Annoying Wine Words

Five overused terms that tell us nothing about wine!


This article was originally published on October 6, 2010, but like much of the writing about wine it is still worth reading two years after originally being published. So take a read today and see if you agree with my (slightly) tongue in check assessment of some annoying wine words!

Wine can be a pretty stuffy topic. Historically, it’s been dominated by old men tasting wine in wood-panelled libraries, speaking with a little Locust Valley lockjaw (if you know what I mean, Lovey).

The fact that the people responsible for tasting wine and writing reviews seem intent on confusing their audience continues to amaze me! I mean, let's call 'em like we see them and stop using the most annoying words in wine writing!

5) Unctuous

As defined by its main abuser, Robert Parker: “Rich, lush, intense wines with layers of concentrated, soft, velvety fruit are said to be unctuous.” Look, I know I’m an outlier, but unctuous means smooth and greasy, and if we’re using it as an adjective to describe a person it only gets worse: “Excessively or ingratiatingly flattering; oily”! Maybe that is what Parker means after all, but do me a favor and keep your smooth, greasy wines away from me.

4) Confident

Feeling or showing certainty about something. So, I’ve seen this term abused fairly often, with people referring to confident aromas, or tannins, or what have you. Wine, let's see, let me check -- yes, it is still inanimate! It lacks a brain stem, so it can’t feel or show you anything. And even if it could, what the heck would confident tannin reveal?

3) Serious

Demanding careful consideration or application. Okay, so this is one of my all-time most annoying wine words, and one that I am guilty of using, but I use it correctly! So many people refer to a wine as being serious, as though there was some group of unserious wines lurking around the corner waiting to spoil the party! Look, there are wines that are not serious; usually they fall into the category of wines I do not drink! But hey, let’s stop trying to give them a complex. A serious wine is not necessarily serious by design, so please stop implying that.

2) Cacophony

A harsh, discordant mixture of sounds. Well, now I’m just being pedantic, which has to be just as bad as being an obtuse wine writer. Anyway, there are now wines being reviewed which seem to have cacophonies of aromas, or flavors. Unless you made a mistake with those mushrooms, it’s only about the sounds, folks, and I for one tend not to care too much about how my wine sounds. If I’ve been missing something, I haven’t noticed!

1) The finish Lasted X Seconds

So this is more a phrase but what the hell? I’m all for paying attention to your wine; enjoy it, understand, but don’t dissect it for Christ's sake! And are you really sure that finish was X seconds? Stopwatch was out? Your timing was perfect? This is so silly that it makes me want to scream. The finish wasn’t that long, timing it is foolish, so just relax and enjoy that wine. We get it when you tell us the finish was short, or long, or really, really, really long. Let's stop trying to be so damn precise with something that offers each of us such a unique expereience.

Read more: Getting to Know the Grapes

Want to branch out beyond your favorite wine but don't feel comfortable, not knowing what’s out there? Well, take a look at our rundown of the most popular varietal wines in America! This handy guide is an introduction to the grapes you want to learn about. In brief, easy–to-understand snippets. 

The Most Popular Types of Wine

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Mentioned in this article


  • Snooth User: Chelsey E
    Hand of Snooth
    492205 255

    Ha, ha. Bad word choice is one of my pet peeves, so I really enjoyed this! Interesting stuff.

    Oct 06, 2010 at 9:30 AM

  • 'CJ and I seem to be alone in bringing into the vocabulary of wine description terms such as “challenging”, “sweaty” and “fight-inducing”. Nevertheless, I always find the notion of “easy-drinking” intriguing - what else should wine be? Few cheap wines honestly describe themselves as “difficult to swallow”.'

    Oct 06, 2010 at 9:41 AM

  • Snooth User: courgette
    124481 158

    Ha! Nice start, Greg-- please don't stop at five. And I loved the illustrations... especially for "unctuous."

    I have one request for the wine world's vocabulary: Please stop using "meat" as a descriptor for flavor in wine. We vegetarians gag a bit when we read it.

    Oct 06, 2010 at 1:31 PM

  • Snooth User: JerzJerry
    490279 38

    I loved this had LEGS and had just a slight hint of FRUIT...or as Ed Norton said to Ralph Kramden...." an AMUSING little wine"

    Oct 06, 2010 at 1:47 PM

  • Snooth User: BobRosie
    129000 3

    I have never understood why wine has to be described with words external to the wines themselves. Why can't there be a vocabulary that is dedicated to the description of wine, just as there are words that describe various colors or words that are associated with various typefaces, or whatever. The notion that a particular wine tastes like ...well...tobacco, or chewed leather, or wet be cute about it...especially as such terms are often presented in multiples...well, I have to say, is in my personal view, "stupid."

    In addition to various tastes, wines are described as "chewy," well, like what...chewy as in eating a steak? a tomato? Well, I find it all very silly. That the wine community can't or hasn't come up with a language that does justice to the product is hard to understand, given the eons of its presence in our cultures.

    Oct 06, 2010 at 1:48 PM

  • Snooth User: McWine
    Hand of Snooth
    104328 60

    Perfectly done and kudos for pointing to silly stuff!

    Oct 06, 2010 at 1:58 PM

  • Snooth User: civiletti
    192021 20

    Usedf informally, I don't think "serious" is a poor adjective to describe a complex, concentrated red wine. A good Napa cabernet sauvignon is likely serious, while a prosecco, though it may be a very nice wine, is not serious.

