Introduction:

Without a doubt, the alcoholic drink with the most different types of tastes and smells is wine. A single wine can have a complexity of different tastes (from strawberry to cheese). It is regarded by many people as the king of alcoholic drinks.

A good understanding and knowledge of wine for many people shows that a person has a high level of culture and intelligence. And although this is probably not the case, the ability to choose an excellent wine and fluently describe the tastes will probably impress a lot of people in both business and social situations.

Although I can't help you choose a good wine, I can show you how to describe one well.

In this online exercise on wine, you will learn and remember the English words and phrases that are used by people when tasting and describing wine. Although the focus here is on the vocabulary used to describe the different tastes and smells of a wine (both positive and negative), you will also learn some other phrases that can be used when describing other qualities of a wine.

This exercise has been designed for both native and non-native English speakers.

If you don't know a lot of wine vocabulary in English, I recommend that you do our online exercise on 'Essential wine vocabulary & terms' first.


Exercise: Wine tasting

Read the following conversation between two wine lovers, Bill and Fleur, with the owner of a shop that sells wines. Bill and Fleur are trying a number of different wines at the shop.

From the context, try to guess what the meaning of the words/phrases in bold are. Then do the quiz at the end to check if you are right.

Owner:'So, the first wine we have for you to taste is a white wine. It's a Sauvignon Blanc and the vintage is 2008. It's from a vineyard close to Wellington in New Zealand.'

Fleur:'Well, the wine isn't very clear, it's very cloudy. It doesn't smell very nice at all. In fact it smells like wet newspaper. I don't think I want to drink this.'

Bill:'I'll do it. It's very sour, it's like eating a lemon. I think it's corked. That accounts for the colour, smell and taste. It's been contaminated.'

Owner:'I'm sorry, 1 in 20 bottles of wine that are made are corked. I'll open another bottle. Here you go, this looks ok.'

Fleur:'Oh yes, this is fine. It has a good nose, it smells a little of apples and also of freshly cut grass.'

Bill:'You're right. It's delicious. It has a very crisp taste, it has a sour taste like the grapes weren't ripe. But it's not too strong. It also has a taste of kiwi fruit for me. A combination of sweet and sour. A perfect wine to have during the summer.'

Owner:'So, on to the next wine. It's a red wine. This is a Bordeaux from Château Jean Lamuf. It's vintage is 2002.'

Bill:'Well, its colour is perfect for a Bordeaux. It has a good nose. I can smell cinnamon and also oranges.'

Owner:'With this wine, it's essential that you let it breathe before drinking it. So, move it gently around in the glass to introduce air into the wine before trying it.'

Fleur:'It doesn't taste of oranges at all. In fact, it's quite oaky. The wood barrel which it was stored in has definitely given it a toasty and wooden flavour. It's also quite fruity with a subtle taste of cinnamon as well. But it's well-balanced, neither the alcohol in the wine nor any one of the flavours in the wine dominates the overall taste. It's very nice.'

Bill:'I agree. It's also full-bodied. You know that you're drinking wine because it feels heavy in the mouth and you can taste the alcohol. Very nice indeed.'

Owner:'On to the last of the wines that I'd like you to try. This is another red wine. It's a Shiraz from Australia. It's a wine from last year, so it's a young vintage.'

Bill:'It has a very bland nose, I can't really smell anything in particular. My god, it has a very strong taste of tobacco, like a cigar. Interestingly, it has a smoky taste, a little bit like smoked sausages. Normally, with a Shiraz you expect it to have a spicy taste, you know a taste of pepper or cinnamon. But this doesn't have it at all. It's full-bodied for a Shiraz. I think that the tannin is dominating the flavour of the wine, the wine tastes a little bit bitter for me, like the taste of tea.'

Fleur:'Yes. I agree with you. But I think there is a hint of cinnamon in the wine. It's very subtle because the tannin is dominating. But I can taste it. Although with the finish of the wine, it's a lot more spicy than when you have the wine actually in your mouth. But it's a not a very good Shiraz, it lacks depth. It doesn't have too many different flavours that you would normally expect with a good Shiraz.'



Quiz: Wine tasting vocabulary & words

Below is a definition/description of each of the words/phrases in bold from the above text. Now fill in the blanks with one of these words/phrases in bold. Only use one word/phrase once and write it as it is in the text. Click on the "Check Answers" button at the bottom of the quiz to check your answers.

When the answer is correct, two icons will appear next to the question. The first is an Additional Information Icon "". Click on this for extra information on the word/phrase and for a translation. The second is a Pronunciation Icon "". Click on this to listen to the pronunciation of the word/phrase and to do a pronunciation speaking test.

1. A wine that has a taste or smell of wood, is described as    

         

Oaky:
(adjective) A description of taste and smell. A lot of wine is stored in wood barrels (containers) during fermentation or ageing. These barrels are traditionally made of oak (which is a type of wood), which is burnt with fire before the wine is placed inside. This influences the colour, smell and taste of the wine. An oaky taste is a combination of different of tastes like caramel, vanilla, smoky, spicy, toasty . In Spanish: "sabor de roble".

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Oaky:

Pronunciation Speaking Test:
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2. A wine that feels heavy in the mouth, is called    

         

Full-bodied:
(adjective) This describes the weight and concentration of alcohol and flavours in the mouth. There are three different classifications of weight and concentration. 1. 'Full-Bodied', this is the most commonly used and describes a wine that has a weight in the mouth similar to milk and a strong concentration of alcohol, tastes and flavours, e.g. 'Bordeaux and Chardonnay'. 2. 'Medium-Bodied', this is lighter than 'full-bodied' with a lesser concentration of alcohol when tasting, e.g. 'Sauvignon Blanc and Merlot'. 3. 'Light-Bodied' these are wines that have a weight in the mouth similar to water and the concentration of alcohol isn't intense. Normally, they are white wines, e.g. 'Riesling'. In Spanish: "de mucho cuerpo".

