Vinbonics 101

"It's a naive domestic burgundy without any breeding, but I think you'll be amused by its presumption."

Thurber cartoon So reads the caption to a classic cartoon by James Thurber. And he had every right to poke fun at people who get a little too carried away with their wine tasting comments. Wine lovers have pretty much developed their own language over the years.

One reason for all the goofy jargon is that English doesn't come equipped with terms to describe all the tastes and qualities one looks for in wine. The winetaster tries to grab words as close as possible to the sensations he or she experiences. Thus, over the years words like angular, oaky or peppery have become standards terms in winetasting verbiage. Other terms, like brawny (wines with high alcohol and tannin content) or charming (a somewhat sarcastic term, light with an attitude and not necessarily a good thing in a wine) are attempts to capture the overall character of the wine or the mood it incites. The Glossary of Wine-Tasting Terminology is a good place to start your language lesson.

"Naive and yet... chubby. No, hold on: It's a naughty little wine that should be taken around the corner and spanked!" - Televison character Ellen Morgan (Ellen Degeneres) at a winetasting

Describing some of the more evasive qualities of the wine can be quite a challenge. And let's face it, trying to imaginatively characterize some hard-to-pin-down aspect of the wine is one of the joys of writing a wine review. Here is a small sampling of wine comments of from our own tastings:

Of course, it helps it you don't drink too much of the wine before noting you impressions. It serves little purpose if your comments make no sense:

If the above isn't enough information for you, grab a hold of a bona fide wine tasting glossary. Here are several more to choose from:

Interesting Links Related to This Column

What Have YOU Heard?

Which brings us to the question: What is the strangest wine description you have ever heard? Please send your experiences to me at, and I will publish the most interesting responses in this column. Please quote the source of the wine review as throroughly as possible.

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