Wine Tasting Skills: Oz Clarke’s How to Taste Wine, Part Six

Wine tasting skills with Oz Clarke

Discover wine tasting skills from the Three Wine Men experts and make drinking wine an even more rewarding experience, one step at a time. Practise these skills at home or with friends and be raring to go at our wonderful wine tasting events! Find out more about our events at

Over to Oz, for part SIX…

“50 ways to describe wine.”  [The final 25!]

There’s more to describing wine than saying it’s good or bad. Tasting terms are a way of sharing our perceptions of a wine’s qualities; they should never be a secret code for experts. Fruit flavours are direct comparisons, so if I know the fruit, I will recognize the flavour you are talking about. The same goes for honey or nuts. These less obvious terms are useful too.

Jammy Red wine in which the fruit has the boiled, cooked flavours of jam.

Light Low alcohol or little body. Not necessarily a bad thing.

Meaty A heavy red wine with solid, chunky flavours. A few wines actually do taste of grilled meat or bloody beef.

Minerally How you might imagine a lick of flint or chalk to taste. Common in wines from Germany and Austria, and from Chablis and the Loire Valley in France.

Neutral Little distinctive flavour.

Oaky The slightly sweet vanilla flavour in red and white wines that have been fermented and/or aged in new oak barrels.

Oak also adds tannin.

Petrolly A surprisingly attractive petrol- or kerosene-like smell that develops in mature wines made from Riesling.

Piercing Usually refers to high acidity. But vibrant fruit flavours can also be piercing.

Powerful A wine with plenty of everything, particularly alcohol.

Prickly Slight fizziness caused by residual carbon dioxide gas, meaning that fermentation is not quite finished. Very refreshing in simple whites but a fault in red wines.

Rich Full, well-flavoured, with plenty of alcohol.

Ripe Wine made from well-ripened grapes has good fruit flavour. Unripe wines can taste green and stalky.

Rounded Any wine in which the flavour seems satisfyingly complete, with no unpleasant sharpness.

Soft A wine without harsh tannins or too much acidity, making it an easy-going drink. Often a good thing, but a wine can be too soft.

Spicy Exotic fragrances and flavours common in Gewürztraminer; also the tastes of pepper, cinnamon or clove in reds such as Australian Shiraz. Spiciness can be an effect of oak aging.

Steely Good acidity and a wine that is firm and lean, may be minerally but not thin.

Stony A dry, chalky-white taste, like minerally but without quite the excitement.

Structured ‘Plenty of structure’ refers to a wine with a well-developed backbone of acidity and tannin, but enough fruit to stand up to it.

Supple Both vigorous and smooth. A description of texture rather than flavour.

Sweet Not only a wine with high levels of sugar, but also the rich and ripe quality of some of the fruit flavours in many modern dry wines.

Tart A very sharp, acid taste like an unripe apple.

Thin, lean, stringy Terms for high-acid wine lacking in flavour.

Toasty A flavour like buttered toast that results from maturing a wine in oak barrels.

Upfront A wine that wears its heart on its sleeve: expect obvious flavours, not subtle ones, but sometimes that’s just what you want.

Extracted from Oz Clarke’s Let Me Tell You About Wine, published by Pavilion Books. Image credit to Pavilion Books, RRP £14.99, available to order from all good bookshops and online retailers including Amazon here

We hope you enjoy practising your wine tasting skills!  That’s all from Oz for now…

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