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Tasting Notes

Reproduced with the kind permission of Waterhouse Range Vineyards Pty Ltd - the home of Governor Robe Selection Wines


Let's get one thing straight right now: wine is meant to be enjoyed!

Giving voice to all manner of words and phrases won't make the wine taste any better or worse - it is what it is, and only you know if you like it!

Of course, knowing how do something and to put words to your feelings about it helps you understand better, communicate with others and generally appreciate and enjoy more. And this is very true about vines and wines, from the grapes, soil types, and right through to the last of the taste!

Wine Tasting

Wine tasting does not just mean tasting the wine, it means tasting the wine to assess it in all the normal senses!

Some common-sense guidelines include:

  • If you are tasting a number of wines, don't drink all that you taste - sip and spit! After you have tasted the wine, spit it into a spitoon, jug, bucket, or on the garden. Have plenty of water in between tasting, as well as nibbles such as dry biscuits and cheese.
    And if you must drink, don't drive!

  • Glasses:

    • Clear, uncoloured glass, so you can see the true state of the wine

    • Clean and dry - ensure they have been cleaned and rinsed, with no impurities, including detergent, remaining

    • The best shape glass for most wines is a tulip shape - the international XL4 tasting glass is the standard. The narrow top helps to contain the wine whilst the glass is swirled to release and concentrate the vapours of the wine so that it can be easily nosed. However, other shapes are generally acceptable.

  • Ideally, you should have a white background (eg: a white table cloth, or white paper, with light (white is best) coloured surroundings) and adequate white lighting. Whilst many restaurants have dark timbers, coloured table cloths, and dim mood lighting, etc, making it difficult to properly assess wines, the use of white paper will help greatly.

  • You should only fill one third of the glass.

  • You should swirl the wine around in the glass whilst holding by the stem:

    • to coat the inside of the glass so you can see what the wine does

    • to release and concentrate more the vapours of the wine so you can better nose them

When we assess wines we use four of our senses:

  • sight (vision)

  • smell (olfaction)

  • taste (degustation)

  • feel (tactile)


There is a generally accepted approach to wine tasting:

  • Sight - what it looks like:

    • Clarity
      (brilliant, clear, transparent, limpid, cloudy, dull, hazy, turbid, etc)
      The wine should be crystal clear and brilliant. Cloudiness indicates a poor state. The presence of some residue may indicate poor filtering or some settling of an unwanted impurity.
      The presence of pieces of cork does not mean that the wine is corked - it may indicate:

      • the cork was broken when it was removed from the bottle and some fell into the bottle/glass, but the wine is OK

      • the cork has deteriorated during storage, allowing air to cause the wine to oxidise - it probably would appear brownish in colour and smell very baggy

    • In sparkling wines: the size and number of bubbles, and the mousse on the top

      • Generally, the better the sparkling wine, the smaller the bubbles

    • After swirling the wine around in the glass, how the wine clings to the glass.
      This indicates the viscosity, glycerine, alcohol content and acidity of the wine.

    • Colour
      This indicates age and condition of the wine

      • Hue - look at the miniscus, especially if the wine is very dense in colour
        White wine: green (young), water white, straw, yellow, pale gold, gold, amber (old)
          Aged white wines will generally show deeper yellows and golds
          - brown indicates an oxidised, over-the-hill, finished wine
        Red wine: purple (young), pink, light red, tile red, brick red, orange, russet (old)
          Aged red wines generally show oranges, russet and browns
          - brown indicates an oxidised, over-the-hill, finished wine

      • Intensity - the depth or density of colour
        Red wines - a light density colour, or thin, wine may indicate a poorly made or low-quality wine that may have little fruit taste to it

  • Smell (nose) - the aromas (grape odours), bouquets (winemaking odours) and their relative and total strengths and balance. Aromas generally decrease with ages as bouquet increases.
    Take only two or three full sniffs - you can normally only detect 3-4 different smells at a time.

