Wine Tasting Terms Cheat Sheet: Get Sommelier Skills in Seconds

  • Understanding wine tasting terms helps you identify your personal preferences, empowering better purchasing choices.
  • This cheat sheet of terms is broken down into the 5 stages of wine tasting, known as the 5 S’s: See, Swirl, Sniff, Sip, and Savour.
  • This article will walk you through seeing the hues and opacity, swirling to determine the viscosity, sniffing to identify the aroma categories, sipping to analyze the structure, and savouring the flavour to see if there’s a long finish.

Sommeliers, otherwise known as wine stewards, are renowned for their deep understanding and expertise in wine service, food pairing, and more. These skilled servers have set a high bar when it comes to understanding wine as their purpose is to help each customer find a wine that suits their unique preference and palate.

Whether you enjoy the adventure of a serious wine tasting or prefer to sip as you go, understanding wine tasting terms can benefit you by:

  • Giving you the knowledge to understand key characteristics and in turn,
  • Empowering you to better communicate what you like and make informed purchasing selections.

Wine is so much more than an alcoholic beverage that has been enjoyed for thousands of years – it’s an experience that thrills all of the senses! So it’s no wonder that when it comes to understanding wine and wine tasting terms, it’s common practice to follow the “Five S’s of Wine Tasting” which include See, Swirl, Sniff, Sip, and Savour.

The customer’s touch points with the brand are various and a customer may become user of several different products or services

See The Colouring


By observing the hue and intensity of the wine, you can pick up visual cues on the provenance (origin) of the wine, its age, the variety of grapes used and more. It’s best practice to look at the wine at the point where it meets the glass, in natural diffused lighting or over a white background. Key wine tasting terms for this step include:

● Hue and Opacity – Hue is the colour of the wine and opacity is its depth or darkness, described using descriptors like pale, medium, deep, dark, and opaque. Is the wine a pale straw colour or deep yellow? Medium gold or deep amber? Is it a shade of copper, salmon, or pink? Perhaps it’s ruby red (violet), deep purple (blue), garnet or tawny?

Understanding the colour intensity and pigmentation can even give you insights into potential flavouring. For example, wines with a more red hue tend to have lower pH levels and a more acidic, tart taste. Whereas wines with a more purple, bluish tint tend to have higher pH levels and smoother tannin structures.

Swirl The Glass


Although this is a highly parodied step, swirling the glass benefits the wine tasting experience by oxygenating the wine and “opening up” the full range of aromas. As a beginner, start by placing the glass on the table and, holding it at the base, gently swirl the glass in one direction to get a thin film of wine on the glass’s inner surface. Once you get more comfortable with the swirling process, you can further develop your technique. The key wine tasting term for this step includes:

● Viscosity – Viscosity is a visual indicator that essentially looks at the ‘thickness’ of the wine and is often referred to as its ”Legs” or “Tears” because of the stipes of wine that run down the inside of the wine glass after swirling it. Wine viscosity is an indicator of alcohol and sugar levels, with wines higher in alcohol and sugar content, such as fortified wine, which will have a higher viscosity and more pronounced legs rolling slowly down the glass.

Tip: remember that temperature and humidity affect the viscosity of the wine because evaporation is needed for the legs to form!

Sniff The Aromas


Smelling the scents within the wine and identifying fragrances helps you understand what flavour profiles you prefer. It’s suggested that you smell the wine immediately after swirling so you can start identifying the aroma categories, from big to small, and don’t be afraid to put your nose in the glass to get a closer whiff. Key wine tasting terms for this step include:

● Primary Aromas – Derived from the grapes and include fruits, herbs, spices and florals.

● Secondary Aromas – Derived from the winemaking fermentation process using yeast and includes notes like cheese rind, nut husk, buttery popcorn, biscuits, bread and more.

● Tertiary Aromas – Derived from the ageing process in bottles or oak casks and have matured aromas like roasted nuts, coffee, tobacco, stewed or dried fruit and more.

Bonus Term: The smell of the wine in the glass is referred to as the Nose

Sip The Wine


Finally, it’s time to taste the wine! Up until this stage we have been building an idea of the flavour and now it’s time to take a sip and analyze the flavours. Try to taste the flavours you smelled, are they there or are you tasting something new and different? It’s suggested to take a bigger sip than usual, letting the wine coat the inside of your mouth for 5 seconds. Key wine tasting terms for this step include:

● Body – Body is known as the overall texture or weight of the wine on the palate and it is described using a range from light to full, and lean to round/creamy.

● Structure – A term used to define the layers of flavour between acid, tannins, and alcohol. Its believed that an equal balance of these flavours, known as a “stronger relationship” is better for ageing potential.

● Tannins (Red Wine) – Known as the structural backbone for wine, tannins are responsible for increasing a wine’s body. Naturally present in grape skin, tannins are used to describe red wine as it’s fermented with the skin on. To determine, ask yourself How astringent is the red wine and does it leaves a drying sensation on the surface of your tongue and throat and leaves a bitter taste? Red wines with a strong astringent taste are described as “sharp” with a high tannin level as opposed to those with a soft tannin structure and low tannin levels.

Tip: Tannins are natural preservatives, thus higher tannin levels mean a better potential for cellar ageing.

● Acidity (White Wine) – Acidity brings about sour and tart flavours within the wine and can be described as causing your mouth to water or leaving a rough sensation on the palate/roof of your mouth. Acidity is described as high, medium, low, or a combination (eg. medium-low).

● Alcohol – Alcohol is characterized by a feeling of heat at the back of the throat, middle of the tongue, or even a burning sensation in your nose. The alcohol content is affected by climate (warmer regions usually mean more sugary fruit which converts to higher alcohol) and grape variety (with some varietals naturally sweeter than others).

To identify the full architecture of the wine, look out for other structural components like sweetness, fruitiness, saltiness, and bitterness.

Did you know: You can’t smell sweetness, you can only taste it. However, a scent of ripeness may indicate a sweet taste (which is the opposite of a dry taste).

Savour the Flavour


This step is important because it allows you to enjoy the hard work and craftsmanship that went into producing a particular wine. Savouring the flavour also allows you to think about the journey, what your investigation has shared about this wine and how long the taste lasts on your tongue. Key wine tasting terms for this step include:

● Length – As the name suggests, length describes how long the wine stays with you after you drink it. Each sip has a beginning, mid-palate (middle) and a finish (end) – with better wines generally having a long finish that lingers in flavour.
Wine Tasting Terms Conclusion
From inspecting the colour to savouring the flavour, we have taken you through the five steps to identifying wine and explained a few of the most common wine tasting terms applicable to each step. Now with your cheat sheet in hand, you can accurately identify what wine appeals most to you, make informed purchase decisions, and maybe even show off your newfound knowledge at your next evening swaré – Salut!