Decoding the Language of Wine: A Few Terms Explained!
In my previous post, The 20 Wines with a Perfect 100 Point Robert Parker Score, I suggested that wine scores were useful because, as the Decanter wine critic Andrew Jefford explained, “the language of wine is, of necessity, highly metaphorical and hence puzzling: these are not plain words.”
So going forward, I thought every week I’d have a look at the meaning of key words that are used to describe wine, so both you and I have a better idea of what the critics are talking about when we see words like ‘bouquet’, ‘body’ or ‘big wine’ bandied about!
Aroma or Bouquet
I’m guessing you’ll look pretty smart if you can tell your friends you know the difference between ‘aroma’ and ‘bouquet’ - key words used in discussions about the ‘nose’ or smell of wine!
Not surprisingly, aroma and bouquet are often used interchangeably, but according to the Wall Street Journal’s wine critic Lettie Teague, only a young wine has an aroma – that is, scents of primary fruit and oak. In contrast, a bouquet is a smell that develops over time as the wine ages. During this period a wine will develop secondary aromas such as truffles, mushrooms and earth, for example. (Educating Peter: How Anybody Can Become an (Almost) Instant Wine Expert by Lettie Teague, New York: Scribner 2007)
Interestingly, according to the Oxford Companion to Wine, Australia has its own take on when and how to use ‘aroma’ to describe how a wine smells. Australian wine critics use the word to refer specifically to varietal characteristics rather than those associated with wine-making! In other words, aroma refers to the fresh and fruity smells that are reminiscent of the grapes used to make the wine.
The Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia describes ‘body’ as “the impression of weight in the mouth, which is brought about by a combination of the fruit extract and alcoholic strength.”
Typically, a wine that is described as ‘full-bodied’ is reasonably high in alcohol and viscosity. ‘Full-bodied’ is an attribute that can be used to describe either a red or white wine, and it usually denotes a desirable quality in the wine. For example, the Wine Advocate’s Robert Parker described Jadot’s 2004 Montrachet as “superb – fresh, full-bodied, with lots of minerality and honeysuckle, creamy peach, and white currant notes.” In this case, the use of ‘full-bodied’ refers to the generous, full mouthfeel of this French chardonnay. (Hedonist’s Gazette, Charleston, December 2008, by Robert Parker, eRobertParker.com)
A ‘big wine’ is used to describe a full-bodied wine with an exceptionally rich flavour. American wine director Brian Duncan offers an excellent, more detailed description:
Big wines are about power and pleasure and simple, unabashed hedonism. Made from grapes that are totally ripe, they’re wines with big, rich flavors, a generous amount of fruit and relatively high alcohol levels—15 percent and more. They’re also precocious; that is, they’re ready to drink upon release, although many will benefit from cellaring.
Duncan singled out the 2000 Henschke Keyneton Estate Euphonium, an Australian shiraz blend, as an example of a brilliant example of a ‘big wine:’ “Here’s a wine that’s a lesson in how a big wine can have power and richness but not be excessive. It’s big, but not brutal. The key is its balance of fruit, acidity, tannins and alcohol.” (Big Wine: Good or Evil? by Peter Hellman, Food & Wine)
Photo Credit: Wine Aroma Academy