Even in ancient times, wine tasters had a language for describing the quality of wine. About a hundred terms were found in Greek literature. Of course, there was no generally valid vocabulary, but an assessment was left to the imagination or discretion of the individual. It was not until the beginning of the 18th century that a culture began to develop in the wine scene. The French chemist Jean-Antoine Claude Chaptal (1756-1832) already used more than 60 expressions in his work "Art de faire, de gouverner, et de perfectionner les vins" published in 1807. Professor René Pijassou (1922-2007) of the University of Bordeaux, in his studies on the history of Médoc wines, collected all the expressions used at the time by brokers and winery owners (e.g. inexpressive, flat, full-bodied, full-bodied, aftertaste, robust, round, velvety) and already established tasting rules.
In the book "Topographie de tous les vignobles connus" by the wine merchant André Jullien (1766-1832), there is a list of around 70 technical terms to describe the qualities, defects and diseases of wines. For the first time, the term tannin and descriptive attributes such as astringent, balsamic, straight, nervy, sparkling, silky, solid and dry appear in it. In the "Dictionaire-Manuel du négoicant en vins et spiritueux et du maître de chai" by Édouard Féret from 1896, there were already 180 terms. The Scottish physician Dr. Alexander Henderson (1780-1863) is regarded as one of the first wine authors to strive for a general nomenclature that could also be understood by laymen. The book "Examining, Knowing and Enjoying Wines" (Wine Tasting) by the English author Michael Broadbent (1927-2020) is considered the standard work and has been reprinted again and again since 1960. Today, there are about a thousand different terms in use.
The type of wine description or vocabulary used also depends on the reason for tasting. The famous taster Émile Peynaud (1912-2004) described this in his book "Die hohe Schule für Wein-Kenner" (The High School for Wine Connoisseurs) as follows: "The chemist looks above all for the analytical error, the law enforcement official for the violation of the law, the oenologist for the error in the development, the winegrower for the character and the merchant for what the market is looking for". In a professional wine evaluation, wine is tasted according to established rules, i.e. its quality and characteristics are analysed to the best of one's knowledge and belief. This is done in verbal and/or written form according to set rules or also a grading in the form of a point system. The formulated evaluation is called a "wine description", which clearly and comprehensibly reflects all subjective and, above all, as objective and comprehensible as possible impressions with regard to colour, smell, taste and overall impression.
The descriptive adjectives in wine evaluation or wine description can be divided into three groups. The first group of hedonistic terms, such as the positive terms incomparable, fantastic, fabulous, unique, delicious and wonderful, is often used in brochures, but is objectively useless, because it can be used to mean everything and nothing. This does not mean, however, that a hedonistic assessment - especially in the private sphere - is not justified - even if it is only in the short form of "tastes good" or "doesn't taste good". But this is of course unsuitable as helpful information for a consumption or purchase decision. Incidentally, the awarding of the "Lauriers de Platine Terravin" seal to wines in the Swiss canton of Vaud is based on hedonistic criteria. However, the wines in question have already been selected as top wines beforehand according to objective sensory criteria.
The second group, such as flowery, fruity and fresh, is already far more suitable, but also describes relatively imprecisely and vaguely and leaves too many possibilities for interpretation open. For example, "fresh" can refer to a high acidity (tartaric acid), to the freshly sparkling carbonic acid or even to the temperature of the wine (cellar fresh). These terms are thus only understandable or unambiguous in the context of the description. Only the third group of exact terms of an analytical nature, such as aromas/tones of green grass, roses, nutmeg, tobacco and vanilla, as well as astringent, acidic and long finish, are also objectively comprehensible because they are known and verifiable by everyone. They are recognised among experts as synonymous terminology and are generally valid. The aroma wheel developed by chemist Ann C. Noble at the University of California is very helpful for both laymen and professionals.
However, there is by far no internationally valid nomenclature with clearly defined terms. The reason for this is that terms in a particular language often have evaluative, i.e. positive or negative connotations. The vocabulary of professional tasters can be quite different. For many terms, there are synonymous or similar terms, which...