    • Aromas - grape odours, e.g.:

      • White wine: citrus, melon, asparagus, grass, passion fruit, butter, cat's piss, aromatic

      • Red wine: blackberry, strawberry, licorice, cigar box

    • Bouquet - winemaking odours, e.g.:

      • yeast

      • wood odours, e.g.:

        • vanillin, caramel, cream

      • Other perceived smells (an almost endless list!), not all of which are pleasant.

      • Unpleasant odours include:

        • Foxy, mousy, musk (corked?), swamp

  • Taste - the various tastes that make up the wine and their relative and total strengths
    Take a generous sip and then suck air in through the wine, then swirl the wine around your mouth. You should normally sense:

    • three of the four primary tastes: sweetness, acidity, bitterness

    • many secondary sensations which are not really tastes, but smell sensations which appear to be tastes, like those outlined above.

These may vary from when you first taste the wine through to how long it lingers on your palate (length of the wine).

Many of these are very similar to and will generally reflect the nose of the wine.

  • Grape sensations, e.g.:

    • White wine: citrus, melon, asparagus, grass, passion fruit, butter, cat's piss, aromatic

    • Red wine: blackberry, strawberry, plum, licorice, cigar box

  • Winemaking sensations, e.g.:

    • yeast

    • Wood sensations, e.g.:

      • vanillin, caramel, cream

    • Other perceived smells (an almost endless list!), not all of which are pleasant.

    • Unpleasant odours include:

      • Foxy, mousse, musk (corked?), swamp

  • Feel

    • tannin - dryness, puckers the mouth

    • alcohol

      • moderate - sensation: may seem sweetish

      • high - sensation: may seem warm to hot

    • glycerine

    • dissolved carbon dioxide - sensation: prickle or fizz

    • Other characteristics, some of which are acceptable, many of which are not!


All these sensations result in the mouth feel of the wine. A well-made, balanced wine is one in which there are no imbalances or holes, where the wine fills the mouth with a balanced, smooth, enjoyable feeling!


Grape Characteristics

These are some of the more common grape varieties encountered in Australia. There are many more, and we would be delighted if you could send us details of your experiences - you can email us at!


Alicante Bouschet

     Black grape. A French hybrid grape, relatively high yielding and reputed for lesser quality wines. Grown mainly in the Barossa 

Valley and north-east Victoria.

Cabernet Franc

     Black grape. Historically has produced the famous French reds at Saint-Emilion. Blends well with Merlot and is part of the so-called Three Cabernets blend: cabernet franc/cabernet sauvignon/merlot. Planted widely in Australia.
     Wine: pronounced varietal character, good tannin and colour, ages well

Cabernet Sauvignon

     Black grape. Historically the mainstay of the French Bordeaux variety. Australia has its Coonawarra. It produces full bodied, dry, austere wines. Planted widely in Australia.


     White Grape. Currently produces the most popular white wine in the world. Traditionally it produced the famous white burgundies such as Chablis and Puligny-Montrachet (France). Its wines vary from medium-dry un-oaked styles to elegant, dry barrel aged wines.
     Descriptors: citrus, melon, peach, tropical fruit, fruit salad, butter, honey, nuts

Chenin Blanc

     White grape. A versatile grape which makes wine that is fine for aging, although too many are consumed whilst quite young.


     White grape.
     Wine: well balanced dry table wines

Crouchen - was known as Clare Riesling

     White grape. Now mainly grown in Australia and South Africa.
     Wine: a pleasant dry white wine with a delicate varietal character


     A black grape and generally not regarded as producing great wines. Mick Morris in Australia's Rutherglen makes a very good Durif which improves with age and is best after about 8-10 years!
     Wine: intense colour, high tannin requiring long aging


     Mainly used for distillation and the production of sherries

Fumé Blanc - see Sauvignon Blanc


     Red grape. Principle grape of the French Beaujolais region. It is now establishing in Australia, the Adelaide Hills region producing an very acceptable wine.


     White & pink grapes - white wine. The name translates to Spicy Traminer, as it is very aromatic. In Australia it is sometimes blended with Riesling with quite good results.
     Descriptors: aromatic, herbaceous, spicy

Grenache - also known as Garnacha

     Black grape. Historically well known in the French Chateau Neuf-du-Pape. In Australia it has had some bad press in its earlier forms of fortified wine and, in the 1960's-1970's as cheaper bulk wine in flagons and casks. Now a number of Australian wine makers are producing some excellent wines, both of 100% grenache and in blends.

