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Wine Tasting Terms

Berries The unique fruit smell of grape varieties is often used to define the aroma or taste of wine i.e. warm berries is a certain giveaway of Zinfandel.

Blackcurrants Blackcurrant is the aroma of Cabernet Sauvignon, called cassis in French.

Blueberries A deep rich blueberry like fruit flavour present in the wine.

Buttery Buttery is a term that describes the richness and colour acquired by mature Chardonnay, traditionally associated with Mersault.

Chocolaty A flavour found in sweeter style red wines in Australia and South Africa.

Cigar Box This is a term to describe a smell of a wine that is synonymous with Cedar wood.

Figs A distinctive smell often associated with ripe deep flavoured reds and sometimes found in Sémillon.

Flinty Term usually applied to dry whites, especially of the Chablis type.

Flowery An attractive scent reminiscent of flowers. 'Floral' and 'fragrant' are similar words of approval often applied to pleasing young white wines, especially rieslings.

Fruity A wine with lots of appealing sometimes quite sweet fruit flavours and aromas

Gamey Wines that smell pungent in a ripe animal sense, such as a bold gamey Shiraz.

Gooseberries A sharp "green" smell often associated with Sauvignon Blanc, especially from New Zealand.

Grapey A wine that smells of grapes, usually Muscaty.

Grassy An herbaceous green taste usually used found in white wines (see Herbaceous).

Herbaceous An aroma related to vegetative or grassy characters. Some reds, notably under-ripe cabernet sauvignon, and some whites (sauvignon blanc, for example), are sometimes described as being 'herbaceous'.

Herby Herby is the smell of herbs, ie Thyme, Lavender or mint.

Lanolin Lanolin is a rich, almost lemony flavour/aroma that is taken on by good quality desert wines (Sauternes).

Licorice The distinctive taste/smell of Licorice in a wine, often associated with red Burgundies.

Metallic Describes a taste noticeable in strong reds that cannot be described otherwise.

Minty This is the smell of spearmint - never peppermint flavour in a wine often found in California Cabernets.

Mulberries The distinctive smell of mulberries is often associated with rich ripe Shiraz grapes.

Peachy The distinctive smell/taste of peaches often associated with Viognier and Riesling.

Peppery A not entirely unpleasant spicy characteristic sometimes found in young red wines (especially shiraz wines) and ports. Rather raw, biting, and reminiscent of black pepper.

Plummy The very rich flavours of a ripe Merlot are often described as plummy.

Spicey Some white varieties (particularly Gewürztraminer) have a noticeable floral spicy smell (like lychees), while some reds particularly Merlot have a fruity sort of spice.

Vanilla Vanilla is a term that is the self-explanatory flavour which is associated with American oak.

Violets The smell of the violet flowers often associated with Pinot Noir.

Wine Storage

Why bother storing wine?

There are two main reasons that we can think of right away: (1) it's convenient when you're heading out for dinner at short notice or guests drop in and (2) it's satisfying to put away something you think might get better after a few years: and be proved correct!

Do I need to have a cellar for wine storage?

No, but it helps. A cellar is an excellent way to maintain a constant temperature suitable for long term storage (15 years+)

A rule of thumb is...

  • 5 - 12 degrees celcius for cheap white wines

  • 12 - 18 degrees celcius for good whites, roses, sherries

  • 18 - 25 degrees celcius for red wine, muscats, ports

If you're only looking at short to medium term (2-15yrs) then there are other ways to get a constant, cool temperature, like a basement or a cool cupboard.

How do I know what to cellar?

Well that's part of the allure of wine collection - you just have to learn what is likely to age well based on...

  • The Vintage Charts – essentially what the experts rate each year or "vintage" for each region, separate ones for Red and White wines (see Further Reading for more info...)

  • What the winemaker says if you visit the winery

  • Your own experience


Here's a quick Northern Hemisphere-centric guide based on type of grape/style:


  • Cabernet Sauvignon wines are often produced to be drunk young, but, in general, will improve with aging. Bordeaux produces a range of Cabernet based wines with varying degrees of aging potential.

  • A Classed Growth château from a good vintage needs ten years to mature and will last for up to another ten years. Consider also California's Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons.

  • Bordeaux’s best Merlot -based blends need ten to fifteen years to mature. Lesser Merlots tend to peak at around five or six years

  • Pinot Noir, the "Noble" grape of Burgundy, is an excellent candidate for aging. The majority of red Burgundy is produced from Pinot Noir and the best have the capacity to mature superbly.

  • Good red Burgundies need at least five years or more to develop to their optimum complexity. Beyond Burgundy, the best Pinot Noirs for aging come from California and New Zealand.

  • Syrah/Shiraz based wines, especially from the Rhône, are superb candidates for aging—some of them for up to twenty years.


Very few white wines should be kept too long in your cellar. There are, however, some notable exceptions:

  • Burgundy Chardonnay is a prime example. A Grand Cru can last up to twenty years, although it is probably at its best after three to five years.

  • Riesling, although immediately drinkable, has great aging potential. German Spätlese, Auslese and Alsace Grand Cru Riesling will happily last in storage for ten to fifteen years.

Four peculiarities of grapes are important for making white wine:

1. Adequate sugar
2. Proper acidity
3. Enough aroma
4. Grape-must output

 Alcohol is extracted from sugar. Since wines must have at least 11 degrees alcohol, naturally the grapes used must contain enough sugar to make this much alcohol. A total of 17 grams of sugar makes one degree alcohol. That is, there must be at least (11o x 17 = )187 grams of sugar in a kilogram of grapes.

Six peculiarities of grapes are important for making red wine:

1. Adequate sugar
2. Adequate acidity
3. Good-quality aroma
4. Good color 
5. Good quality tannin 
6. Grape-must output

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