The term “linear” is often used in tasting notes, but as Rebecca Meir points out in her article on the term in Wine Enthusiast, it doesn’t have a univocal meaning.
Some of the people interviewed for the article use it as a synonym for simple:
Jennifer Huether, MS, uses the term when she wants relay the story of a wine from start to finish.
“To me, it generally means the wine is simple,” she says. “One clear line from beginning to end, from the moment it hits your palate to the finish and lasting impression.”
Similarly, Élyse Lambert, MS, views the developments of a wine’s flavor akin to music.
“Wine, like music, can have different tones and variations, but when a wine is linear, it has only one tone,” she says. “It’s this lack of depth and layers that would mean linear wine, for me.”
I think there is some confusion here. These two definitions are not alike.
There is more than one way for a wine to be simple. A wine can have a few simple aromas or flavors but if it undergoes several textural changes during its evolution on the palate then the wine is not linear. Similarly, if a wine has many complex layers of flavor and great depth but doesn’t change much during its evolution on the palate, the wine is linear but not simple. In other words, I use “linear” to contrast with “dynamic,” which I think is what Jennifer Huether means when she writes “one clear line from beginning to end.”
The primary dictionary definition of “linear” is “arranged in or extending along a straight or nearly straight line.” But a straight line can be thick or thin. “Linear” doesn’t typically refer to depth or breadth but to variations in extension.
By the end of the article I’m completely lost:
“ ‘Laser-like’ and ‘linear’ describe wines with flavors and textures that seem to hit a similar spot on your tongue, or convey a singleminded flavor,” says Puckette. “ ‘Single-noted’ is probably the less desirable side of this type of wine, and I guess ‘laser-like’ would be the ultimate positive.”
I would think “laser-like” would refer to wines that are precise, that have clearly etched aromas and flavors. I’m not sure what a “singleminded flavor” is nor do I know what flavors and textures that “hit a similar spot on your tongue” has to do with “linear.”
Wine language is confusing even to experts.