Hermitage - refer Shiraz


     White grape:
     Wine: light to medium wine with little varietal character.


     Black grape.
     Wine: rather neutral flavoured wine, can be astringent - usually used in other blends


     Black grape. Historically best known in parts of Bordeaux and Saint-Emilion. It produces a fine red and is often blended with cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc.


     A white grape, not related to the muscat. Formerly (and incorrectly) known as Tokay in Australia, it is the basis for the sensational Australian Liqueur Tokay.
     In France it a famous grape used in sweet white wines in Bordeaux and Bergerac, as well as some somewhat duller dry white wines


     Muscat Blanc à Petit Grains, also known as: Brown Muscat (Australia), Muscat de Frontignan, Muscat d‘Alsace, Moscato di Canelli, Moscatel Dorado (Spain), Muscatel Branco (Portugal), Muscadel (South Africa)

White/rosé/red grapes. France has its Muscat de Beaumes de Venise, Italy its Asti. It is usually used for dry and sweet white wine


     White grape. The most important grape used to make sherry. Planted in Australia, Spain (about 90% of its sherry region plantings).

Pedro Ximenez

     White grape. Blended with palomino in the making of certain sherries, e.g.: Oloroso.

Petit Syrah - see Durif

Petit Verdot

     Black grape. Historically a classic black grape in the French Bordeaux region.

Pinot Grigio - see Pinot Gris

Pinot Gris - also known as: Pinot Grigio, Rülander

     White grape. Produces fine, firm, full bodied wines

Pinot Meunier

     Black grape. Used mainly to give a white wine contributing body and character to champagne.

Pinot Noir

     Black grape - both white and red wines. Historically important to the French Burgundy region (e.g.: Romanée, Chambertin). It is regarded as a challenging grape, liking warm weather with some cool relief and disliking intense heat.
     Descriptors: cherry, strawberry


     White grape. Produces some of the best fine dry , medium-dry and sweet, botrytised wines .
     Descriptors: citrus, lemon, kerosine (old wines)

Rülander - see Pinot Gris


     Black grape. Historically famous in Italy's Chianti and Brunello di Montalcino.

Sauvignon Blanc - also known as Fumé blanc

     White grape. Best suited to cool climates. New Zealand excels with wines such as Cloudy Bay, Stoneleigh, Limeburner's Bay, Matua Valley. France has its Pouilly-Fumé and Sancerre.


     White Grape. In Australia it has achieved wide success in both classic dry, sweet and botrytised wines. In France it is a main component of Sauternes (2/3 of plantings at the greatest, Chateau d'Yquem) and Graves Blanc.
     Descriptors: butter, cat's piss, citrus,

Shiraz - also known as Syrah, Hermitage

     Black grape. Historically famous for the French northern Rhône Valley (Hermitage, Còte-Rôtie). In the nineteenth century cuttings were brought to Australia. They produced good wine which came to world fame when Penfold's then head winemaker, the legendary Max Schubert, produced Grange Hermitage - now simply called Grange and voted the best in the world.
     Descriptors: pepper, spice


     Black grape. Historically best known in the Rioja region of Spain. Now there are small plantings in Australia, where Thompson Estates (Riverland, South Australia) produces a cabernet/tempranillo blend.

Tokay - see Muscadelle

Trebbiano - also known as Ugni Blanc

     White grape:


     White grape: Historically a Portuguese variety and a principle grape of Madeira.
     Wine: strong and attractive dry table wine; also a fortified wine.


     White grape. Once only small plantings in France, now it is widespread in Australia, USA. Produces mouth-filling dry white wines.
     Descriptors: apricot,


     Black grape. Best known in California, USA, making both champagne-style and dry red wines. It is produced similarly in South Australia's Southern Vales and in Western Australia (eg: Cap Mentelle).

