What are Wine Descriptors?

Wine descriptors are common terms that you can use to describe the aroma and flavours in a particular wine. Descriptors can help you put words to the wine you’re tasting and they can be valuable tools for you to use to communicate to another person what you like or don’t like in a wine.

It can be a challenge sometimes to find the ‘right’ words to describe the types of aromas and flavours that you are tasting and to get another person that you are tasting with to understand what you mean.

My advice is to smell and taste as many different fruits and herbs, (and wines too of course!) so that you can to build up your own ‘smell and taste library’. For example, once you have smelt and tasted a fresh rockmelon, then that smell and taste memory will be locked away in your brain and will be drawn out again when you smell or taste something, such as a chardonnay, which has that aroma and flavour in it. Similarly, the smell of fresh raspberries, or freshly cut lemongrass are aroma and flavour memories that stay with you forever, and will pop up when you taste a Shiraz or a Sauvignon Blanc.

As a winemaker, I have spent the last 25 years accumulating what I call a ‘Taste Library” in my mind, which I can draw upon to communicate to another person, or to a group of people. I am constantly adding new aroma and flavour descriptors to my Taste Library, which I often pick up when tasting wines with other people. They will comment on a particular aroma and flavour that they see in a wine, and I immediately then can see that there for myself. The power of suggestion is a wonderful resource to use to build up your own Taste Library!

Our Wine Sensory Garden is set-up so that you can use it to discover new aromas and flavours to describe a specific wine. I would suggest wandering through it with a glass of wine in hand, smelling leaves and flowers, plucking a leaf off a herb, crushing it and inhaling the aromas, then comparing it back to the aromas and flavours of the wine in your glass.

Swirling your glass introduces air into the wine, lifting the wine aromas up and out of the glass so that they are easier to smell. Some aromas associated with wines are fruity, and these are often the easiest to pick up first as you smell the fruitiness with your nose, and again when you taste the wine in your mouth as you “smell” it again through your retronasal passage. Fruity aromas and flavours include peach, pear, lemon, figs, raspberries, cherries, passionfruit, gooseberry, blackberries, and plums, and many others!

There are herbal and spice aromas such as grassy, hay, thyme, lemon thyme, mint, oregano, cloves, tobacco leaf, ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, aniseed, licorice, and vanilla. Some of these characters (nutmeg, burnt toast, cloves and cinnamon) are evident in wines which have spent time maturing in oak barrels.

There are floral aromas such as orange blossom, rose, and elderflowers, as well as earthy aromas (often seen in red wines) which can be described as earthy, cedary, leathery, black olive, and dark chocolate. There are other characters such as nutty, toasty, butterscotch, and vanilla aromas that are seen in wines that have spent time maturing in oak barrels.

There are many useful resources on-line and here is one link that I consider well worth a look Wine Aroma Dictionary