Reading red labels – what on earth do all the funky words mean?!

When’s the last time you looked at the back of a decent bottle of red and knew what every single word on the label meant?

It’s a rare phenomenon, what will all the fanciful and wacky words wine writers are coming out with these days.

If you’re just as curious as I am, and you want to know exactly what the strange terminology on your next bottle of red really means, take a couple of minutes with me now to find out...

Flavours and language might be subjective, but there’s plenty of standard lingo that you need to know...

Once you know what the different fancy words mean, you’ll have a better idea of what’s inside the bottle, and you’ll make better decisions about every one you buy.

Generally speaking, you can split all the most common terms by different types of wine, namely dry whites, sweeter whites, light reds and medium-bodied reds.

I’ve already covered some of the weirdest and most wonderful white wine words (which you can read all about here), so let’s crack on with the reds…

Light red wines

Attack – you could find this word on any label, and it simply means that first impression you get when you take your first sip. What flavours jump out of the glass? What attacks your senses?

Bitter almonds – might sound unappetising, but the refreshing bitter almonds are common to cherry flavours and merely indicate a light fruity bitterness.

Brick red – the redder your red, the younger it’s likely to be. We say “brick red” to highlight the lack of purple hues, which usually denote a lack of intensity.

Cherry-like – firm, lively fruity flavours with a hint of acidity and none of the sweetness of other fruits.

Food – some wines just aren’t meant to be paired with dinner. Boisterous, unrestrained fruity flavours are meant to be enjoyed just as they are, so you’re best off only pairing “food wines” with your Sunday roast.

Wood – a firmer texture and tannin flavour, unlike “oaky” which references the new casks used for ageing.

Medium-bodied red wines

Berry fruits – this could indicate flavours from any of the berry, cherry and currant families – the sorts of flavours that tend to be most common in young wines.

Firm – don’t confuse this term with “hard” because “firm” is almost always a good thing. It just means the wine’s got great potential to develop!

Tannins – if a medium-bodied red is to be matured over a long time, it needs something in the skin and pips of the grape to make it actually taste nice at the end of the process. That thing is tannin!

Second nose – when you swirl your wine in the glass, you’ll find it releases more flavours than you discovered in the initial “attack”. In other words, you get more than just a first impression, you get the “second nose”.

Velvety – wines with a rich, deep and smooth looking colour to them indicate excellent ripeness at vintage time.

If you’ve found a stranger word than any of these, I’d love to hear it, and hopefully let you know what it means! Spotted one? Send it over to me at and I’ll get back to you ASAP.

Bottoms up!