    Oct 06, 2010 at 2:17 PM

  • Snooth User: mopjock
    181090 6

    This was fun. Will it change things a lot? Perhaps, but who cares? It was fun. BobRosie mentioned "wet dog" - will have to agree that it far from makes be want to run out and get a bottle to try it!

    Thanks, keep them coming. It was fun
    John Krause

    Oct 06, 2010 at 2:21 PM

  • Snooth User: Sauternes
    502039 3

    An absolutely piquant little article: Fruity, yet nebulous; arrogant, but unassuming. And since I forwarded it to everyone I know, the finish will be . . . deferred.
    Keep up the good work!

    Oct 06, 2010 at 2:37 PM

  • Snooth User: talentlaw
    322288 8

    Well said Gregory. I agree for the most part. However, when it comes to wine, I love to unleash my imagination and revel in metaphor. So, like Civiletti, I think their are serious wines worthy of our careful considerations as we invest, store and imbibe them, but also there are fun, unpretentious, quaffable, affordable wines. Moreover, whereas I agree that use of cacaphony as a descriptive may be discordant, so many times I have described this or that wine as okay but merely "one note" whereas others are a virtual symphony in the mouth. To me, it is part of the fun, the unbridled joy of the wine experience to let ourselves go both literally and metaphorically.

    Oct 06, 2010 at 3:00 PM

  • Snooth User: tedN
    325502 20

    What the heck does this mean.
    This is my number 1 offensive term

    Oct 06, 2010 at 3:02 PM

  • Snooth User: hh22
    373498 4

    Love it! Reviews should be clear to people reading them. One of my all time favorite wine reviews went something like this: "Wine tasted terrible. I poured it down my kitchen sink, now my sink isn't speaking to me!"

    I certainly didn't have to try to decipher the language to know what the reviewer meant.

    Oct 06, 2010 at 3:07 PM

  • Elvis Costello said "writing about music is like dancing about architecture." the same applies here. shut your mouth, swallow, enjoy.

    Oct 06, 2010 at 3:23 PM

  • Snooth User: cosmoscaf
    256062 54

    The terminology is often engendered by the winemakers and proprietors, themselves. Toad Hollow makes a wine called Cacophony. It is an obtuse, impolite, noisy little wine wrapped in impertinence and obsequiously habitual glad handing. It's not my fault it's like that. They started it. But why someone would name his or her wine a word meaning disharmonious, I admit I'll never understand because, if nothing else, I, myself, would never buy it.

    Oct 06, 2010 at 3:35 PM

  • Snooth User: NHG
    602641 1

    I hate to be pedantic, but I missed the connection to "Christ" in the final--very apposite--item on your list. Seems to me that this was a word or phrase that didn't really have a place in "serious", "unctuous", "confident", or even witty and informative wine writing, or in any valuable writing, for that sake(s).

    What might be more interesting on that front, is the fact that the Christian scriptures claim that the first miracle performed by the second person of the Trinity was turning water into wine. Now there's an ally.

    Otherwise, I'm thrilled to be here.

    Oct 06, 2010 at 3:57 PM

  • Snooth User: gahatfie
    357651 25

    I personally like it when the winemaker has his or her say, take this fine example for a nice Zin:

    2007 Zinfandel - Fall Club Pack Wine - The tauroctonies of high summer, dark & swarthy red, pierced vein blood from the Mithraic bull spilling upon the god’s own pallid birth stone, leading to an immediate lip smacking ripe raspberry & black strap molasses, fresh ground green pepper corns tickling your mustache (if you have one), followed by warm flame raisins, nougat, black licorice, & translucent slices of impeccably aged jamón serrano from the haunch of an acorn fed Iberian boar, all of which impressions are perfectly sensible & appropriate to this Zin. Yes, & too, there are elements of spice, anise, celery seed, the bite of tarragon & someplace in the background, some dill, but beware of a rose with thorns when you tango. The initial sense of raspberry gives way to blackberry & blueberry on your tongue, & if you think about it carefully, there can also be found an under layering of Carib Island grenadine doing the breast stroke with little dabs of sesame to confound you. And coco powder. Don’t forget the coco powder & leather, because this wine is definitely a shape shifter, a tease in your glass.

    Oct 06, 2010 at 4:14 PM

  • Snooth User: cosmoscaf
    256062 54

    I think, when I was young, I dated that wine.

    Oct 06, 2010 at 5:17 PM

  • I enjoyed this article until I got to the "for Christ sakes" phrase. It offended me for two reasons: first because I'm a Christian, and secondly, the teacher in me expects that someone who writes an article about misused words would at least use his own correctly, as in "for Christ's sake!" Christ showed he knew a thing or two about wine at that wedding in Cana!

    Oct 06, 2010 at 5:35 PM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 238,748

    Just for the record. This Christian just corrected that grammatical error!

    Oct 06, 2010 at 5:52 PM

  • Snooth User: sierracom
    464690 1

    Add to the word list "leggy", "great nose" and approachable. Marlene Dietrich was leggy, Durante had a great nose and on occasion, my girl friend is approachable!

    Oct 06, 2010 at 6:02 PM

  • Snooth User: Wine Chef
    112726 2

    Hilarious, yet so true! (I prefer that I be called leggy and approachable, not my wine.)

