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Wine Tasting Descriptors Guide

What Does "Chewy" Mean Anyway? Decoding Winespeak

Snooty as they may sound, basic wine descriptors can come in handy, whether you're visiting a winery, hosting a wine tasting, or searching for a picnic-perfect wine. After all, many common wine terms allow you to articulate what your wine preferences are — light-bodied or full-bodied, earthy or fruit.

Beyond basic wine terminology, however, there are a number of adjectives used by wine industry folk that — let's face it — can be hard to understand. (What does "chewy" mean, anyway?) To help us wade through the confusing world of winespeak, we subjected our friend, Food & Wine executive editor Ray Isle, to a lightning round of seemingly cryptic wine terms. Here are his stream-of-consciousness answers.

  • Chewy: "Chewy tends to mean a pretty big wine, also with tannins, and a fair amount of tannic structure."
  • Clean: "Clean means, to me, not flawed. It could mean two things, but straight up: clean means not stinky, not full of weird, off aromas. If the wine-making is clean, there's no weird funkitude to it. In a metaphoric way, clean can also mean straightforward — not simple, but no odd corners sticking out. Not necessarily not complex, but not jarring. (Sometimes a wine that's really great will have a characteristic that you think, 'That's kinda odd. It's really great, but that's kind of odd.') Clean is direct; to me, it really means no wine-making flaws."
  • Finesse: "Finesse in a wine is essentially someone trying to say there's a quality of delicacy to it, a nuanced nature to the wine. It's not clumsy."

"Fleshy," "nervy," "racy," and more terms, after the jump.

  • Fleshy: "Fleshy tends to mean a big, fairly high-alcohol wine. It's one of those metaphors that you can really feel in your mouth. Wines have different textures in your mouth, and that means big, full of flavor, not very high acid, fruity, fast."
  • Nervy: "Nervy tends to mean pretty acidic. That's a baseline. In the same way a person is nervous, kind of high-strung — I always think of a Chihuahua at some level — it's a wine that's got a little tension from the acidity. Sort of like nervy, but not as jangly."
  • Pretty: "Pretty doesn't mean anything. I may have said it before; I'm sure I have. You know, [wine is] also really wet. There are a lot of terms that float around that don't actually mean that much . . . but for a wine geek, pretty would mean aromatic, delicate, and possibly even a little perfumey."
  • Racy: "Racy is a little like nervy in that they're both comments on how acidic or tart the wine is; racy is a little more streamlined or subtle than nervy."
  • Tight: "Tight usually means that the wine needs some oxygen to open up. It's actually more where it is in its stage of life thing. A lot of times, really recently released or just-bottled wines are very tight; they need some time to kind of open up. If a wine was kind of tight right now, I might throw it in a decanter and give it some oxygen and let it open up a little."

What esoteric wine terms mystify you? Share them with us below.

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