Wine Tasting Terms

This is not an exclusive listing and there will be many terms and expressions which you may use or encounter in your travels and tastings which are not included here!


We would be delighted if you could send us any such terms and expressions - you can email us at!



Acetic - The taste similar to vinegar. It is a mixture of acetic acid and ethyl acetate. The taste threshold is dependant on the wine; big high tannin wines can tolerate higher levels but generally the threshold for acetic acid is 0.8 grams/litre & 150 mg/litre for ethyl acetate.

Acidity, acid - A tart or sour taste in the mouth when total acidity of the wine is high. An acid grip in the finish should be more like a zestful tang and is tolerable only in a rich, full-bodied wine.

Acrid - A wine with overly pronounced acidity. This is often apparent in cheap red wines.

Aftertaste - see also Finish

The taste or flavour that lingers in the mouth after the wine has been tasted.
(harsh, hot, soft, lingering, short, long, smooth, non-existent)

Alcohol - In wine, the result of the fermentation of grape juice. Yeast enzymes convert grape sugar into alcohol, giving off carbon dioxide. Origin: Arab, referring to the distillation of kohl.


The odours or particular smell of the grape variety, e.g.:

·  White wine: apple, citrus, melon, asparagus, grass, passion fruit, butter, cat's piss, aromatic. raisin

·  Red wine: blackberry, strawberry, licorice, cigar box

Assertive - Upfront, forward, immediate on the nose/palate

Attractive - A lighter style, fresh, easy to drink wine.


Balanced - Indicates that the fruit, acid, wood flavours are in the right proportion. A wine is well balanced when none of those characteristics dominates. Wine not in balance may be acid, cloying, flat, hard.

Barnyard - Smell of farm animals. An undesirable character.

Big - Full-bodied, rich and slightly alcoholic tasting.

Bite - A marked degree of acidity or tannin. An acid grip in the finish should be more like a zestful tang and is tolerable only in a rich, full-bodied wine.

Bitter - One of the four basic tastes. Considered a fault if the bitterness dominates the flavour or aftertaste. A trace in sweet wines may complement the flavours. In young red wines it can be a warning signal, as bitterness doesn't always dissipate with age. A fine, mature wine should not be bitter on the palate.

Body - The weight of wine in your mouth; commonly expressed as full-bodied, medium-bodied or medium-weight, or light-bodied.

Botrytis Cinerea - also known as Nobel Rot

A fungus which penetrates the skins of white grapes for sweet wines, consuming the water content of the grape and so causing the juice to become concentrated.


Winemaking odours, e.g.:

  • Yeast

  • Wood odours, e.g.: vanillin, caramel, cream

  • Other perceived smells (an almost endless list!), not all of which are pleasant.

Unpleasant odours include: foxy, mousy, musk (corked ?), swamp

Buttery - This refers to both flavour and texture or mouthfeel.


Cardboard - Term used to describe a particular taste in wine.


  1. The essence of the wine, e.g.: the character of the wine is .....

  2. A wine with excellent distinguishing qualities, e.g.: this wine has character

Chewy - A rich, heavy, tannic wine that is full-bodied.

Cigar box - The taste of cigar box, generally associated with red wines

Citrus - The taste of lemon or lime

Cloying - Overly sweet, sticky, adhering to the inside of the mouth

Colour - A term referring to the colour of a wine, including both its hue and intensity of colour.

Corked - A wine tainted by corks which contain trichloranisole (TCA). It tastes of musty violets. This is one of the most serious of wine faults.

Crisp - A fresh, young, wine with good acidity.

Closed - Concentrated and having character, but shy in aroma or flavour.

Complete - A full-bodied wine rich in extracts with a pronounced finish.

Complex - A combination of all flavour and taste components in harmony


Delicate - Light to medium-weight wines with good flavours.

Dense - Concentrated aromas on the nose and palate, desirable in young wines.

Deposit - A term meaning natural sediment in wine, mostly in red wine.
In white wine it is normally tartaric acid crystals which are harmless and tasteless.
In red wines it can be tannic and bitter, or the result of poor filtration.
Bottles showing deposits should be de-cantered or poured carefully so that it is not transferred to the glass. Ideally, such bottles should be stored upright for up to a week before use.

