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Dear Dr. Vinny,

I’m a freshman of wine tasting from China. I’ve found some difficult terms in tasting notes. In this one note that reads “primal, with a still-milky edge and a touch of reduction,” what is an “edge” for a wine? What does “still-milky” mean? Or “primal”?

—Scorpio J., Guangdong, China

Dear Scorpio,

Because tasting notes are personal, sometimes the vocabulary a taster uses might not jibe with the same way you’d describe a wine yourself. While I can give explanations of all those terms, it’s most useful to look at a wine term in the context of the tasting note at large.

“Primal” usually means “youthful”, and when it comes to wine, that means a very fruit-driven character—kind of like a barrel sample, if you’ve ever had a chance to try one. It also suggests that the forward fruit flavors haven’t quite melded together yet. Likewise, “secondary” often refers to nuances a wine takes on with more bottle age, as the fruit flavors mellow out and become less exuberant. It’s typically a positive note, but again, it depends on the context.

“Still milky” I believe in this case is referring to the texture of the wine, not its flavors. Even though this wine is primal and youthful, it still has a smooth, rich edge to it. “Milky” and its richer cousin “creamy” are usually very positive descriptors of a wine’s body. If the tasting note just reads “milk” or “cream,” then that might refer to a flavor.

I’m having a little more trouble thinking of how to describe “edge” to you, and I realize it’s used in a lot of tasting notes. Outside the world of wine, an “edge” is something at the border, away from the middle. In a tasting note, it usually means it’s not the primary flavor, but a more minor note. I often use it to describe a note that’s present, but in the background. Another definition of “edge” is something sharp, like a blade. In a tasting note, that might refer to a nervy acidity, or a slightly distracting characteristic. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, it’s just a way to express a wine’s personality.

—Dr. Vinny

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