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Dr. Vinny,

When a description of a wine uses the word "austere," what exactly is that referring to?

—Mike, Boston

Dear Mike,

Just as an austere person comes across as stern or severe, an austere wine is a stern wine. The best synonym I can think of is "hard," and "austere" generally refers to young wines that are dominated by tannins or acid and show restrained fruit flavors. (Other descriptors you might hear are "tight," "closed" or "stubborn.") "Austere" can be either a positive or a negative expression, depending on how else the wine is described. In some cases, it is used to indicate that a wine may have the potential to age—the term could imply that the wine's austerity and subtlety is a temporary phase that will evolve into something more pleasant over time. In other cases, an austere wine could be simply inexpressive and unpleasant.

—Dr. Vinny

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