The key to impressing your friends when it comes to wine isn't buying a $130 bottle of Opus One, or even a $1300 bottle of 1985 Guigal La Landonne Cote Rotie, because, let's face it, they can't tell the difference between that and a bottle of 2006 Red Truck.
The real key to impressing your friends (and readers of your wine column) is tossing out wine tasting jargon left and right like you were born doing it. Being able to expertly handle your wine tasting terminology is the key to getting people to believe that you really do know what the hell you are talking about.
Now, you could make up a bunch of terms (like I'm about to), and likely no one would be the wiser. But it's probably better to use an “approved list”, like the one that follows.
Use these terms liberally when in the presence of friends and acquaintances.
Austere – Refers to a wine that is unforthcoming with its flavors, especially fruit flavors, due to youth, excessive tannins or acidity, or just because it's a crappy wine. Young French wines tend to be austere and may need years to open up. “Boy, that cheap French wine was so austere I think it was just tannin and alcohol.”
Backbone – The structure given to a wine by its tannins and/or acidity. A wine with fruit but little tannin or acidity is often seen as shapeless or flabby. “The tannins gave the wine a firm, but not overpowering, backbone upon which to hang loads of succulent fruit flavors.”
Balance – The taste of wine is made up of fruit, sweetness, acidity, tannin and alcohol. Balance refers to the way in which these components blend and harmonize. “The waves of overpowering alcohol in this wine really throws it off balance.”
Complexity – Definitely different than balance, complexity refers to presence of, interplay between, and evolution of flavors from the moment the wine first touches your tongue until the end of the finish after you swallow. “That Sutter Home merlot had about as much complexity as a rock.”
Crisp – Refers to a good level of acidity in white wines that makes them taste clean and refreshing. “The stunning crispness of this sauvignon blanc contributes to its excellent backbone and fine structure… or some such BS as that.”
Finish – The final, lingering taste of a wine after you swallow it. Can be short or long, harsh or smooth, complex or simple, fruity, earthy, tannic, tart or bitter. A longer finish is typical of better wines. “The finish on that merlot vanished faster than a politician when the lights are turned on.”
Flabby - Used in reference to white wines lacking sufficient acidity to give them good structure. The opposite of crisp. "That Riesling was the flabbiest glass of plonk I've had in a long time.”
Forward – The opposite of austere, a wine whose flavors are big, obvious, and readily apparent. California and Australian wines tend to be more forward than European wines. “This is a typically fruit-forward, Australian shiraz.”
Hollow – Lacking flavor, particularly fruit flavor, on the midpalate (see, below). “Nice acidity, but the fruit was so hollow that I could barely taste it.”
Hot – Refers to wines with an objectionably high level of alcohol on the nose or palate. There is not necessarily a one-to-one relationship to the percentage of alcohol in a wine and it's perceived “hotness”. “The finish was extremely hot on this wine, with overpowering waves of alcohol.”
Integrated – Refers to how well certain components of a wine (oak, acidity, and particularly tannins) have toned down with age and merged with the other flavors and characteristics of the wine. “This cabernet has loads of unctuous fruit and finely integrated tannins.”
Jammy – Refers to wines with slightly cooked or overripe fruit flavors, often present as hints of raisin or prune flavors. Typical of cheap wines grown in hot regions like the Central Valley. “That Lodi Zinfandel was as jammy as my grandma's blackberry preserves.”
Midpalate – The process of tasting a wine is broken into three parts, the beginning (sometimes referred to as the ‘attack'), the midpalate, and the finish. The midpalate is the period of time after your first taste of a wine, but before you swallow it. It is when you are most likely to taste the wine's fruit flavors and complexity. “Wonderfully complex fruit flavors on the midpalate, but with a disappointingly brief finish.”
Supple – Refers to wines with well-balanced tannins and/or acidity. Young red wines often have aggressive tannins that become more supple as they age. “The '47 Chateau Latour has amazingly supple, well-integrated tannins.”
Structure – Essentially the same as “backbone”. Refers to how well the acidity and/or tannins in a wine support its other components. “This syrah had a fine and balanced structure and plump fruit.”Tannin - A component of the skins and seeds of grapes that give red wines an astringent, dry feeling on the finish. They can be overpowering, particularly in young wines. “The tannins in this swill are fierce enough to take on a wolverine."
Practice these terms in combination with each other until your own gibberish begins to make sense to you…
“Though not austere, this wine lacks backbone, structure and balance on the midpalate, exhibiting fruit-forward, jammy flavors lacking in complexity. Very hot and alcoholic on the finish, with aggressive, poorly integrated tannins. 77 points.”