Terry Theise’s Wine Tasting Framework

Jon Oropeza
3 min readAug 10, 2019

Adapted from Reading Between The Wines by Terry Theise. All quotes from this source.

The Nine Aspects Of Flavor That Matter

according to Terry Theise, wine importer and writer


“For me it is the first of first principles. Flavor should be clear.”

For me this is the most profound of the nine aspects. It’s the simplest thing and yet it’s so simple that it’s elusive… it’s like an instruction for reading a book that says Observe the cover, then open the book. As Theise continues: “This is so obvious that no one considers it, but it is not self-evident.”

Assessing clarity requires a clean palate and attention.


Taste-of-place, terroir. A firm link to something more general. The more specific the link, the more distinct the wine. This wine tastes like an Oregon pinot / tastes like a Dundee Hills pinot / tastes like a Maresh Vineyard pinot / tastes like a Maresh Vineyard pinot from 2016. “Anything can taste like everything, and too often does, and bores the crap out of me.”

Assessing distinctiveness requires tasting a lot. Other wines from a place and a year. The building of a sense of what wines from this place taste like.


“Grace is rather a form of tact, a kindness; it rejects coarseness…”

Assessing grace requires familiarity with boorish wines. Jam and oak bombs, 16% alcohol still wines, wines that use concentration of flavor to go after “points” and shelf-talker bullet points.


“…simply the palpable sense that no single component appears garish or inappropriate…”

Assessing balance requires experience tasting wines. As well as an appreciation of balance itself… even the most revered palates, the Robert Parkers and the Fred Dames and the Rajat Parrs, are known by the the components they seem to love no matter how garish they might appear in an individual wine.


“A wine can meet every other criterion for success and yet not taste good.”

Assessing deliciousness requires knowing your palate, and having the courage to say I don’t like this thing that everyone else is telling me I should like.


Theise calls out three categories of complexity, they are

  • Explicit complexity
  • Implicit complexity
  • A haunting sense of something being shown to us

Assessing explicit complexity requires slowing down and tasting. Implicit complexity requires slowing down to a full stop and really noticing. I confess that I’ve never made it to Theise’s third level without food involved… a certain Chablis with a plate of oysters comes to mind as an experience that reminded me of being shown the hidden machinery of the Universe.


Wines that seek to be companions rather than dominating. Seemingly a close cousin to balance… it’s difficult for me to imagine an unbalanced wine that’s also modest, or a modest wine that is nonetheless unbalanced.

Assessing modesty requires drinking a wine with food or in a social setting and noticing that you’re not noticing the wine.


“The best wines are the ones that whisper persistently.”

Assessing persistence requires noticing that you haven’t forgotten the wine you’re drinking after your first taste.


“I can scarcely recall a great wine that didn’t in some sense amaze me, that didn’t make my palate feel as if it were whipsawed between things that hardly ever travel together.”

Assessing paradox requires tasting a lot of wine, to become intimate with the things that travel together and the things that hardly ever travel together.

Inspired by TFW you‘re constantly telling people about a concept that you can’t find a clear linkable reference to, until you just go out there and make one.

You could order a copy of Reading Between The Wines here. This is an affiliate link and I might get a few pennies to help support writing like this. If you do, I thank you kindly.



Jon Oropeza

Software engineer and team leader by experience, startup and business nerd by nature. PDX. https://jonoropeza.com