    Oct 06, 2010 at 6:09 PM

  • I have visions of Monty Python somewhere in Gahatfe's comments, speaking of Christ. And as for the finish lasting X seconds? Could this have been overt wine marketing sexualism? I enjoy the direct approach to wine labelling and writing, Greg! Keep it up for Christ's sake! BTW, I am a Christian too but we all need a good laugh!

    It is interesting to see the art of wine making coupling with a new writing approach. If the Old Boys Club like the verbose wording, let them have it, by Jove! I say (and I'm guessing Greg does too), "why use a big word when a diminuitive one will do".

    Pip Pip!

    Oct 06, 2010 at 6:24 PM

  • Snooth User: shazoz
    602962 1 favorite word to describe a wine is "YUMMY" Forget the hyperbole ...does it taste good? Am I going to enjoy it? End product, It is a DRINK, it is not going to save the world! It's a beverage. End of story.........Cheers all

    Oct 06, 2010 at 9:29 PM

  • I often use the term "water wine" to describe wines that lack flavor tasting like watered down grape juice. I love THAT term. Good article! Thanks!

    Oct 06, 2010 at 10:37 PM

  • Snooth User: DaftPunk
    109518 8

    Anyone get the WineAccess emails?

    "But what characterizes this cru more than anything is the delicious kernel of syrah fruit."

    Corn has kernels!

    Oct 06, 2010 at 11:22 PM

  • Snooth User: Thomasu
    324359 4

    Great article!
    When celebrity say lies or handicapped words,they became the truth to their fans or followers ! ---in a commercial marketing wine world,don't be so "serious"? ! ha ha!

    Oct 06, 2010 at 11:36 PM

  • Snooth User: madelinb
    302531 1

    What about "pencils" ? Who want to drink wine that tastes like....?lead?

    Oct 07, 2010 at 12:52 AM

  • Snooth User: galleyho
    222768 84

    to me approachable means within the confines of a glass, carafe or like vessel. Once spilled on carpet, floor or furniture--it is no longer approachable.

    Oct 07, 2010 at 3:25 AM

  • Snooth User: RaBj
    603347 1

    More on Wine Bullshit can be found at

    Oct 07, 2010 at 8:06 AM

  • Snooth User: FmWiner
    603468 1

    For me, wine reviews are like abstract art.
    I can't tell if it's suppose to be good or not, but I do know
    what I like. All of the clever artsy-fartsy words don't change
    anything, but I get a chuckle from the attempts to sound sophisticated.

    Oct 07, 2010 at 9:58 AM

  • Snooth User: GARYSTAIB
    395113 1

    I work in a fancy BYO restaurant - there's a LOT of great perks ( I could go on and on about what wines I get to taste - or how many wines I get to taste in a week..), but there's a trade; I must suffer through the 'winespeak'.
    One of my favorite words for wine is "inky"...but there's a small wine shop in the front of the restaurant, and tastings are held there each evening. One can hear words like 'Burgundian' or 'leather belt', 'cigar box' 'well-behaved tannins' (that's mine, by the way..), 'unctuous' - of course, 'paper bag', 'puppy breath', 'armpit' (another favorite - I'm not sure if it counts if the guy was drunk..).
    Oh, I do have to suffer through everyone being a comedian when they taste the wine to test the bottle; least favorite comment when they're about to taste "well, I can't send it back" (almost every comment is this one- and how stupid a comment for one who drinks wine; First off, as a waiter I don't care if you like the wine, which you BROUGHT, - we're testing to see if the wine has suffered some sort of contamination or some other problem that affected the taste, so if it tastes like dog crap on the basement floor you don't HAVE TO 'send it back', but why on earth would you drink it or offer it to your guests, unless you know nothing about wine, or have no clue for the reason to drink wine - it's not just a liquid to slosh the grub down with; it's wondrous, refined art that you can consume.) In other words, 'my guests mean nothing to me - pour this stuff in the glass, and if it's putrified, my guests will just have to suffer through that. This might be a $120 bottle from my wine cellar, but I'm a cheap bastard and if the wine didn't 'make it' we're gonna drink it - even if it's makes my wife or guests sick.' Classy guy. He may as well say "I can't tell the difference if it's corked or not, anyhow".
    Favorite comment - comes from a refined gent celebrating a silver anniversary with his wife after testing the wine; "good ink".

    Oct 07, 2010 at 10:52 AM

  • Wine lovers tend to become snobbish, I notice the same with audiophiles, not to mention cigar lovers. We start talking gibberish when describing what we taste and hear.

    Oct 07, 2010 at 11:22 AM

  • Some of these terms seem like literal translations of silly French wine vocab, masters of irritating and sometimes plain bizarre wine descriptions. e.g. I see "onctueux" quite a bit, meaning as you say just rich or full-bodied not unctuous in English. Couldn't agree more about finish, people can understand this word plus "long" or "nice" without getting the stopwatch out. No doubt I'm also guilty of having used some of these words in my time! Perhaps "minerality" should join the fold, which has become annoyingly fashionable and abused with few attempts at trying to define it. Cheers, Richard. PS I sometimes quite like saying "serious wine" though, if it really grabs your attention!

    Oct 07, 2010 at 11:25 AM

  • Snooth User: mlandry
    593138 24

    Although the article is playful, I also find it obnoxious (sorry). I agree that some words are 'thick' sometimes, but isn't part of the fun to describe wine with a panoply of words since its qualities are so elusive and let us be honest, often abstract? I don't mind the 'tangy red' or 'sweet white' simple terms but if you don't understand the word and cannot imagine how it relates to a quality of the wine, go back to school or read the dictionary...or drink and shut up. Don't be annoyed by such triviality. There's an appreciation for words just as there is an appreciation for wine; if you don't like both, it's all good.

