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Ready to Expand Your Wine Vocabulary?

| March 1, 2016


Our Expert’s Glossary Will Aid Your Tasting Experience

It may be well to remember the old saying, “Buy on bread, sell on cheese.” With a fairly neutral food, such as bread or a plain cracker, you should be able to discern different attributes of a wine — both good and bad. However, when you add cheese to the bread, particularly the “right” cheese for that wine, the wine suddenly tastes better (and so does the cheese) resulting in a faulty, but enjoyable assessment of the wine.

There is no universally accepted wine terminology. I have seen the same terms defined differently by different writers. This will follow that trend, as these are my definitions.



Aroma — the smell of the juice from the grape, usually for a very young wine.

Bouquet — the smells that emanat from a glass, which are a combination of aroma, the winemaking techniques used, the “terroir” (see “other” category below) and development in the bottle.

Corked — a wine tainted by the chemical compound, TCA 2,4,6, resulting in a musty, dank, cardboard smell.

Oxidized — stale from exposure to too much oxygen. Starting to turn to vinegar. Faulty.

Maderized — thought to be a combination of oxidation and the wine being exposed to too much heat. Faulty.



Balance — how all the components have come together — or not.

Big — normally used in conjunction with a dark-colored, higher alcohol red with a full array of components.

Bland — neutral taste, which is derogatory when applied to a supposedly good wine.

Body — combination of components, including alcohol and extract, which are perceived on the palate.

Breed and Character — pedigree and recognizable quality.

Dry — a wine in which the percentage of sugar is below “threshold,” which would be somewhat below about .6 percent.

Elegance and Finesse — first class, distinct, refined.

Extract — the amount of soluble solids, mainly from not over-fining or over-filtering, which add weight and character.

Finish — the impression the wine leaves as you swallow. Good: pleasant; distinctive; lingering. Bad: short; watery.

Fruits and Flowers — general descriptions such as “black fruits” and “floral” and specific descriptions such as “plums” and “violets” are perceived by different tasters. And of course there are those who routinely find the tastes of black currants, red currants, tobacco, chocolate, etc. For the same white wine, one may say; “wet stones”, while another may say “white peaches.” For the same Pinot Noir, one might say “mushrooms and leather,” while another might say “cherries and forest floor.” If you taste peanuts or guava jelly in a wine, nobody can tell you that you don’t smell peanuts or guava jelly. After all, it’s your olfactory system and yours alone. Your palate is the best palate in the world for you.

Light, Medium, Heavy — generally refers to alcoholic content. Other than that, usually used as an adjective, e.g., light bodied. Full also usually used as an adjective, e.g., full flavored. Examples: Light — Beaujolais; Medium — Pinot Noir; Heavy — Amarone.

Off-dry — noticeable sweetness, but not a dessert wine. I think of this as around 1 percent to 3 percent sugar.

Powerful — usually a big, rich, red with a long finish. A wine that probably has the potential to continue improving with age.

Sweet — generally refers to a dessert wine having anywhere from about 6 percent or even 20 percent or more natural residual sugar. A German Auslese and a Moscato d’Asti from Italy are right in between, being too sweet for many meals and being sweet enough for a dessert wine — each being around 5 percent to 6 percent natural residual sugar.

Tannins — a combination of chemical compounds that come from grape skins and seeds, as well as from oak (aging). Tannins are noticeable primarily in young reds such as high quality Bordeaux from better years, and are perceived as the cheeks and back sides of the tongue “drying out” after swallowing. The tannins in a great, young red wine can make it taste harsh in its youth, but are necessary for optimal development. Many winemakers today develop “tender” tannins — necessary tannins, but without the noticeable harshness — by allowing full ripeness or even some overripeness prior to harvest.



Mature — An attribute that can be noted in the color, smell and taste of certain wines. A mature wine is completely ready to drink, and while it may maintain this state for some time, its further beneficial development is questionable. A fully mature wine should be consumed rather soon, as one of the regrets of most collectors is waiting until a great wine is in decline before drinking it.

Terroir — generally defined as a combination of the unique plot of ground where a vine grows, including the subsoil, mineral content, elevation, slope, vineyard direction and microclimate. Some also add to this the vineyard manager and winemaker and techniques used by each. My addition is the winery owner’s banker. If the owner needs some work done on his/her vineyard to enhance the drainage or set up a drip irrigation system because of lack of enough rainfall to keep the vines healthy and prevent dehydration of the grapes, and the banker won’t lend the money for this, then there you have it!



One of the best new restaurants in the Houston area is Brick & Mortar Kitchen. The owners are Laura and Philipp Brown, she being the daughter of “Mattress Mack” Jim McIngvale. It is located at 7227 W. Grand Parkway in Richmond, and with light traffic, it is about 22 minutes from the Galleria — 20 minutes west on Westpark Tollway and 2 minutes south on the Grand Parkway. The food is all fresh, and the philosophy is great food, great service and a comfortable place to enjoy yourself!

Be sure and go early and spend 15 to 30 minutes at the brand new Gallery Furniture next door to the restaurant. It is awesome! Surrounding you in this cavernous super-store are famous writings from politicians, philosophers, etc. An example: “Price is a one-time pain, quality is a lifetime pleasure.”

Denman MoodyDenman Moody was the Editor and Publisher of Moody’s Wine Review for six years and Con­tributing Editor on Rare Wine for International Wine Review in New York for six years.  He has published or had published over 400 articles on wine, including The International Wine and Food Society Journal in London, Revue du Vin de France in Paris and The Robb Report in Malibu.  He is or has been a member of The Inter­national Wine and Food Society, Confrerie Saint-Etienne d’Alsace, The German Wine Society, Commanderie de Bordeaux, Chaine des Rotisseurs, Les Amis d’Escoffier and The Knights of the Vine.

Category: Wine Reviews by Denman Moody

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