A look at
explodes when evaluating taste.
The term sweet relates to actual levels of
residual sugar and to descriptions of taste:
honey or honeysuckle, jammy, caramelized,
syrupy or sweet fruit.
Saltiness, on the other hand, should never
be part of the wine vocabulary. Salt should
never be evident in any wine worthy of consumption. Bitterness, as well, should never be
part of wine-speak, at least not in a healthy,
well-made wine anyone would like to drink.
Acidity, however, is a key element in
wine’s structure: It supports other taste
components and allows them to come forward and blend with each other. Green, tart
and crisp describe wines with lively levels of
acidity, while flabby, flat and cloying describe
wines with little or no acidity.
By Annette Alvarez-Peters
IF YOU’VE EVER been with wine aficionados
tasting wines, you know they’re likely to use
terms that are difficult to understand. What
do references to body, flabbiness, silky or stewed
have to do with wine? What are these wine
experts hiding from the rest of us?
Fear not. There is no grand conspiracy in
play here. It’s just a “vino vocabulary” that has
evolved over centuries of winemaking to help
evaluate, describe and define a multitude of
wines from around the world. Educated wine
drinkers rely on sight, smell and taste to determine details such as grape variety and characteristics, acid and alcohol levels, and the origin
and age of a wine. Here’s a quick look.
Color can also reveal if the grapes have been
grown in warm or cooler climates (deep, rich
purple is the result of ripe, thicker-skinned
grapes from warmer regions).
Fluent in wine-speak
So how does all this play out at your
kitchen table? Start with fruit flavors. Citrus
fruit flavors, such as lemon and grapefruit,
are commonly found in Sauvignon Blanc.
Flavors reminiscent of apples and pears, also
known as green fruit, are found in
Chardonnay. Flavors suggesting stone fruits,
such as apricots, can be found in some
Rieslings or in Pinot Grigio.
Red wines can taste like the red and dark-colored fruits. Red fruit flavors, such as
strawberries and raspberries, can be found in
Pinot Noir. Plums and red cherries can be
represented in a Merlot. The dark fruits, such
as blackberries and cassis, are typical in a
This is just a short list. A good place to
learn more is at
glossary.asp. Happy sampling! C
Annette Alvarez-Peters oversees Costco’s
national wine, spirits and beer program.
Seeing is believing
The best way to look at wine is against a
solid white background—a tablecloth or sheet
of paper. The many colors, such as straw, pale
yellow, gold, garnet, brick or purple, reflect the
grape variety. The color can also indicate
intensity, the age of the wine and its condition
(bright, clear or richly hued).
White wines gain a depth of color with
age, whereas reds often get paler over time.
The nose knows
A deep inhalation can reveal much about
a wine. Aroma terms include ripe, which
refers to fruit intensity with rich aromas;
oaky, which refers to the wood aroma from
barrel aging or storage in wood vessels; and
dusty, which indicates earth aromas different
from fruit aromas.
Floral refers to flower
and plant aromas. These
usually occur in red wines
that are under-ripened or
grown in a cooler-than-ideal climate. A high alcohol
level can be felt in the nose;
hence the term hot.
Cooked, stewed and
baked suggest that wines are ANNETTE
overripe or have a fault, such
as exposure to excessive heat
that led to rapid aging. All wines should be
clear of faults. Another fault is a corked wine—
a bacterial taint that ruins a wine.
For information on Costco’s Kirkland
Signature wines, go to Costco.com, click
on “Costco Connection Magazine,” then
“Kirkland Signature Wine Connection.”
On the palate
The tongue can sense four distinct
tastes: sweetness, saltiness, bitterness and
acidity or sourness. A wine vocabulary really
Kirkland Signature™ Chardonnay,
Sonoma County, California Item #514007
Clos du Bois Chardonnay,
North Coast, California Item #93682
Santa Ema Merlot, Maipo Valley, Chile
Bollini Pinot Grigio, Trentino, Italy
Chateau Ste. Michelle Merlot, Columbia
Valley, Washington Item #160933
Willamette Valley Vineyards Pinot Noir,
Willamette Valley, Oregon Item #260827
Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon,
Napa Valley, California Item #64819
Chateau Ste. Michelle Chardonnay, Horse
Heaven Hills, Washington Item #191907