    What I do mind is the author's hypocrysy as shown in his article about the 10 best Sauvignon Blancs; here are some words that he used that I 'hate':

    Round; it's a liquid people, how can it be round? I've never heard of a 'square' wine...

    Deep; depends how much you pour eh?...

    Creamy; if I get a creamy wine, I want a refund! Isn't that just another word for 'unctuous'? BURN! ;-)

    Oct 07, 2010 at 10:48 PM

  • Oh please! Stop trying to simplify a complex, aged, and respected vocabulary. Some things need not be changed. Like perfection. Denies change, because, well it is "perfect". Look it up. Get over yourself!!

    Oct 08, 2010 at 11:14 PM

  • Oh, I can't tell you the expression of the sommelier at the finest restaurant in DC when (in all truth) I was asking how to describe a particular taste and used the word 'rotten' and was corrected to 'earthy'. I just couldn't come up with the right expression--but was quickly corrected...

    Oct 10, 2010 at 9:20 AM

  • Snooth User: PrairieMan
    554244 39

    I like what you are saying. Some of these folks just drive you nuts trying to find a multi-syllable word to show off. I think one of the most overused words for wine or whisky is smooth. I know it's legit, but it bugs me.

    Oct 11, 2010 at 3:12 PM

  • Snooth User: caramelly
    610161 1

    Let's not forget barnyard, lychee fruit, gooseberry, wet saddle and forest floor. Mmmmm. . . I once tasted a Pinot Noir that had essence of banana pancake. . .

    Oct 13, 2010 at 3:12 PM

  • Snooth User: Diderot
    104965 104

    While it is not used to describe the taste or bouquet of wine, "sourced" has to be one of the most off-putting and pretentious words used in wine circles these days. If it's truly desirable to get more people interested in wine, then we owe it to the public to stop using precious and pretentious words like that.

    Oct 13, 2010 at 3:45 PM

  • The problem as I see it is that it is extremely difficult to explain the difference in wines. If every wine was classified as Great, good, bad, etc., it would leave a lot of guess work as to the style of the wine. Two wines from the same vintage, region and even the same wine maker can be vastly different. If you hamstring a reviewer or a Sommelier by making them "dumb it down", you'll end up with a vast sea of identical sounding wines, leaving us to select by label only. The idea behind the aroma and flavour descriptions is to give an example of what the wine evokes in the reviewers mental catalogue of smells/tastes, not a hard fact. All wine essentially tastes like grapes, but the phenolics and flavonoids are different. One can use whatever term they like when they describe it to their friends, but the professionals are paid to describe the wine as thoroughly as possible. Arrogance to my mind is thinking that because you can't detect the same things as they can, they are wrong and overly verbose. Legs mean nothing in a wine, but what does it hurt top mention them? Timing the finish however is a joke. Cheers!

    Oct 15, 2010 at 10:09 PM

  • Snooth User: dalluva
    501359 73

    I laughed hard on this posting, and we all have our least favorite and irritating wine phrases we hear spouted from the mouths of wine professionals and newbies alike. One of my favorite phrases to bash is "approachable" -- what's the opposite of that, stand-offish? Wall flower? "This unctuous, serious wine has a cacophony of approachable flavors" might very well come out of someone's mouth.

    Seriously, though, I've changed my own tune on describing individual notes and flavors of wines. I've heard some wild things, from obscure hawaiian flowers to wet dog to burning tires -- and all of them might be perfectly reasonable descriptions given the life experiences of the taster. I remember a friend saying she sensed "sampaguita" in a German Riesling, a jasmine-like Philippine flower she often smelled as a kid. Because I hadn't experienced that specific flower in my life, there's no way I could say it didn't smell just like sampaguita, and to her it was clearly there. I have picked out wet river rock and damp sagebrush on the nose of some wines, both smells from my childhood where I was raised -- and something few people can relate to. In the end, what people smell and taste in a wine is a deep reflection of their sensory experiences in life.

    Oct 16, 2010 at 11:42 AM

  • Snooth User: sleiii
    613047 8

    In the case of "unctuous," you make the egregious mistake of taking the word out of its specialized "Wine" usage (the way dictionaries frequently note variations such as "Law:" "Nautical:" etc., for meanings that are distinct and often wholly unrelated to their general usage). Thus, as a borrowing from the French wine glossary for the characteristic of "onctuosité," meaning in varying degrees "smoothness" or "creaminess," it indeed identifies a very useful and informative component in a wine.

    The rest seems to be pretty jejune carping over harmless "stupidities," for which it appears somewhat stupider to bother critiquing them.

    Oct 16, 2010 at 4:07 PM

  • I use the term "serious" exclusively for distinguishing between serious rosés and silly rosés. In France, rosé consumption has surpassed white wine. In America it is only a summer quaff which many sugar-phobes are fearful even to try.

    Although one could as easily speak of dry vs sweet, a good, well-balanced dry rosé should have a natural sweetness to it, and the term also implies that the wine's emphasis is not entirely on simple fruit and has versatile food pairing capabilities. I think the word "serious" in this context encourages the novice consumer to expand their rosé horizons and open up the discussion to a world of dry rosés which can be taken, well, seriously.

