Definition - What does Clean mean?

Clean is a tasting term used to describe wines that have no faults. It can be applied to the wine in general, “a clean wine”, or it can be more specific – clean flavor, clean aroma, clean finish. Any time the term “clean” is used, it means that the component it is applied to is expressing itself the way it should. Clean wines won't possess off characteristics, funky smells, odd flavors or taints.

Most of the wines on the market nowadays are considered clean. Since taints and off-notes in a wine are negative and tend to prevent sales, it is essential for producers to ensure their wines are clean before putting them in stores.

WineFrog explains Clean

Clean is often just a secondary tasting term used as part of other tasting terms. For example:

  • "Earthy" can mean pleasant, clean quality that adds complexity to aroma and flavor.
  • "Fresh" can mean having a lively, clean and fruity character.
  • "Sound" can mean a healthy, well-balanced and clean-tasting wine.
  • "Crisp" can mean a clean wine with good acidity showing on the finish.

In each case, “clean” applies to different characteristics – quality, character, taste and wine – meaning that those parts of the wine taste as they should and aren’t tainted.

A wine must be clean in order to be considered of quality, however the term “clean” does not indicate quality level. The term can be applied to young wines that are still developing (and thus lack depth or expression) and it can also be applied to aged wines that are fully developed, expressive and complex. It is one part of the overall characteristics of a wine.

Unlike other wine tasting terms, clean is not specific to any variety, wine type or winemaking technique. Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and Tempranillo are just as likely to be considered clean as Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Macabeus (Macabeo). Reds, rosés, whites, sparkling wines, ports, sherries – all of these can be considered clean.

Winemakers ensure that their wines are clean by implementing the proper winemaking procedures. This way they ensure that no off characteristics occur in the final product. For this reason, clean can also mean well constructed.

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