Depth - The complexity and concentration of flavours in a wine. Generally refers to a quality wine with subtle layers of flavour that go "deep." Opposite of 'Shallow.'

Developed - A wine showing maturity.

Dirty - Any and all foul, rank, off-putting smells that can occur in a wine, including those caused by bad barrels or corks. A sign of poor winemaking.

Dry - see also Sec

A Term used to describe wines with a very low natural sugar content.


Earthy - A wine that tastes of soil, most common in red wines. Can be used both positively (pleasant, clean quality adding complexity to aroma and flavour) and negatively (barnyard character bordering on dirtiness).

Elegant - A wine of grace, balance and beauty.

Empty - Flavourless and uninteresting.

Esters - Components of wine which influence its bouquet and aroma.


Fading - A wine that is losing colour, fruit or flavour, usually as a result of age.

Finish - see also Aftertaste

The residual flavour remaining on the palate after drinking a wine. A long finish indicates a wine of good quality. This can be enjoyed for hours after drinking a great wine.

Flabby - see also Flat

Lacking acidity on the palate.

Flat - see also Flabby

  1. Having low acidity; the next stage after flabby

   2. A sparkling wine that has lost its bubbles.

Flinty, stoney - The aroma or taste of some white wines which is similar to the odour of flint striking steel.

Fruity - Any quality referring to the body and richness of a wine, i.e., "appley," "berrylike" or "herbaceous." This is often wrongly perceived as sweetness, but does not mean that the wine is sweet.

Full Bodied - Filling the mouth. Opposite of 'thin-bodied.'


Graceful - A wine that is subtly harmonious and pleasing.

Grapey - The flavours and aromas associated with fresh grapes.


    1. Tasting of un-ripe fruit. Not necessarily a bad thing, especially in a Riesling

    2. The colour of (usually) a very young white wine


Hard, harsh - A term that means that a wine is uncompromising and lacking subtlety or softness. Such wines may sometimes improve with age.

Hessian - see also Wet bag

Heady - The smell of a wine high in alcohol.

Herbaceous - The taste and smell of herbs.





Lactic Acid

Legs - The viscous droplets that form and ease down the sides of the glass when the wine is swirled. An indication of glycerine, alcohol. Can indicate aging potential.

Length - How long the taste of wine remains on the palate.

Late picked - also known as Spaëtlese

Late picked wines usually display a notably higher degree of sugar

Lees - see also Sediment

Another term for sediment. Some wines are aged on lees to imbue freshness and vitality.


    1. In white wine this may be a good characteristic

    2. In red wines this generally indicates a lack of colour, alcohol, body


Maderised - A term meaning that the wine has oxidised giving a foul, burnt taste.

Malo - Lactic fermentation

Mousse - French: The bubbling action in sparkling wine

Murky - Lacking brightness - turbid or swampy.

Musty - Having a mouldy smell. This may include corked wines.


Neutral - A wine having no outstanding characteristics, good or bad.

Noble rot - see Botrytis Cinerea

Non-vintage - A wine that is not identified as belonging to a particular vintage


    1. To smell a wine

    2. The aroma or bouquet of a wine


Oaky - The aroma and taste of oak. Properly balanced, this is good. Too much can be undesirable.

Oxidise - see Maderised


Palate - The feel and taste of wine in the mouth.

Pedestrian - Plain, ordinary, nothing outstanding

Peppery - The taste of pepper in a wine; sharper than 'Spicy'. Often associated with shiraz.

Perfumed - A wine with a delicate bouquet.

Potent - A strong, intense, powerful wine.



Rancio - An oxidised style of fortified wine.

Residual sugar - The natural grape sugar that remains once fermentation is completed

Robust - A full-bodied, intense and vigorous wine

Round, rounded - A well-balanced wine in fruit, tannins, and body.


Sec - see Dry

Sediment - see Deposit

Seductive - An appealing wine

Short - A wine has no real finish to it - it does not linger on the palate

Simple - A wine with few characteristics that follow the initial impression. Not necessarily unfavourable, and often describes an inexpensive, young wine.

