A Variety of Words to Describe Red Wine

You’re a wine maker, and you want to explore the full range of words to describe red wine. You’re a wine enthusiast, and you want to make use of the proper wine language for interesting discussion. Maybe you’re a wine writer, and you need to expand your wine vocabulary.

Well look no further.

Here you’ll find a wide variety of words to describe red wine that will make this complex beverage sound fascinating to even the most uninitiated.

What Makes a Good Wine

First, let’s talk about what makes a good wine. Whether you love red or white, whether you prefer sweet to dry, or whether you like tannins or not, all wine lovers can tell you, at its most basic level, what makes a good wine.

Contrary to popular belief, it’s not the dollar sign.

Seriously, just because you spend more money, does not necessarily mean you’ll get a better wine.

Indeed, there have been several experienced sommeliers who have come out in recent years to say that once you get above the $10 – $20 range, the quality does not rise alongside the rise in pricing.

You can find dozens upon dozens of excellent wines around that $10 price point.

So, what is it, then, that makes a good wine?


Great wine has layers of flavor, texture, notes, and subtleties that hit your palate one at a time as you drink the beverage. You can get different experiences from the moment it hits your lips and tongue to the time it spends in your mouth and on to the finish, after you have swallowed.


The five elements of wine – acidity, sweetness, alcohol, tannins, and fruit – must be well balanced as you drink. One overpowering the others will throw the whole thing off.

Intensity and Finish

A wine that gets raved about is a wine that lingers long after you have partaken. That means you need a level of intensity while you drink it and a strong finish, flavors that remain on your palate after you have swallowed.

What Makes Wine Bad

Obviously, the factors that make a wine bad will be those in opposition to those that make a wine good.

Furthermore, there are a few elements that contribute to those negative factors, like improper climate, rushed fermentation, and additives and cheap ingredients.

Wine makers who try to grow grapes outside of the climate they were meant to be grown in may end up with less sweet, poor-quality wine.

Rushing fermentation also does not allow the yeast cells to do all of their work, bringing out the complex flavors and smoothing out any off flavors that arise.

Finally, some wine makers try to make up for poor quality by adding sugar or other flavors, which are obvious as soon as you taste the wine. It will taste more like juice or soda than wine.

Words to Describe Red Wine and What They Mean

Now, when deciding how to discuss your red wine, whether it turns out to be good or bad, you can utilize the vocabulary of the experts in wine enthusiasm. Fortunately, you can use all of this language to describe white wine and other varietals as well.


When we talk about acidity, we are referring to whether a wine is refreshing, crisp, and even angular. The more acidic a wine is, the more zing you get, and more mouth-watering it feels on your palate as you drink it. Angular wines are particularly high on the acidity scale and feel as though they hit you at all corners of your mouth. Soft wines are lower in acidity and tend to blend flavors and be less complex.


The aroma of a wine is often called the bouquet. The smell of the wine as it hits your nose, even before you drink it, will relate to how you taste it as well. The aroma language we use to describe wine includes fruity, herbal, floral, earthy, grassy, hints of tobacco or mocha, and chocolatey.


The heaviness or lightness you feel on your palate as you drink wine is called the body of the wine. You can get a full-bodied wine, which we say has backbone, heft, or viscosity. Full-bodied wines are also described as intense. Light bodied wines, in contrast, are refreshing and tingly.


An elegant wine will be an understated one. It does not hit you as soon as you drink it, but rather takes its time unfolding on your palate. It is the opposite of intense and is usually the result of good aging.


If a wine leaves streaks trickling down the side of the glass as it is swirled, we say it has legs. These streaks are usually the result of a high alcohol content.


Minerality is often used to describe wines that are strong in flavors and aromas of iron, saltiness, oysters, or even wet cement. Mineral wines are those that do not have fruity or herbal notes.


Oaky wines are those that have aged longer in barrels and give off notes of the oak in which they sat. We often see notes of butter, vanilla, smokiness, and toastiness from oak aged wines. Wines that are not oaky may be tarter and zestier, with hints of citrus.


Tannins in wine can lead to bitterness and astringency. The more tannins, the more your mouth will pucker and dry out. The fewer the tannins, the softer the wine, which leaves your mouth feeling refreshed.

In the end, you can use any of these words in any combination to describe a red wine you are selling, drinking, or writing about.

It can help to explore all of your options, hit a wide range of categories, and engage in discussion. Don’t be afraid to get it wrong the first few times you try to describe the red wine you are drinking.

We all have to start somewhere.


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  1. https://www.jjbuckley.com/wine-knowledge/blog/the-4-factors-and-4-indicators-of-wine-quality/1009
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