Let's clarify some wine descriptions

I attended a wine tasting not long ago in which about 50 people sampled varietals from around the world. Their comments were more confusing than illuminating, however; one fellow's descriptions, in particular, were way out of whack.

Let's look at the proper terms for describing what we find in wine:

Sweet. So there we were, tasting about 15 non-sweet, or "dry," rieslings. "Dry" indicates a wine more than 11.5 percent alcohol; the more the yeast metabolizes the sugar, the drier the finished wine. This has very little to do with the fruit taste or fruit aroma; a riesling should taste and smell like riesling fruit regardless of the sweetness level in the wine.

An entire group of tasters was describing many of these rieslings as "sweet" in the nose, rather than using the more appropriate adjective "fruity." It might seem like nitpicking, but it's a little crazy to hear incorrect usage from people in the industry. The other problem is, of course, that "sweet" is something we sense on the palate, not in the bouquet.

Not surprisingly, I heard the same term used on the red side of the room to describe cabernet sauvignon. Ripe fruit in red wines can be very fruity, almost jammy in character, but, again, should never be described as "sweet" but more correctly as "ripe" or "dark ripe fruit."

Odor. Yikes! This term describes a wine that is experiencing a microbial problem (bad wine) and should never be used to describe bouquet unless you want a winemaker or distributor to get really upset. I witnessed a very tense scene some years ago when a winemaker tossed a guy from his tasting room for repeatedly using the term. "Odor" indicates off-characteristics that come to us either from the vineyard or winemaking process.

The correct words to describe the bouquet of a wine are "bouquet," "nose" and "aroma." I like the term "nose," as it pretty much says it all.

The term "aroma" used to mean the sensation coming from the bottle, not from the poured glass. When I first arrived on the wine scene some 40 years ago, it was not uncommon for wine experts to pop the cork and smell the bottle for telltale signs. Though rare these days, "bottle aroma" is still practiced in parts of Europe, I understand.

Tight. I heard this term mentioned in conjunction with a wine that people felt was "well made" or of "exceptional" quality. "Tight" traditionally indicates that a wine has not "opened" enough for evaluation. This is an interesting phenomenon. Tight wines are usually newer wines not ready to drink because they simply have not matured enough for the components to knit together to form a whole unit.

It takes time, especially in red wines, for all of the parts to come together such as fruit, oak and acidity.

Balanced. The opposite of the term "tight" is "balanced." A balanced wine gives us a wine (red, white, rosé, sparkling) in which nothing sticks out like a cowlick but everything is integrated and all the flavors complement each other. This is why it is such a joy to taste wines that have spent time in the cellar.

Lorn Razzano is owner of the Wine Cellar in Ashland. Reach him at razz49@aol.com.

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