Wine Slang 101: How To Talk Like a Sommelier



(TIML WINE) If you want to keep up with the “cork dorks” and understand why terms like “Scottie Pippen’s hair” and “chunky monkey” are thrown around, it’s time to break out a bottle and study up.

You slink into the classy restaurant and take your seat, perusing the lengthy drinks menu before ultimately giving up and asking the man in a sharp suit for a recommendation. The next thing that comes out of his mouth seems like a spy code:

“We have a great vintage of Cabernet Sauvignon from a winery on the Wahluke Slope in the Columbia Valley AVA. Lean, restrained, acidy and alive, with puckery tannins and a velvety mouthfeel. It was the talk of the Grand Tasting at last year’s Taste Washington.”

Say what?

Yes, for most folks, wine, or rather, processing wine talk, is equivalent to the rigors of learning a second language. Sure, everyone likes to drink the stuff, but ask people to differentiate varietals and regions, or certainly aromas and tastes, and that’s when things start to fall apart. Stores have shelf after shelf of bottles, bars and restaurants have page after page of by-the-glass offerings. Many of us just want to drink the stuff without needing a translator to help us order, so it’s no surprise most people restrict their industry vocab to simply “red” or “white.” Unfortunately, you’re doing yourself a major disservice in not explaining just exactly what you’d like to drink.

Talk to a somm or vitner, or especially a “cork dork,” and their sentences will be sprinkled with slangy descriptors. To them, wines can be “silky” or “foxy,” “lacey” or “flabby,” “chewy” and “crunchy,” smelling “floral” or even like “cat’s pee.”

The industry’s evocative slang doesn’t just add romanticism to the act of drinking wine. It’s also there to help to unlock flavors and senses.  It seems silly at first, but if you think about it, can’t you just picture a thick red wine that tastes chewy? Haven’t you accidentally poured yourself a “chunky monkey” full of sediment? Can’t you sense when you’re sipping a “donut wine,” completely lacking in the middle of your palate? Haven’t you been overwhelmed by a fruit bomb or “oak monster” before?

Or are you really just a person who cares about nothing more than whether the wine you’re  sipping on is quaffable


As in “ah, so easy.” A pronged device used to remove old corks (also one-half of the ultra-cork remover, the Durand, which is essentially an Ah-So and a corkscrew hybrid).—Walsh


A 12L bottle equivalent to 16 standard bottles of wine.

Barrel down

Filling barrels.—Henderson

Blue wine

Wines where the flavor spectrum lives in the blue fruit flavors of blueberries, blackberries, plums, etc. Usually a rich wine from warmer climates.—Tarlov


A Spanish wine cellar, like the underground cellar at Casa de Uco.—Rastrilla


A polite euphemism for “cat pee” (a smell descriptor), especially in Sauvignon Blanc.—Walsh


A wine affected by Brettanomyces, a wild yeast that affects some cellars and smells anywhere from Band-Aid and sweaty leather saddle to horse barn.—Puckette


Unit of measure for sugar in a wine, tested by specific gravity degrees of Brix.—Stevens


Malolactic bacteria.—Henderson


Closure for a barrel.—Stevens

Bung hole

Hole in a barrel where wine is pumped in and out of.—Stevens

Cat’s pee

A smell descriptor often used to describe Sauvignon Blanc.—Rastrilla


Pronounced with a long “a” sound. A wine fridge.—Walsh



Cellar rats

People who work in wine cellars—low light, humid, and damp conditions. The term cellar rat has been around the wine industry for decades, and probably can be traced back centuries. It is a colloquial term for junior winery workers, those who are most likely assigned the least favorite tasks and the dirty work—cleaning and steaming tanks, running hoses, etc.—Fabretti


A wine that is rich and seems almost thick.—Fabretti


Wine bottles that are short and stubby instead of the typical shape.—Walsh

Chunky Monkey

A wine with a lot of sediment that should probably be decanted.—Walsh


Tendrils on a grape cane that reach out to hold the cane to the trellis—but really have no value. On the wine trails, we also call people “clingers” when they do not support local business organizations (dues, time, etc.) but get the benefits!—Pierce

Cold soak

When grapes are crushed and then allowed to macerate on the skins before fermentation or pressing occurs. Typically the grapes are cooled in some way to prevent early fermentation, but it depends on the case and/or set-up of a winery.—Stevens