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Full-bodied:

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3. A wine that has a taste or smell of cigars, has a taste/smell of    

         

Tobacco:
(noun) This is both a taste and smell. It is commonly used when describing red wines. The taste or smell is like a cigar (before smoking it). It is a positive description. In Spanish: "tobaco".

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Tobacco:

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4. The aroma or smell of wine, is normally called the    

         

Nose:
(noun) The 'nose' of a wine refers to its smell. It is sometimes called 'aroma' or 'bouquet', e.g. 'this wine has an interesting nose, I can smell strawberries'. Normally, you gently move the wine in the glass to bring out the 'nose' of the wine (it mixes the wine with the air). In Spanish: "nariz".

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Nose:

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5. A wine that has a taste or smell of burning wood, is described as    

         

Smoky:
(adjective) This is both a taste and a smell. It is commonly used when describing red wines. The taste or smell is like the smoke from a wood fire. This flavour normally comes from the burnt oak barrel where the wine was stored. It is a positive description. Some people also use 'toasty' to describe this taste and smell. In Spanish: "ahumado".

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Smoky:

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6. A wine that has a taste or smell of pepper, cinnamon etc..., is described as    

         

Spicy:
(adjective) This is both a taste and a smell. It is commonly used when describing red wines. The taste or smell is similar to spices like black pepper, cinnamon, cumin etc... This flavour normally comes from the oak barrel and the type of grape, e.g. 'Shiraz'. It is a positive description. In Spanish: "especiado".

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Spicy:

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7. An element in a wine that can make it taste bitter, is    

         

Tannin:
(noun) It is a taste. It has a bitter taste, similar to a strong cup of tea and is normally found in red wines. Generally, 'full-bodied' red wines contain a lot of 'tannin'. People often say that a sign of a lot of tannin in a wine is if it makes your mouth feel dry. The taste comes from the skins of the grapes. It can be both a positive and negative (if the flavour dominates too much) description. A wine with a lot of 'tannin' is often called 'hard'. The opposite is 'soft'. In Spanish: "tanino".

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Tannin:

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8. Another way to say there is a slight/little taste or smell of something, is    

         

Hint of:
(noun phrase) A 'hint of' is commonly used when not only describing the taste and smell of wine, but other drinks and food. It basically means that something has a little/slight taste/smell of something, e.g. 'There's a hint of apricots in the nose'. In Spanish: "ligerísimo sabor/olor a".

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Hint of:

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9. A wine that has been contaminated and isn't pleasant to drink, is    

         

Corked:
(adjective) This is when a bottle of wine is contaminated with a fungus, bacteria or even pesticide. It is called 'corked' because the contamination comes from the cork of the bottle. It causes the wine to be undrinkable. The main signs are that the wine is discoloured or cloudy (not clear as wine should be) and the wine has a smell that people describe as wet newspaper or a wet dog. The wine often tastes very sour. In Spanish: "con sabor a corcho".

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Corked:

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10. The taste of wine that remains in the mouth after you have swallowed it, is called the    

         

Finish:
(noun) The 'finish' is the commonly used term when tasting wine to talk about the taste of the wine that remains in the mouth after you have swallowed it. It is also called the 'after-taste', e.g. 'the finish is a lot different to when you have the wine in your mouth, it's more fruity'. In Spanish: "final".

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Finish:

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11. Another way to say that a wine has a sour taste, is    

         

Crisp:
(adjective) This is generally used as a taste. It is commonly used when describing whites wines. A wine that is 'crisp' has a sour or acidic taste, like lemons or gooseberries. In Spanish: "refrescante".

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Crisp:

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12. The process of allowing the wine to mix with air, is called    

         

Breathe:
(verb) The infinitive is 'to breathe'. This is when the wine mixes with the oxygen in the air. It is recommended that you allow wine time to 'breathe' after opening the bottle to intensify its taste and smell. In Spanish: "respirar".

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Breathe:

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13. When neither the alcohol or one of the flavours dominate a wine, it is    

         

Well-balanced:
(adjective) This is a positive description for a wine. It's means that all the elements in a wine (the alcohol, the flavours, acidity) are balanced, and none of them dominate the overall taste. A good wine is well-balanced. In Spanish: "bien equilibrado".

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Well-balanced:

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14. When one flavour is stronger than the other flavours, it    

         

Dominates:
(verb) The infinitive is 'to dominate'. This describes a flavour in a wine which is a lot stronger than other flavours. It has the same meaning as 'to overpower'. It can be used in both a positive and negative way, e.g. 'the spicy taste dominates the wine'. In Spanish: "dominar".

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Dominate:

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15. A wine that has a lot of different flavours, has    

         

Depth:
(noun) This is used to talk about the 'complexity' of a wine, the different types of flavours and tastes that a wine has. A good wine should have a lot of 'depth' or ' complexity', i.e. 'you can taste a lot of different flavours in the wine'. A bad wine is the opposite, it lacks 'depth' or 'complexity'. In Spanish: "profundidad".

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Depth:

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Practice

Now that you understand the new vocabulary, practise it by creating your own sentences in English with the new words/phrases.