Wine Vocab: Your New Favorite Homework Assignment

Wine Vocab: Your New Favorite Homework Assignment

Getting vocabulary homework as a student often is akin to corporal punishment.

But getting vocabulary homework as a wine-loving adult is like sitting by the fire with a warm fuzzy blanket.

And that’s exactly where you should do it.

Because the wine world definitely has its lingo. And some of the words the pros use to describe a glass of wine can be quite bizarre (like barnyard…really?).

But while there are legitimate definitions to many of these words, the best descriptors are your own. You may describe a fruity wine differently than your BFF, and that’s ok. Just stay consistent with yourself so you can build on your own tastes and preferences.

So we’ll compile a running list of wine words you hear often and we’ll offer up the pros’ definition. So that when you are at a restaurant and the sommelier says the wine is “balanced” you know what she’s talking about.

We’re starting with five words today and we’ll keep adding to this list. And if there are any words that you want included — be sure to send them on!

1. Balance
Here’s the short answer: If someone tells you the wine is balanced, you can bet it’s going to be darn good.

That’s because achieving balance is a winemaker’s Promised Land — it’s where everything comes together.

That means the alcohol, acidity, tannins, sweetness and the fruit are all in harmony. So it’s not too sweet, not too dry and the alcohol doesn’t burn the back of your throat. Not surprisingly, balanced wines aged beautifully.

It’s super hard to get there — so be sure to raise your glass to the winemaker the next time you drink a balanced wine.

2. Minerality
We’ll admit this word often is used as a catchall. It’s used to describe the aroma, the taste or sometimes both.

But think of minerality as the smell and even the taste of wet rocks. Yes, go lick a rock. It won’t hurt you. Or remember the smell of the sidewalk the next time it rains. It’s not fruity nor is it herbaceous. It’s well, wet rock. Or it could be the saline smell from the ocean.

You’ll know it when you smell or taste it and again, what’s important is your definition of it — so just stay consistent.

3. Closed
When a wine is closed it means it’s just not ready to drink. People often may its “tight” as well. It’s either too young and needs more time to age in the bottle or maybe it just may require a little decanting so that the air can get in and loosen it up.

4. Creamy
Anything creamy just has to be good, right? It’s also another word for buttery, when referring to a Chardonnay. You get that creamy, buttery taste from the oak barrels the wine sits in. A creamy Cabernet Sauvignon is super smooth.

5. Earthy
This another word that’s used in a bunch of different ways. Earthy wines can smell of mushrooms or truffles. Many pros will say it smells like the forest floor. And while we’re guessing you haven’t been in the forest smelling around recently, think leaves and dirt basically. But this is ironically a positive attribute — especially in older wines.

People often use the term earthy is also used to describe wines that have a finish that tastes similar to green vegetables.

So just start to think of these words the next time you have a glass of wine and see if they apply.

Because the only way to properly do this kind of vocabulary homework is to keep drinking.

Tracy Byrnes, former FOX Business Network anchor and host of “Wine with Me” for, is editor-in-chief and chief contributor of The Sip. 

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