    Clark Smith
    Best-of-Appellation awards,

    Oct 16, 2010 at 6:41 PM

  • Let's face it: the very worst descriptor you can apply to a wine is a number. How can something one tastes possibly be described numerically? The human palate is far too complex to be imprisoned by what is effectively a nine point range of scores.

    There are many schools of wine writing, some more florid than others. Every generation believes in its own format- some more accurate scientifically, some more emotive. What really matters is a consistency in getting your point across. As a long-time retailer, I prefer a more rigorous, analytical set of descriptors, but sometimes that's not terribly attractive to a star-struck, numerically-obsessed consumer who wants to feel the love.

    There are no easy solutions to this, but I suggest reading Michael Broadbent, whose descriptions are laser-sharp and always on point.

    Oct 16, 2010 at 11:52 PM

  • Toad Hollow is a good wine. Deceased owner Todd Williams "Dr. Toad" enjoyed wine but was certainly NOT snobbish about it. I actually DO wine tastings and have never described a wine as leathery, leggy, or approachable. Nor am I a wine snob. Wine is for enjoyment and what I normally do is tell where the wine is from, what I get out of it, and then I let them tell ME what they enjoy OR not about the wine. And by the way, I sell a lot of it simply by being approachable, nice & friendly! Alas, I am certainly not "leggy"- vertically challenged more describes me!!-as well it does that bottle of wine!:)

    Oct 18, 2010 at 11:59 AM

  • Snooth User: sr71lives
    418906 1

    My local wineshop has tastings every week, and I like to use ridiculous terms
    to describe the wines as a joke. The employees will also join in, it's been
    a funny way to thumb our noses at the absurd descriptions many "snobs" use.

    Oct 23, 2010 at 11:34 AM

  • Snooth User: bassboat
    522733 4

    There are way too many descriptive words used when describing wine. To me, most wines fall in three categories.
    Category one, most wines all taste the same for all practical purposes, these are the kind that people try to help with ethereal descriptions and are said to sell the wine. The second category is of a higher quality probably due to the guy who put the wine together and once again the best thing said should be: a very drinkable and nice wine. Last but not least the third tier is one that deserves some descriptive adjectives but never one that is snobby. Example: This is a wine that is fruity, smooth and leaves you wanting more after you have finished it. Never over-promise and then the guy who buys and drinks the wine will be less likely to be disappointed. I am a simple guy and really think that wine is best enjoyed rather than worshipped.

    Oct 26, 2010 at 2:50 PM

  • Snooth User: sourgrape
    596094 5

    I laughed so much reading this posting, that's exactly why people like to drink wine, it frees your imagination and your tong. No wonder Romans and Greeks were so good with metaphors.
    Cheers !!!!!

    Oct 27, 2010 at 10:27 AM

  • Snooth User: tenzinaire
    174589 217

    Very nice lol I enjoyed this! Bravo!

    Oct 28, 2010 at 5:49 PM

  • I like when, apparently lost for descriptors, the reviewer uses the word vinous. tchyeah, no s^*&t it is vinous....its wine!

    Nov 05, 2010 at 8:39 PM

  • Snooth User: DJBradach
    494022 7

    After reading way to many reviews, I developed the base line tasting guideline for ME. So, if it fits for you, use it. I rate wines under the 3 G system.

    Great, good or garbage.

    I've had a fair share of great wines (in my opinion) and more often than not, most fall into the good range. Alas, a few over the years ranked in the garbage categaory. I try very hard not to finish a glass of wine IF I have rated it as garbage and certainly would not buy it!

    David J Bradach,


    Nov 08, 2010 at 11:09 AM

  • Loved the discourse. I have been in the sales business for 17 years and taste over 1000 wines every year. I can see calling a client and saying just tasted a great Napa cab, how many cases would you like, or I just tasted a good Napa Cab how many would you like. I need to be able to describe the flavors of this really great Cabernet and the verbage I use is very neccessary, and for the most part not "snobby" at all. For a number of years I worked with a sales person that did not taste the wine at all. He would use two descriptors "big and bold" or "soft and fruity" he was very successful, but I could not keep to just those two descriptors. So if we get a little verbose in our descriptions of the wines please forgive us waxing poetic to get you to purchase our gems.

    Nov 10, 2010 at 4:26 PM

  • Wasn't the world more affable (for some) when one could describe a wine as resembling a particular woman? Andre Simon always made wine appreciation something of a flirtatious relationship with the contents of the bottle, and his original Wine and Food Society never really tried to dissect the wines in the modern idiom, but would comment on them in social similes and allegorical terms. Monty Python lampooned the modern trend to grandiose effusiveness in their iconic sketch about Australian wines, how ironic that it's almost forgotten.

    I recently attended a dinner where Clos Rene 1983 was offered, and one of the guests commented, in accordance with Andre Simon tradition, that it was a "Monica Lewinsky of a wine". It was later remarked that Robert Parker had declared that very wine to be "dense, full bodied, ripe, corpulent, rather viscous, intensely perfumed and decadently fruity, and presents a hedonistic mouthful". I suppose they were both ways of saying the same thing, but the former was witty and brief, the latter was just clumsy hyperbole.

    Nov 13, 2010 at 5:56 PM

  • Snooth User: martin1223
    540751 33

    I like the description in Ernie Hemingway’s very short play “Today Is Friday”:

    1st Roman Soldier—You tried the red?
    2nd Soldier—No, I ain’t tried it.
    1st Soldier—You better try it.

