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How to Classify a Wine’s Characteristics


The language you use to describe a wine starts with your own thoughts as you taste the wine. Thus, the process of tasting a wine and the process of describing it are intertwined.

Although wine tasting involves examining wine visually and smelling it as well as tasting it, those first two steps are a breeze compared to the third. When the wine is in your mouth, the multiple taste sensations — flavors, texture, body, sweetness or dryness, acidity, tannin, balance, length — occur practically all at once. In order to make sense of the information you receive from the wine, you have to impose some order on those impressions.

  • One way of organizing the impressions a wine sends you is to classify those impressions according to the nature of the “taste”:
  • The wine’s aromatics (all the flavors you smell in your mouth)
  • The wine’s structure (its alcohol/sweetness/acid/tannin makeup, that is, its basic tastes — the wine’s bricks and mortar, so to speak)
  • The wine’s texture (the tactile data, how the wine feels in your mouth; texture is a function of the wine’s structural components — a high acid, dry, low-alcohol white wine may feel thin or sharp, for example, whereas a high-alcohol red wine with moderate tannin may feel soft and silky)

Another way of organizing the impressions a wine sends you is by the sequence of your impressions. The words that tasters use to describe the sequence are


The first impression of the wine, which may involve sweetness, dryness, richness or thinness of texture, or even fruitiness (although most of the wine’s flavors register a few moments later).


The development of the wine in your mouth. You can think of this stage in two parts:

  • The mid-palate impression, a phase when you tend to notice the wine’s acidity, perhaps get a first impression of its tannin (in red wines), and notice its flavors and their intensity
  • The rear-palate impression, which involves persistence that the wine’s flavors have (or don’t have) across the length of your mouth, the amount and nature of the wine’s tannins, and any indication of a burning sensation from overly high alcohol

Finish or aftertaste

Flavors or impressions that register after the wine has been spat or swallowed. Both the duration of the aftertaste and its nature are noteworthy. (A long finish is commendable, for example, and a bitter one is not.) A suggestion of concentrated fruit character on the finish often indicates that a wine is age-worthy.


By Ed McCarthy and Mary Ewing-Mulligan from Wine For Dummies, 6th Edition

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