It doesn’t take a professional to throw around words like “bold,” “oaky,” or “chocolatey” when you're sipping a good wine. But going beyond the basics is like diving into an entirely new language – and scoring real sommelier points (or at least impressing your dinner guests) requires a little extra knowledge.
To help you step up to the plate, we spoke with Juan Muñoz-Oca, head winemaker at Columbia Crest Winery in Washington state – a region known for it’s (ahem) bold cabernets –to put together a vocab cheat sheet.
The real secret to sounding like you know your stuff, he says, is not sweating over extensive tasting notes, flavor profiles, or super technical terms. All you need in your back pocket is these descriptors.
You can use the term angular in reference to either the flavor of the wine (typically in reference to a red) or the acidity (typically in reference to a white). In both cases, the term “angular” is used to describe the way the wine hits your palate.
Angular wines tend to hit a very sharp, focused point of flavor as opposed to softly sliding over your tongue. The sip might feel a little rough around the edges or even pointy, if that makes sense.
Suppleness is all about the tannic content of the wine, which is determined by how long the wine is permitted to ferment with the grape skins. Rather than flavor, this term refers more to the texture of the wine: how it feels when you roll it over your tongue.
White wines, which typically ditch the tannic skins early in the fermentation process, tend to be a suppler bunch, while bold reds tend to take on an almost chalky feel when you sip them.
This applies to both aroma and taste. Mineral notes aren't exactly a spice, not an herb, and not fruity – they’re sort of inorganic. Think of notes that have a kind of wet rock finish, remind you a little bit of the smell of graphite from your No. 2 pencil, or taste something like the smell of asphalt after the rain. Weird, we know, but you'll know it when you taste it.
An elegant wine makes up for in style what it lacks in palate punch. Rather than being bold and in your face, elegant wines are more delicate – which is to say, light on your palate.
Elegant is most commonly deployed as a descriptor for whites and sparkling wines, although it can also be used for a lean and supple red. In either case, the flavor profile should be subtle but layered, so rather than extra bold notes you can pick out right away, you have to feel it out for a minute or two to pick up on the tasting nuances.
As you might guess, muscular wines pack a big punch and pair best with a sizable serving of protein. These wines are aggressive and high in tannins, almost to the point having a chalky feel. Although a white could technically be muscular, the term applies most often to big, flavorful, unsubtle reds.
Now you just need to uncork a few bottles and start sipping to put these into practice.