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Dear Dr. Vinny,

Please explain what is the meaning of “clean” and “not clean” in a wine, and how you distinguish it?

—Lucia C., China

Dear Lucia,

There are a few ways the word “clean” is used in conjunction with wine. At one level, it means a wine that is not spoiled, that was made without any defects. There’s a whole spectrum of notes for a whole variety of wine defects out there, but in general, if it smells unappetizing, spoiled, rotting, musty, rancid, or like rotten eggs or burning tires, someone might pronounce it “unclean.”

“Clean” can also refer to the aroma or appearance of a wine, or to its personality. If a wine is crisp and fresh, and its flavors are delineated and clear, I might distinguish the wine by calling the flavors “clean.” It’s a generally positive note, the opposite of which would be to describe the flavors as muddled or murky.

—Dr. Vinny

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