What Do These 4 Wine Words Actually Mean?

Brooke Newberry
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The wine world wins the award for cryptic jargon.  Personification is the wine writer’s best friend, and every industry has its own brand of quirky verbiage to help the consumer embrace a wine’s juicy soul.  Wine writing is a business and its job is to sell the stuff to eager consumers.  Characterization of a wine is an eccentric, yet helpful way to describe a bottle’s traits – the consumer just has to be open-minded about decoding the wine.

Personification of inanimate objects is relaxed literary fun – and it helps consumers understand the wine’s disposition (yes, wine has a disposition!).  In essence, the juice is alive and recreating itself in the bottle: consider aging.  Wine insiders and critics use esoteric expression to sell an experience.  However, there are some words used in the business that make it difficult for the consumer to relate to wine – maybe their grandma, but not their drink.  Here are 4 humanized wine words, decoded.

Consider buying the Oxford Companion to Wine.  It’s a massive manuscript containing every single wine term you’ve ever heard of, and some you definitely haven’t. 

Wines that are austere are generally not pleasant.  An austere wine has very high acidity, lacks fruit flavor, and is a severe dry wine lacking richness.  Austere can also mean that the wine is very young- too young to be drunk.  Think of showing up to a tight, one-dimensional party reeking of social gawk. It’s quite possible that the wine needs more time in the cellar to age and relax (or soften) and wait for its fruit characteristics to show up to party.  These wines benefit from being decanted.  Many expensive wines that are drunk prematurely are described as austere.  A super young, but promising Bordeaux or a spry, peppery Gruner Vetliner both could be described as such.


You’ve probably heard this one.  Fat gets thrown around in the wine world more than butter does in a Paula Deen recipe.  You’ll notice fat terminology in descriptions of California chardonnays or big whites from the Rhone Valley.  The expression is used to describe a full-bodied, rich, and fruit-concentrated wine, usually with low to average acidity.  Fat is an adjacent term for “big” wines.  These chubbies generally come from hot-weather regions and tend to be high in alcohol.  It’s considered a flaw if wines become “too fat” – in which case they are called “flabby,” and will lack structure and acid balance.


Supple describes the texture of a wine that is soft, flexible (meaning easily drinkable), fluid, balanced, and one that is not overly tannic or overbearing.  Wines deemed supple are quaffing wines, yet aren’t too simple or boring.  They still show structure and aging promise.  Supple is mostly cast for reds as it relates to texture, tannin load, oak, and overall body of the wine.


Wines that are identified as brawny or “muscular” predictably contain a lot of tannins, which are compounds found in the skins of the grapes, as well as in oak barrels, and are what cause a dryness or astringency in the mouth – much like a strong black tea would.  In brawny wines, tannins are said to give the wine longevity – meaning the bottle will most likely age well.  Brawnies are not always the most elegantly structured wines: think of a guy who goes to the gym and just works the biceps.  He’ll be a bit lopsided, which can often be a similar case for a wine dubbed brawny. These gym rat wines are almost always associated with high-alcohol, full flavor, and full-bodied reds.


WINE EXCERCISE TO TRY: Personify your own wine. Grab two wines from your local wine retailer.  Ask the seller to write down descriptions of the wines on a piece of paper.  Don’t look at the paper.  When you get home, compare the wines.  Look, smell, and taste.  How does the wine make you feel (aside from all tingly inside)?  What does it do to your mouth?  What memories come to mind?  What do you love about it, and what do you wish were different?  Next, write down how you would describe your drink as if it were a person.  Would you date one?  Does one remind you of your mother-in-law?  Afterward, read the descriptions and see if anything is in parallel.  Sounds silly – but it will help you get to know what you’re drinking and might even help you pick out a better wine next time.

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