Wine Tasting Terms and What They Really Mean

Friday, 8 September, 2017, Anne Krebiehl MW
The wine tasting terminology used by pros can sound like a secret language. We explore common wine descriptions and break down what these words really mean.

Words have meaning, but their definitions can be elastic, especially when it comes to wine terms and tasting notes. Certain terms crop up frequently to describe the flavor, aroma and texture of wine. Slightly removed from their literal meaning, these words and descriptions often refer to particular traits in wine. Here is a list of common tasting terms and wine lingo, and what they mean for the everyday person.

1. Zesty

Zesty relates to the very fresh and intense smell and taste from the peel of citrus fruit, be it lemon, orange, grapefruit or tangerine. As a wine-tasting note, it implies aromatic intensity and a mouthwatering freshness that’s driven by high acidity. If not qualified with a specific fruit, zesty usually refers to lemon.

Wines described as zesty tend to be unoaked, high-acid white wines like RieslingSauvignon BlancAlbariñoChenin Blanc, Chablis and Vinho Verde.

2. Jammy

Jammy refers to the smell and taste of red or black fruits (berries, plums, cherries) that no longer appear fresh, but cooked. While fruit jam may smell good, jammy tends to be a negative descriptor for a wine. It suggests that the grapes were harvested overripe, causing them to lack tension or freshness. This can happen in warm/hot vintages and/or regions.

Jammy notes can also be a result of excessively warm fermentation temperatures and carelessness in the cellar. However, some people love these very ripe, rounded red fruit notes.

Jammy flavors are common in red wines from warmer climates, like Merlot from California’s Central Valley or Puglian Primitivo.

3. Crisp

Crisp is a very useful term. It describes pleasant acidity in a still or sparkling wine. It also suggests a certain agility and lightness that’s brisk and refreshing. In comparison, a crisp wine certainly is less acidic than a zesty wine.

Crisp wines are ideal apéritifs, and include nonvintage sparkling wines, light-bodied, unoaked whites like Gavi or Muscadet, or lighter-bodied reds like Gamay and unoaked Pinot Noir. Crispness can also be used to qualify the lifting acidity in a much rounder wine, like a richly oaked Chardonnay with crisp acidity.

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Thomas Davidson

Thomas joined in May 2019 after graduating from Stellenbosch University with a BA in History & Ancient Cultures and completing a certificate in Business Management and Entrepreneurship at the Graduate School in Stellenbosch. He moonlights as a radio presenter at MFM - and has an incredible passion for wine. 
We are delighted to have him on the team.