Tasting note terms to ban – have your say

wine words

Last week, NewYorker.com engaged its readers by asking which words should be eliminated from the English language. The surprising winner was “moist.”

Now that they’ve jettisoned moist, it’s time for us to have our fun. Wine tasting notes are all-to-often laden with obscure, sometimes overly precious, redundant or otherwise silly words or phrases. We started circulating a few on Twitter yesterday with the hashtag #sillywinetastingterms. A few that came up were: “dusty minerals,” “a hint of clean earth,” “vinous,” “melted asphalt,” “hedonistic” and…”liquid Viagra.”

So, have your say: which wine tasting term is officially the most useless and worthy of expulsion from our vernacular?

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50 Responses to “Tasting note terms to ban – have your say”


  1. Terroir, meaning “whatever makes me think I can charge more for my wine than my neighbor can for his.”


  2. I’d just be happy if I stopped seeing the word “varietal” used as a noun.


  3. It bothers me to the core when wine is paired with “game.” Only Ted Nugent still hunts his own food, the rest of us shop for our meat at the supermarket.


  4. I could do without “cat pee.” I don’t even want to know about a wine that evokes that. A useful wine term that always makes me smile is “petrol” because it sounds so much more attractive than “gasoline.”


  5. “Oodles and oodles and gobs and gobs of black fruits.”


  6. Which to ban? Easy: all of them, with the exception of ;pours well’ and ‘comes in a haunting green bottle.’

    You keep reading such tripe and your brain will rot.


  7. Lanolin. Nobody in the whole world knows what it smells like, let alone tastes like or feels like in the mouth.


  8. I’d say “camphor, blueberries, and licorice,” but then Mr. Parker wouldn’t be able to rate Rhone wines anymore.


  9. Pencil Lead! C’mon – who sniffs pencil lead?


  10. You don’t sniff pencil lead – you huff it!


  11. Pencil lead, or graphite, is a characteristic of many wines from Priorat and Ribeira Sacra.


  12. There are a lot of crazy ones out there. Sometimes I think they just write them to drive people crazy and goof on them, hoping someone is sitting around trying to figure out what the heck it means.
    Hot stones? Watermelon seeds? Spice box, what exactly is in your spice box? Graphite, who the hell snorts graphite? Gamey? Are we talking Albert Pujols or roadkill? Forest floor? Has there been a skunk by here recently?


  13. Anything too detailed is meaningless. This should be obvious to anyone who has read reviews of the same wine from different critics. If a wine smells like dark berries that might be useful info, but does anyone really care what type of dark berries RP thinks it smells like if other critics think it smells like some other dark berries?


  14. I just love hedonistic oppulent wines reeking of liquid viagra and sunshine. Wait…what color wine was I reviewing?


  15. ooooh it’s gotta be ‘Minerality’ when used to describe taste. Nobody has ever been able to explain what that means!


  16. at work, we’re really into the term “meyer lemon”. because it doesn’t really have flavors of a regular lemon, specifically a meyer lemon.

    also, the term “anise” makes us laugh, but thats probably because we’re juvenile.


  17. Crunchy


  18. A very basic one: the verb “show.”

    Gah! It’s not the Westminster kennel club! It’s a wine. It tastes, it smells, it feels. Please don’t make it “show”!


  19. “Sexy” What in the world does that mean? And according to whose viewpoint – men’s or women’s? It conjures up unseemly images involving lascivinous [sic] grapes and their vintners.


  20. hedonistic, angular, austere

    how do these really apply to wine when trying to get someone else to understand what you are saying? Hedonistic is personal and different to everyone. Angular, uh? Austere, what like a queen? I think only the English know what this work means!!!!


  21. I don’t think there too many to ban to be honest – a few like “moist” and “Sois bois” could be a little excessive – but surely whatever the taster is finding is valid – isn’t tasting wine a subjective opinion? But, for simple and brilliant tasting notes – try Twitters latest craze, the #7wordwinereview !!


