Wine Speak 101: How to Talk Like a Wine Pro

Become an instant expert—and enjoy major savings on a dozen world-class wines

Wine Types
Getty Images

Sponsored content

Ever read a wine review or maybe a "tasting note" and thought, "Say what?"

You're not alone: "Wine speak" can be anything from overly enthusiastic to borderline absurd. These descriptive missives may sound silly, but they do serve a purpose—to help you understand a wine's personality. And those terms will come in handy when you try the Top 12 Collection from WSJwine.

These are wines you're going to love tasting—and describing.

We call it our "Top 12" collection because many of these wines have won international acclaim, including gold medals—others are favorites of thousands of WSJwine fans. With this limited-time introduction to the WSJwine Discovery Club, you'll enjoy all 12 for only $69.99. That's a savings of $185 over the retail price. And we'll add a pair of delicious California Cabernets from an iconic Napa estate, plus a pair of stemless crystal wineglasses.

wsj wine

When your case arrives, pull up this list of common wine terminology and see how many apply when developing your own tasting notes. Share a review on or tag us on Instagram @wsjwineusa. We can't wait to see what you come up with!

Key wine terminology


The immediate impression a wine makes on entering the mouth (apart from wet!). A wine with no attack feels "flabby" or light.


A wine's vital statistics: Fruit, acidity, sweetness, alcohol and tannin (see below) should be present in pleasing proportions. Whether a lean Muscadet or a voluptuous oak-aged Chardonnay, balance is the key.


If a wine prompts you be really descriptive, it's complex. (Plain and simple wines seldom inspire you to reach for fancy adjectives). Complexity is characteristic of good quality, well-made wines.


This is the final impression a wine leaves after you've swallowed. The longer-lasting and more agreeable, the better. Some finishes can go on for minutes, so it's worth concentrating for a bit to see if you can pinpoint any cool flavors or characteristics as the finish lingers.


Not necessarily old, but ready to drink now. Most modern-style wines do not need years to mature.


Quality almost unique to red wines and often associated with maturity. Means soft and smooth in the mouth.

Join the WSJwine Discovery Club now!


Has nothing to do with how much wine you sip at once, but everything to do with its richness and concentration of flavors.


Another 'savory' characteristic sometimes from the grape itself—or perhaps from the soil (especially in the wild herb-strewn Languedoc-Roussillon region in southwestern France). Also a pleasant aroma that comes from oak. Coopers traditionally 'toast' wine barrels over a flame to achieve this intriguing nuance.


Describes savory rather than fruity flavors. Australian Shiraz often has a spicy or peppery edge. So too does Garnacha … and for that matter, most oak-aged wines. American oak in particular gives a strong, sweet vanilla-spiced character to wine, while French oak is known more for its baking spice notes (nutmeg, allspice).


Ever bite into a too-green banana? You get that mouth-puckering, palate-drying effect in your mouth. That's tannin. Some reds can deliver that same sensation. But as long as there's plenty of fruit to balance it, there's no problem. Tannin is extracted from grape skins during fermentation, and is essential in reds intended for long cellaring. Its effect softens as the wine matures.


The opposite of mellow: Lots of young, ripe fruit flavors that 'tingle on the tongue.' Nothing wrong with that. In fact, it's often exactly what you want! (Sauvignon Blanc fans know what we're talking about.)

Join the WSJwine Discovery Club now!

Editor's Picks

Newsweek cover
  • Newsweek magazine delivered to your door
  • Unlimited access to
  • Ad free experience
  • iOS and Android app access
  • All newsletters + podcasts
Newsweek cover
  • Unlimited access to
  • Ad free experience
  • iOS and Android app access
  • All newsletters + podcasts