes like. What would you say? It taste like an apple! The only way to describe the apple would be to come up with similarities or comparisons. When someone says a glass of wine tastes like black cherry, plum, dark chocolate and spice you can hear the words and know what they mean when you drink the wine.

So let’s break down some of those crazy descriptors:

Chewy/Furry – the wine has a ton of tannin and dries out your mouth so much that you almost feel like chewing; your mouth is dry to the point of being completely void of moisture and feels furry

Cigar/Cigar Box – usually found in refined red wines and is the presence of the smell/flavor of tobacco or tobacco leaves like a cigar; when it is slightly sweeter and has cedar wood and smoke, this is cigar box

Creamy – white wine or sparkling wine fermented or aged in oak that takes on a creamy feel in your mouth – the term buttery is also used (can be due to Malolactic Fermentation)

Grassy – it is actually legitimate when a person puts their nose in a glass of sauvignon blanc smells freshly mowed grass – that aroma in the wine shares the same chemical compound found in the smell of mowed grass

Green Pepper – some grapes carry the same savory aroma compound (pyrazines) as a bell pepper, especially Bordeaux origin grapes like sauvignon blanc and cabernet franc; the smell and taste will be similar to a cut bell pepper

Jammy – thick, cooked berry taste, smell and sometimes feel in the mouth often used to describe grenache, shiraz, and zinfandel

Leather – found in quality red wine because of tannin present in grape skins, seeds and oak barrels; tannins are also used to tan leather; smell and/or lick your belt or purse, you’ll get the idea

Toast – aroma due to wine being aged in toasted oak barrels; not bread toast, more like barely burnt caramel


The Nose Knows Wine!

Many people sniff wine before sipping. If you don’t, you may be perplexed by this seemingly improper behavior.

There is good reason for sniffing wine and it’s even considered proper. Think about when you wake to fresh brewed coffee…the aroma is so alluring! Even non-coffee drinkers appreciate the smell. That’s because our sense of smell is highly sensitive and impressively vast. Humans can detect thousands; some say trillions, of different scents. The sensory organ for the sense of smell is called the olfactory epithelium and contains millions of nerve cells that give the ability to enjoy aromas in coffee, food, wine, etc.

Our sense of taste is strikingly limited compared to our sense of smell. There are only five sensory properties associated with taste: sweet, sour, bitter, salty and umami (savory, protein taste found in foods like aged cheeses or ketchup).   You may think you’re “tasting” flavors but it’s your nose flooding you with those aromas. To prove this, do a quick experiment with a raisin. Eat a raisin as you normally would then eat a second raisin while plugging your nose. You will notice the raisin you eat while plugging your nose taste only sweet (sensation associated with taste). It is not until you release your nose (even after swallowing) that the aromas come rushing through. That’s because the flavors you taste are due to the scents reaching the nose when the raisin is in your mouth.

The same is true for wine. Wine contains around 200 aromatic compounds and by sniffing into your glass, you can direct all those scents to the olfactory epithelium giving you enjoyment. This sense of smell will continue as you taste then swallow the wine. So don’t be shy, get your nose in the glass and sniff!