  22. There is a word that I use, you use, everyone who has ever decsribed a wine in any even slightly techincal way uses, but to the complete and utter novice this word makes no sense at all. The word sometimes means that that it makes the inside of the mouth pucker, and mostly it means that there is no sugary sense. I have been told on several occasions the word is ridiculous to use for a liquid….

    That word is … Dry.

    Any alternatives?


  23. Some fine answers. If I had to delete one specific tasting descriptor it would be “forest floor”. Parker claims that he lives in a forest, so he is qualified to use that descriptor. I would love to see his fat ass on his knees sniffing the moss, pine cones, fungi and tree roots. Just sayin.


  24. Thanks for the laughs, everyone. I only have two descriptions for wine – “I like it” or “I don’t like it.” I’m not into the nuances at all. And I grow grapes and am familiar with many of the wines in the 200+ wineries in my area.


  25. “Hedonistic fruit bomb”–put it out to pasture, or a forest floor, perhaps.

    To some of the above responses (not to take this thread too seriously, btw):

    Lead pencil: I remember a Coteaux-du-Languedoc that fit this description.

    I agree w/ Mike in that the word ‘varietal’ is misused way too often. If we could fix that I can live with whatever descriptions any one wants to use.

    I also remember years ago talking with some one that “Gooseberries” isn’t a good description, because how many of us have smelled/eaten them?

    Peace, cheers, TGIFF–

    al diablo


  26. ‘Varietal’ is misused in, for example, a term like ‘international varietals.’ Varieties is correct there. ‘Varietal’ is of course correct as a short form of ‘varietal wine.’ This is an accepted convention in English and it appears frequently, as in ‘Cabernet’ without the ‘Sauvignon,’ ‘Pinot’ wihout the ‘Noir’ and ‘Great White’ without the ‘shark’.


  27. If you haven’t tried gooseberries: please make an effort to do so. For many sauvignon blancs, this is actually one of the few very accurate descriptors. Re minerality: it doesn’t make sense the first few hundred times you read/hear it (unless granite is part of your diet), after that you will start understanding what people mean when the use it, and, a few thousand wines later, you will be so frustrated that “mineraly” white wines are so damn hard to describe so that you will start using it. It doesn’t make any sense but at least we understand what we are trying to say.


  28. “On the nose/palate” is getting pretty boring.


  29. I despise when people say a wine tastes fresh. I get it but give me more than that. Why is it fresh? Fresh is a cop out for people who don’t know much. I despise it!!!!


  30. Some well-worn wine words/terms of late that induce an eyeroll, or at least an admonitory cough, include crunchy, mouthmelt, and lubricity.


  31. “anti wine snob”
    It is used far to often and heaven forbid anyone has an opinion on wine and scores it. Let’s just drink whatever wine we blindly select off the shelf because the anti wine snob thinks this is the way to go. I will never forget the a wine educator in the Twin Cities tell a group of newbies that they should shop at the wine shop closets to home because they all offer good service or the wine educator who said it is cheaper to buy wine from the winery than a wine shop. Both wine educators use the term “snob free”. Enough said!


  32. Bill Marsano, there is mounting evidence that WRITING such tripe rots the brain at four times the pace that reading it does. (Gerry, there may still be time for you to save yourself!). Fortunately, most subscribers only look at the numbers and never read the tripe, which keeps them from ever knowing anything about wine, but at least avoids brain rot in those that can least afford it. (These are the same folk that claim to buy Playboy only for the articles.). Unfortunately, it is abundantly clear that few wine critics ever read the tripe that they have churned out, allowing them to live to churn another day. (Reading their own prior work and being held accountable for it would be the wine writer’s equivalent of passive smoke, I believe, blown up their own…well, never mind!)

    Back to the main point, every descriptor that Neal Martin has ever used should be banned, and he should be banned from all libraries and websites containing thesauri. Martin could well be a good critic, but we will never know if he keeps expressing himself with silly terms like linden flower, Kaffir lime, marzipan (sweet almond paste) AND almond paste (presumably unsweetened?) in describing a single wine!