Smokey - A subtle wood-smoke aroma.

Spicy - The presence of spice flavours such as anise, cinnamon, cloves, mint and pepper, often present in complex wines.


    1. A wine with low acid/tannin, or alcohol content with little impact on the palate

    2. A wine that lacks any firmness and which would probably not age well.

    3. A wine with little residual sugar, easy on the palate.

Spätlese - German. Late-picked grapes. The wine is one stage sweeter than Kabinett, generally being medium-sweet.

Spritzig - German. Lightly sparkling. Generally means that the tongue can detect a tingling on the end of the tongue akin to minor bubbles, often undetectable by sight.

Stalky - A term indicating a red wine that has excess tannin from the grape stalks.

Sulphur, sulphur dioxide

Used in various stages of wine making, including:

  • To kill off wild yeasts and bacteria do that the winemaker can use a known yeast

  • To prevent fermenting grape juice from oxidising

  • To fill the space between the wine and the cork to prevent oxidisation Its use in bottles must be disclosed on the label as some people can occasionally have a reaction to it.

Supple - A wine with well-balanced tannins and fruit characteristics.

Sweet - The presence of residual sugar and/or glycerine. One of the four basic tastes.



Tannin - A dry, mouth puckering, sticking to the back of the teeth, sensation, with flavours of leather and tea. An essential component in Red wines which generally means the wine will age well. It comes from the skins, pips and stalks of the grapes.

Tart - see also acidity

Sharp-tasting because of acidity.

Toasty - A hint of the wooden barrel. Usually associated with dry white wines.

Tartar - see Deposit

Tawny - A colour of red wine which generally indicates age of 8 years or more, depending on the degree of tawniness. The wine is slowly oxidising and, generally, may not last much longer.

Temperature at which to serve wines

This is a general guide only - you should drink your wine at whatever temperature is right for you at the time.
Note that serving wine too cool will tend to mask any imperfections, whilst serving warmer will bring out the wine's characteristics. Frequently, both at restaurants and in the home, white wines are served straight out of a refrigerator, often in an ice bucket and this tends to mar the tasting of a good wine!

  • Sparkling wines (champagnes; white and red): 6-10°C

  • White wine: 9-14°C - but too cold will stifle those beautiful aromas and tastes!

  • Rosé wine 9-12°C

  • Red wine: 13-20°C - but Lambrusco is great served chilled, and most reds go well with ice in the summer in Australia!

  • Dry sherry: 9-14°C

  • Dark/sweet/black sherry: 13-20°C

  • Fortified wine (e.g.: port, liqueur tokay): 13-20°C

Thin - Lacking body and depth.

Tough - A term describing wine that has too much tannin, but which may balance with age.


Ullage - Loss. Commonly it refers to the space between the stopper and the surface of the wine, so when a wine is said to be ullaged, it means that the wine level in the bottle is dropping, which indicates problems with the stopper (e.g.: a poor cork or damaged Stelvin cap)


Varietal - A wine identified by the name of the grape variety from which it was made. In Australia a varietal wine may contain up to 20% of another grape without disclosing the blend on the label. This rule varies from country to country. In France, a varietal wine must have 100% of that grape variety.

Velvety - Having rich flavour and a silky texture.

Vintage - The harvest and year of harvest.


Wet bag - see also Hessian



Yeast - A single-cell plant (a thallophyte, generally know as saccharomyces cerevisiae) which transforms the natural sugar in grape juice into alcohol and carbon dioxide, resulting in wine. The carbon dioxide is normally released into the atmosphere, although some sparkling wine processes retain this.

Wild yeasts are often spread throughout vineyards by insects (often referred to as the natural bloom on grapes).

Generally, winemakers in Australia kill the wild yeast with carbon dioxide and then use a cultured yeast with predictable behaviour (the sulphur dioxide and cultured yeast are often incorporated together).



Zesty - A wine that's invigorating

Wine Tasting
Smell (Nose)
Grape Characteristics
Wine Tasting Terms
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