15 Weird Wine Terms to Know and What They Mean

person take notes on wine

15 Weird Wine Terms to Know

Some wines smell like a horse stable? Say what now? Check out these 15 weird wine terms to know!

We’ll be honest. Learning about wine can be confusing, especially at the beginning. You know that wine is made from grapes, so why are people saying that their Sryah has notes of plum and tobacco

Wine experts – and particularly wine critics and writers – rely on descriptive language to communicate what makes a bottle of vino unique. And some of the weird wine terms they use are pretty unbelievable.

Imagine that a sommelier tells you that this particular Sauvignon blanc has notes of “cat pee” – and they’re talking about a wine that they like. What?

Enjoy this list of 15 weird wine terms to know and what they really mean, so you can use them at your next soirée. 

What’s the Deal with Flavor Notes? 

At first, most wines will taste like… well, wine. Only when you start to try different varietals and compare their aromas will you really start to get a handle on the nuances of each kind.

Every wine has a variety of primary aromas that come from the grapes (these can be fruity, floral, herbaceous, earthy, or spicy), secondary aromas – like nuttiness or buttery notes – that come from the winemaking process, and tertiary aromas – like vanilla, cocoa, or baking spices – that come from aging. 

Sometimes wine experts like to get creative with how they describe these flavor notes. Some descriptions are purely meant to convey the essence or feeling of a glass of wine. For instance, one wine critic has called certain wines “intellectually satisfying.” What does that mean? Your guess is as good as ours.

Other bizarre wine words accurately reflect an aroma in wine. It just may not be the first thing you’d think of when you’re sipping Pinot Noir for the first time.

Now, onto the weirdest wine words of all time. These 15 weird wine terms to know may leave you surprised about which are positive and which are negative. 

Weird Wine Words

1. Awkward

No, an “awkward” wine didn’t forget someone’s name and then spill itself on the rug. Wine experts will describe a wine as awkward when it doesn’t have a good structure or its components (body, acidity, etc.) aren’t balanced. 

weird wine terms - barnyard

2. Barnyard

Surprisingly, a “barnyard” aroma is considered a good thing – by many wine aficionados, at least. It encapsulates a few scents, including leather, hay, bacon, and – yes – manure. First of all, don’t panic. There’s no poop in the wine. The odor comes from Brettanomyces – a wild yeast that is sometimes found on grape skins or in oak barrels that can make its way into wine. Some people – particularly those who grew up on a farm or have positive associations with horse stables – actually enjoy this flavor note.

3. Cat Pee

Shocking, yes, but a funky, tangy scent that’s eerily similar to cat pee can tell a wine expert that they’re drinking a particularly good Sauvignon blanc. We know. Crazy, but true.

4. Dumb

The wine expert means no offence here – a “dumb” wine has, over the course of aging, lost its complexities and aromas. It’s not dead, merely dormant. If you can believe it, after a period of time – though it’s impossible to predict how long – a dumb wine can come back to life and taste better than ever. 

wine terms to know

5. Flamboyant

A wine is said to be flamboyant when it has an abundance of fruit notes and the wine expert feels that it’s trying to get their attention. Of course, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

6. Fleshy

No, a serial killer didn’t come up with this wine descriptor. Fleshy is less about a wine’s taste, and more about its texture. A fleshy wine might also be called “chewy” or “meaty” because it feels heavy on the tongue. 

7. Foxy

You might think foxy is a good thing, but if a wine is described as foxy, that means it has a musty odor. This term is more often used to describe North American grapes (Vitis labrusca) than European (Vitis vinifera) grapes.

gasoline can - weird wine words

8. Gasoline

A note of gasoline or petrol is sometimes found in German Riesling, and it’s how experts may know that they’re drinking a particularly high-quality bottle.

9. Hot

Surprisingly, this has nothing to do with the wine’s temperature. A hot wine has a very high alcohol level. The alcohol fumes are so strong, it feels like they’re burning your nostrils. Not to fear: This unpleasant scent can wear off if you leave your wine to sit for a few minutes.

10. Raw Meat

Not to be confused with “fleshy” or “meaty,” a note of raw meat in red wine is a positive quality. It’s often used to describe a gamy quality in muscular reds like Bordeaux and French Syrah.

11. Rustic

Rustic could be a good or bad thing. If it’s used to describe an aged wine or a wine made with an old-fashioned method, it’s a good thing. If a wine that’s supposed to taste fresh and fruity is said to be rustic, that’s not so good.

12. Stemmy

As you might’ve guessed, a wine that’s called “stemmy” was fermented with some of the grape stems. Now, plenty of wines are made with grape stems and not referred to as stemmy. This word is specifically used when there’s a  “green” or possibly bitter note in red wine – particularly in Pinot Noir. It might not sound very appealing, but many wine experts use it in a positive way.

13. Toasty

No, a toasty wine was not warmed in the oven. Toasty doesn’t even mean that a wine tastes like toast. It generally means a wine as a note of burnt caramel, which comes from oak aging. 

14. Vegetal

Here’s another word that can be positive or negative. It’s used when there’s a note that’s reminiscent of plants or vegetables. A slight vegetal quality in Cabernet Sauvignon, for instance, is considered a good thing. However, if this note appears in a varietal that’s not supposed to have it, the wine is considered flawed. 

wine terms to know

15. Wet Dirt

Also referred to as forest floor, a note of wet dirt indicates a rich, earthy note in full-bodied red wines. Yes, it’s a good thing. No, it doesn’t mean there’s actually dirt in your wine. 

In Vino Finito

Wine experts use some ridiculous words to describe the wines they love. Have you come across a flavor note on a label that you don’t understand? Email us and we can help translate. 

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Bright Cellars

Our staff is full of passionate wine lovers. With our amazing sommeliers at the helm, we’ve been schooled on all things wine. We came together to write this article, in hopes of spreading a little wine-ducation with you.

  1. I enjoyed how this was written – informative, infused with sufficient wit and humor. Thank you! It was refreshing!

    1. Hi there! Thanks for reading and happy to hear you liked the blog! The words used to explain wine can be pretty weird sometimes.

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