  33. Thanks, Bill, for the distinction between brain-rot rates for writer and reader.I only wish it were higher for writers.


  34. “brain rot” No you tell me.

    “Martin could well be a good critic, but we will never know if he keeps expressing himself with silly terms like linden flower, Kaffir lime, marzipan (sweet almond paste) AND almond paste (presumably unsweetened?) in describing a single wine!”

    Oh, my God, that is oodles and oodles and gobs and gobs more than I want to know about any wine. What the Hell is a Linden? Wow, he sure nailed that Kaffir lime, as opposed to lime lime, key lime and Meyer lime. And marzipan? Maybe the wine came from Toledo. Unsweetened almond paste? An underripe wine from around Toledo? No, that’s impossible.


  35. [...] i said i’m working on my tasting terms, right? here’s a quick list of DON’TS. [...]


  36. Not Toledo, Spain, nor Toledo, Ohio. Bordeaux. An old Haut-Brion Blanc. That is why wine criticism is but a bunch of pretentious amateurs who love wine so much that they are willing to make fools of themselves in an ever-so-public way! You are not the worst, Mr. Dawes. (Obviously, Martin is!) Maybe it was that time hanging around with Tanzer, who may well be too modest and normal for what he does. And he does have a history of surrounding himself with writers of like demeanor, at least as reflected in the printed word…


  37. You are not the worst, Mr. Dawes. Coming from you, Bill, I consider that to be oodles and oodles and gobs and gobs of praise. ;-) Graphite!!


  38. Smooth….


  39. Pan Grille ( Parker)


  40. Don’t ban any of them. The more the better, even if most of them are either impossible to convey, only vaguely accurate, or downright nonsensical. I often use “musty”, “musky”, or “earthy” for that characteristic deep, dark, mysterious cabernet sauvignon experience.


  41. Uhm… 100 points RP ?


  42. Wow, such diversity of wine terms that tick people off! I don’t think we have arrived at a consensus a la “moist” yet.

    “Hedonistic” and “gobs” do seem to be front-runners.

    Generally speaking, I find tasting notes that convey the critic (or author’s) enthusiasm or dislike for a wine to be more successful. The former may make a reader want to buy a wine (or twelve bottles of it) while the latter might be for a good laugh. What I find to be unhelpful are overly precise descriptors that serve to either alienate readers or make the author of the note look like a buffoon or a charlatan.


  43. While I haven’t perused the recent WA fully, one read that a wine “remains cool, inward and totally IMPLOSIVE”. Yikes, hope the (fruit?) bomb squad was doing the opening, rather than a sommelier!


  44. I always assume hedonistic means high-alcohol fruit bomb, so I find it useful. It doesn’t describe flavors, but it does describe a style.


  45. How about ‘lift’ or ‘lifted?’ Angularity? And any descriptors that use similes involving obscure fruits, spices, vegetables or minerals. Quice oil? Moroccan coriander? Tomato leaf? It goes on. Here’s my take on this subject from a year or so ago, if you don’t mind my sharing: http://thegrapebelt.wordpress.com/2011/03/28/tower-of-babel/


  46. [...] the full article here http://www.drvino.com/2012/04/26/wine-tasting-note-terms-ban/ This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. ← Wine Bar Arizona [...]


  47. ‘Linear’ and geometric shape descriptors always bother me. They don’t really mean anything. Do a google search for ‘linear’ even the wine press can’t agree on a definition.


  48. Mike, ‘varietal’ IS a noun.

    Merriam-Webster:

    Varietal: noun
    Definition of VARIETAL

    : a wine bearing the name of the principal grape from which it is made.


  49. Lanolin, you mean you’ve never licked a sheep?

    Pan grille and spice box have to go.

    How about sweaty chinchilla?


  50. Quizicat, you might get a kick out this:

    http://intoxreport.com/2012/03/03/how-to-write-about-wine-like-robert-parker-jr/


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