Drink Warehouse UK Blogs

Published on June 9, 2023

Gasoline and wet dirt? What is going on?

The most challenging things about judging wine, and telling other people about it, is that so much of it appeals to our senses of smell and taste. Since we humans don’t use smell or taste nearly as much, or as effectively, as we do sight, hearing and even touch, we lack a well-defined, precise vocabulary to describe aromas and flavors in terms that mean the same thing to everyone.

It isn’t easy to do that accurately, vividly and effectively without drifting into intolerable vagueness, dropping into incomprehensible jargon or using the kind of precious language that makes people think you’re a wine snob. Furthermore, a lot of the terms that most accurately describe frequently occurring scents in wine are not words that we usually associate with edible things. Oak, cedar and pine, for instance. Moss, leaves and grass. Yes, even tar and leather. Check out the descriptions for some outrageous wine descriptors to help you know a little more about the wine you are drinking. 


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. 


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.


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. Crazy, but true.


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. 


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.


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. 


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.


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.


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. 


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. 

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About the author

Chloe Lewis

Chloe looks after all copywriting and proof-reading for Drink Warehouse UK, working with the Marketing team to deliver educational content to all our customers. She has spent many years in the hospitality sector, moving from behind the bar to now helping venues to stock their own. You can find more from Chloe about beer, cider, spirits, wine, non-alcoholic, soft drinks and RTDs all over our blogs, website, social media and Set The Bar magazine. 

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