What Does “Meaty” Mean in Wine?

Illustration of cartoon wine glasses and meat on a grill
Illustration by Alyssa Nassner

If you find wine industry lingo confusing, you’re not alone. From “freshness” to “textural,” common descriptors can be akin to learning a new language. Consider, for instance, the term “meaty.”

A red wine that’s meaty usually means one of two things. It can refer to the aroma and taste of meat and related cooking techniques, from bacon to bloody steak. Or it can simply mean a full-bodied wine.

However, it’s possible a wine will have both characteristics—if a wine smells like smoked meat, chances are it will probably be brawny in the mouth, too.

“As with all terms describing subjective tastes, there’s a range of meanings,” says Michel Abood, founder of Vinotas Selections. For Abood, a meaty taste means “anything from notes of roasted meat and bacon, especially Syrah, to sometimes verging on a note of blood or smoke from a grill.”

Mencía, a Spanish grape from the Bierzo region, is more middle in weight than heavy, yet it commonly has a sanguine, or bloody, character. That perception may be either a complementary trait of a meaty wine, or an association with the metallic taste of iron. If iron, metallic or mineral notes taste sharp or tinny, the wine may be flawed by Brettanomyces.

What Does “Earthy” Mean in Wine?

The term “gamy,” occasionally used as a synonym for meaty, conveys a different sensorial experience. Often associated with aged Pinot Noir or reds from the Rhône, notes of fowl, venison or jerky—game meats—are detected. Gaminess usually appears after a bit of bottle aging.

Jeff Harding, wine director of Waverly Inn, uses “meaty” to convey texture to his customers.

“Big mouthfeel, not quite chewy, but substantial and weighty on the tongue,” says Harding. He compares textures to those of milk, like 2%, whole milk or and half & half, to illustrate the point. “A red wine with a texture of half & half, I would describe as meaty,” he says.

Red wines often capable of a meaty structure include Syrah, Zinfandel, Malbec, Mourvèdre and some Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

These can wines have a fuller body from big, mouthcoating tannins or higher alcohol by volume (abv). The viscosity and glycerol sweetness of alcohol gives the impression of richness, thickness and weight on the palate.

Though white wines are rarely considered meaty, some skin-contact amber wines or a full-bodied Chardonnay aged in oak might warrant the description.

Published on July 30, 2020
Topics: Wine Basics