Natural, funky, tight, and crunchy — these are just some of the confusing terms used to describe wines. But “jammy,” a newer word that’s found its way into the lexicon of wine lovers of late, is perhaps the most perplexing of the lot.
With a vocabulary as vast as its styles, wine can feel like an intimidating category to break into. That’s why we consulted VinePair tastings director and “Wine 101” podcast host Keith Beavers to break down the meaning of the term, how to use it when ordering wine, and which wine varieties are widely considered “jammy.”
“Jammy, to me, is what we wine nerds call ‘tactile sensations,’ meaning that you’re putting the wine on your palate and beyond all the aromas and flavors, you’re sensing something texturally,” Beavers says. “That texture defines whether you say things like ‘jammy,’ ‘smooth,’ or ‘sweet.’”
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This textural element of wine comes from residual sugar — or the leftover sugars that yeasts cannot convert to alcohol during the fermentation process, which creates a higher perception of sweetness on your palate.
Combined with other elements including acidity, tannin structure, and organic compounds, residual sugar can create a feeling of weight on the palate — an important factor in jammy wines. While acidity lifts up a wine, Beavers says, residual sugar can weigh a wine down. “Right there in the middle, when it’s on your palate and residual sugar is not weighing your palate down and acidity is not lifting it too high, there’s a beautiful median right there, and that’s ‘jammy.’ You can almost chew on it.”
That chewy texture is known to those aforementioned wine nerds as “viscosity” — or the resistance of a liquid as you wash it around your mouth. Think: molasses versus water.
When talking to a somm in a restaurant or a clerk at a wine shop, using the term jammy is a great way to describe bright, juicy reds ideal for chilling. “Pinot Noir on the American market is the one big jammy wine we have,” says Beavers. Varieties like Gamay, Grenache, and American red blends are also considered jammy in the broader wine world.
That said, some American somms may see the term jammy as a more low-brow or “pedestrian” way to describe wine — but Beavers insists the term is a perfectly acceptable way to describe this style of reds. “If you’re in a room with people and you say ‘jammy’ and you’re ridiculed,” Beavers says, “I just say, leave — and get off the text thread.”