    From The First Forty-Nine Stories, with a Brief Preface by Ernest Hemingway

    Nov 13, 2010 at 11:32 PM

  • Stuck in rural North Carolina, My sister asked her bandmates to buy her a bottle of dry white wine. The local saleslady gushed: " this one is very, very dry, yet sweet!" We've never forgotten this, and often offer a toast to her.

    Nov 14, 2010 at 4:33 PM

  • THANK YOU for pointing out the foolishness of having the stopwatch out to measure the length of a wine's finish. And how does one determine the precise instant when the finish is over? i.e., when did the finish start and when did the finish finish? You're either impressed by the damned thing or you're not.

    Nov 14, 2010 at 10:57 PM

  • Snooth User: tempedan
    647109 2

    My dad and mom are 87 and 86 year old Kansas people. Wonderful people. Not sophisticated, not wine drinkers. But when they smelled some chocolate, peppered-water, honey, crushed strawberries and other stuff my wife and I had put in some little glasses, and then smelled various wines, they got it. And they had a blast. Then they tried an 80-year-old Port with some bitter chocolate, and they went crazy. Started talking about making a little brother or sister for me....

    Nov 20, 2010 at 8:14 PM

  • Snooth User: jjvmdv
    133928 20

    bad picture! Hooch looks as if he is sad and confused. Sort of like I don't no what he wants, but humans really are stupid.

    Nov 23, 2010 at 4:33 PM

  • Snooth User: brodyluv
    149235 40

    unctuous wines do exist. It perfectly describes certain alsatian wines like Zind Humbrecht's Zind. Oily in texture, not taste. Slick, not splashly like a sauv blanc. Whats wrong with that? relax my man. your rants are as bad as those you complain about. remember don't be part of the problem.......

    Nov 29, 2010 at 2:52 AM

  • Snooth User: dready
    621723 6

    It's probably a loan from French, where "onctueux"pretty much corresponds to R.P.'s usage.

    Nov 29, 2010 at 6:06 PM

  • Snooth User: Julescg
    661508 1

    The technique of describing one thing in terms of another - not just wine but many other things - is well established in the English language. New words just to describe wine? That's ridiculous and would create even more confusion.

    I can, however, understand the backlash. Many so-called wine writers seem to forget that description is not limited to metaphor. The metaphors become cliches with over-use. They must be balanced with a good dose of the physical impression a wine leaves on the taster, such as acidity, sweetness and the balance of these things.

    Dec 02, 2010 at 4:52 PM

  • Snooth User: portage
    661631 1

    Last week, the day before Thanksgiving 2010, I drank my first glass of wine since 1981. At age 63. I decided to try red wine to boost my HDL. I know, I know, that sounds sad and pathetic. Come to think of it, not bad words to describe that first taste.

    Dec 02, 2010 at 6:28 PM

  • Snooth User: Robert G
    662428 2

    I speak English as ESL (French is my primary).... I immediately saw that he took the French definition of "onctueux" instead. I do this mistake all the time going back and forth from French to English. He must have taken this word during his travels to France.

    Onctueux in French means velvety.... see definition (if you can read French or translate it enough)

    Dec 03, 2010 at 1:11 PM

  • Snooth User: Robert G
    662428 2

    I agree with Talentlaw that using imaginative words is perfectly appropriate with wine. In fact, the wine often expresses the winemaker's attitude and passion. If you want a simple inanimate wine, get a case TWO BUCK CHUCK and eat Buffalo Wings with it (made from Chicken btw, not Flying Buffalos)

    Dec 03, 2010 at 1:14 PM

  • At a tasting one time, we were all in an uproar when someone declared a wine, "intensely pubic."

    Dec 15, 2010 at 6:45 PM

  • Snooth User: eshartman
    682474 1

    "something that offers each of us such a unique expereience."

    and that is why, I love wine, and have only called it "delicious", "fantastic", "yummy", and "divine"

    Dec 18, 2010 at 1:30 PM

  • Snooth User: enobaby
    683294 2

    If you are into wine like I am or have a serious hobby you will understand that good, bad, and ugly won't cut it as your only descriptors. There are wines that have the taste of leather, barnyard, blueberry, strawberry, petrol, old tractor oil, (some seem to think this is the same as green olive) cumin, smokey, wet cardboard,(also known as corked) I could go on and on but if you haven't experienced these then you should drink more wine. Based on AmusesHerself it seems like fishy might be in there also but I have not found that in a wine yet, although there are meaty tasting wines.

    Dec 18, 2010 at 9:40 PM

  • Snooth User: winenana
    685466 39

    Words, words, words. I found the article amusing, as so many descriptive terms are over-used, making them a target for derision. Each of us has a background of experiences known only to us, so what I think of a wine in terms of adjectives won't be the same as what comes to your mind. And a glass or two of wine can bring forth from the drinker's mind a myriad of descriptors even he or she might not know were there. Wine does release the imagination and brings out forgotten memories of aromas and tastes. I will continue to be annoyed by some terms, amused at others, and pleased by yet more. But those are my opinions. You each have your own, and you're welcome to them. How can I presume to tell you what should please you?

    Dec 20, 2010 at 12:41 PM

  • Snooth User: lingprof
    Hand of Snooth
    155607 1,110

    loved re-reading this, GDP. a great article. did anybody ever see a humor column by dave barry where he went to a wine tasting? it's hilarious. he says something like, "For the last wine, we all agreed that it tasted like bat urine. Of course, they didn't say that. They said: [long pedantic negative description] Which basically is their way of saying that it tasted like bat urine."

    I'll see if I can find it.

    Dec 20, 2010 at 8:26 PM

  • Snooth User: winenana
    685466 39

    I'd love to see that again. It's been a long time.

    Dec 20, 2010 at 9:48 PM

  • Snooth User: wrongway
    690177 1

    The French have a perfect explanation for the term "onctueux". They say it is "Le Bon Dieu en culotte de velours"... The Good Lord in Velvet pants. A votre Santé

    Dec 22, 2010 at 9:29 AM

  • Snooth User: jpdemers
    118721 21

    The one that never fails to crack me up is "asphalt". I've no idea what asphalt tastes like -- and here in NYC I'm sure I don't want to know -- but it doesn't strike me as something I'd want in my wine.

    Dec 23, 2010 at 1:10 AM

  • My good neighbor who owns a retail wine shop and I think has a masters in wine-centered vocabulary (and possesses an English accent to boot), gave me the best advice ever: If you like the taste, drink up. It's what you like. I could never understand the enjoyment of making a taste complex by relating it to things I don't normally put in my mouth. Wine is a supreme pleasure and if anythiing, is a dancing partner to a well prepared meal. I just succumb to it. Just call me a very satisfied simpleton.

    Dec 27, 2010 at 1:02 PM

  • Snooth User: Janlong
    703133 4

    After his first sip of a great dessert wine, a dear friend would always describe it with, "Ah, noble shit."

    Dec 30, 2010 at 4:32 PM

  • Snooth User: enobaby
    683294 2

    I wonder if your friend was referring to noble rot which is also known as
    botrytis. and yes for those of us who like this that would equate to Ah, noble shit, or then again maybe it is just random.

    Dec 30, 2010 at 4:55 PM

  • Snooth User: philzilla
    704403 1


    unctuous: oily, having a greasy or soapy feeling. So, while I agree this might refer to a wine’s considerable body or tactile sensations ‘in the mouth’ (there’s one for you, as opposed to ‘on your shirt’), most folks don’t get it. Should I sip a wine that’s greasy or soapy, rest assured I will spit and request a clean glass. This is about body.

    confident: self-assured, optimistic, positive. What? In a wine, really? Anthropomorphism of a beverage? This is just silly wrong.

    serious: I believe what is meant here is not solemn, grave, or severe, but an inference of something substantial in terms of quality. Really, it refers to the sum of money someone (over-)spent on a wine of a label or provenance or Parker rating. Skin flints like me can achieve a balance of seriousness and fun with wines costing fractions of the price of so-called serious wine so that ‘we‘ can breath while enjoying our beverage; knowing our mortgage will still be paid. Over seriousness should be reserved for Baptist hymns.

    cacophony: a harsh, discordant mixture of sounds. This may actually be one of the worst descriptors of wine though I can’t say I see it used much. Used with euphony to describe phonaesthetics, cacophony connotes dissonance or unpleasantness. So that, at a party or vinoteca, you’re asked “how ‘bout a glass of unpleasantness?” Yeah, that’s what I thought.

    long finish: this phrase has been perpetuated by our most ‘serious’ ‘confident’ wine writers, judges or arbiters, if you will, of what they like and what the retailers hope you will then (blindly?) buy. In more general misuse, ‘legs’ along with long finish of X seconds, gives me an unctuous feeling that the taster has been at it a long time and not been spitting. I’m with Mssr. Dal Piaz, If long finish is virtuous, why don’t winemakers produce long finishes in the minutes or hours? Oh, that’s halitosis, right.

    Dec 31, 2010 at 11:58 AM

  • Hey you lot, it's a free world- people should be allowed to describe their wines any way they like!! and I also think you have all pontificated on this subject MORE than enough!


    Jan 03, 2011 at 6:28 AM

  • Snooth User: Robin Mohr
    1134780 10

    You forgot "rounded"!

    Sep 05, 2012 at 10:24 PM

  • Snooth User: lakenvelder
    Hand of Snooth
    544484 519

    Ha! I am sure more can be added. Cacophony must be the worst yet but x seconds?.

    Sep 26, 2012 at 10:44 AM

  • I find using course language & using The LORD's name ( even in jest ) reflects poorly, discredits what you are trying to say, and falls into the same category of these 5 Words you are posting about. As a fan of this site/blog, i know you can do better. Just sayin...

    Sep 26, 2012 at 2:19 PM

  • Snooth User: gardenguru
    739439 18

    Unctuous is a perfect descriptor for a malolactic-conversion chardonnay with a large polysaccharide content.

    The only other one I can think of that does the job is, 'phat,' which may not be apropos if you only want to use real words.

    Here are some synonyms that apply:
    gushing, effusive, smooth, slick, slippery

    Parker's not describing people or minerals, he's talking about the mouth feel of a beverage.

    I will stand by unctuous to describe Sauternes as well. Compared to a Gin tonic it is very.

    Sep 26, 2012 at 3:12 PM

  • Snooth User: Scott Dunn
    1139593 1

    How about just saying"This is a DAMM good wine"

    Sep 26, 2012 at 4:17 PM

  • Snooth User: Chris Carpita
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    33093 5,546

    @Scott - not annoyed at all, thanks!

    Sep 26, 2012 at 4:54 PM

  • I think this post is just poor, populistic, attention-grapping.

    Yes - sometimes wine writers [as well as other writers, e.g. arts] are getting a bit too overboard with their descriptions. But it is hard to separate one wine to the other.
    E.g. the opposite of serious wine is not unserious - it is playful. And there are definitely wines, which are more playful [fruity, zesty, fresh] and others are more serious [minerally].

    At the end there is one thing in the article, which is right: the writer is really too pedantic!

    Sep 26, 2012 at 5:42 PM

  • Snooth User: wynmkr
    307782 9

    If you want to describe a wine, the most effective way is to use terms that your reader can relate to through personal experience. If you say that it smells like blackberries, rotten egg or wet dog, these are all legitimate terms. Anthropomorphic terms such as aggressive or voluptuous can mean different things to different readers and are not an accurate way of describing a wine. For meticulous (anal) wine description there is actually a unit called a caudalie. It is the duration measured in seconds of the taste that lingers on your palate after you have swallowed or expectorated.

    Sep 26, 2012 at 7:26 PM

  • Snooth User: Goodlife11
    457084 324

    I absolutely love this article. In fact, I bet there are about a hundred other words that could be added to this list. I love to use 'I detect notes of stone fruit' at tastings, just to see what people say, since it's such a catch all term that is meaningless. My wife likes to chime in with something like 'I detect shaved pencil lead,' which, unfortunately, sometimes garners a response from those not in on the joke. Wine is fun, and we like to keep it that way.

    Sep 26, 2012 at 7:38 PM

  • Snooth User: EMark
    Hand of Snooth
    847804 8,336

    Not a word but my least favorite: "sense of place."

    Here are the three wine places that I care about:

    1. On the shelf.

    2. In my glass.

    3. In my mouth.

    Sep 26, 2012 at 8:09 PM

  • Snooth User: Odile53
    1023216 39

    My least favorite wine adjective is "amusing."

    Is that supposed to mean it tastes funny?

    Sep 26, 2012 at 9:25 PM

  • I very much enjoyed your article. Unfortunately, when mentioning the finish disagree. In the WSET Systematic Approach to Tasting (the Wine and Spirits Education Trust as tought by MWs) does require one to assess a wine using the length of the finish as one qualifier. While individual impressions do vary by some time, the overall time as measured in seconds can affect one's assesment of a given wine. I understand that most people don't pay this much attention to a wine but those of us who do this for a living should.

    Sep 27, 2012 at 11:31 AM

  • Thanks for including "serious" in the list. The wine store downstairs is great and the guy who runs it has forgotten more about wine than I'll ever know...but he insists that Dolcetto isn't "serious" and thus I'm a dupe for enjoying it (at least by extension).


    Sep 27, 2012 at 1:06 PM

  • Snooth User: redwine89
    503255 74

    I get so stuck looking for the correct word(s) when tasting a wine for the first time.

    Oct 19, 2012 at 4:01 PM

  • Snooth User: CheloSpahn
    Hand of Snooth
    1144627 499

    Well I'm glad I never learned to use these words for decribing a wine. My native language is Spanish and Unctuos, Serious, Confident, Cacophony and Finish last X seconds will never be the word for a wine taste because we have a lot more.

    Oct 25, 2012 at 9:26 AM

  • Each of us clings to any mask that helps keep the rest of the world from peceiving the empty core inside us. (Just thought I'd interject some pseudo-deep sh-- into the discussion)

    Nov 05, 2012 at 11:13 PM

  • What is the best wine for mac and cheese, polish sausage and sauerkraut, bacon and eggs, fried chicken, and pan-fried oysters?

    Jan 05, 2013 at 4:50 PM

  • Snooth User: bearvarine
    1180003 1

    A wine snob, like an art snob, attempts to garner impressiveness by wheeling out these unctuous, serious, cacophonous terms hoping to prematurely finish off the rest of us mere mortals who apparently can't tell a good wine from pond scum.

    Jan 20, 2013 at 7:55 PM

  • Snooth User: messygonzo
    1327679 35

    I wonder if your friend was referring to noble rot which is also known as
    botrytis. and yes for those of us who like this that would equate to Ah, noble shit, or then again maybe it is just random.

    Aug 02, 2013 at 5:56 AM

  • Snooth User: CarBuyWhiz
    1332598 26

    Really wonderful

    Aug 17, 2013 at 2:26 AM

  • nice

    Sep 06, 2013 at 1:05 PM

  • awesome

    Sep 11, 2013 at 2:02 AM

  • Snooth User: winkscete
    1372394 30

    Really wonderful

    Sep 24, 2013 at 1:25 AM

  • Thats wonderful

    Oct 09, 2013 at 5:24 AM

  • Snooth User: baldytrip
    1385272 33

    Really wonderful

    Oct 21, 2013 at 11:08 PM

  • Snooth User: jamchimps
    1385295 43


    Oct 28, 2013 at 2:21 AM

  • Really wonderful

    Dec 13, 2013 at 4:06 AM

  • Snooth User: Funkyyoui
    1444605 9

    U use too many exlimation points which is very annoying to writers, u are obviously a wine ameatuer with no professional training or experience. No true wine professional reads Robert Parker, you are in insult to all true professionals and you should be ashamed of yourself

    Dec 31, 2013 at 1:29 AM

  • Really wonderful

    Jan 15, 2014 at 11:41 PM

  • Snooth User: gamysplash
    1487309 35

    Thats useful

    Apr 04, 2014 at 4:55 AM

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