Glossary of Wine Terms

When wine people start talking, it is almost as if they are speaking a foreign language. Don’t worry, we can help you with that. Check out the glossary of wine terms we have compiled to help you understand what the wine aficionados are saying.

Acetic Acid – When spoilage in wine is pronounced by volatile acidity. Acetic acid is also the main component found in vinegar and is produced when acetic bacteria metabolizes alcohol or even sugar. Oxygen feeds the bacteria which is why many wineries create oxygen free environments within their production facilities.

Acidification – This is a process of when acid is added to the grape juice, must or wine to balance the overall liquid. Stabilization of tartaric acid is the most important step in this process as this acid is most commonly found in all grapes. Citric acid, ascorbic acid and malic acid are also common and can be used depending on permitting. Not all countries and wine growing regions allow acidification and is often prohibited in cooler climate regions in Europe although this process is standard in most New World wine growing regions.

Acidity – One of the most important components in the structure of a wine. Acid is responsible for its refreshing quality as well as its ability to complement food. Acidity makes the mouth water, which renders the taste of accompanying food more intense. Wine also cleanses the palate between bites, reducing the effect of sensory fatigue. In tasting red wine, it is easy to confuse acidity with tannin, which has a similar mouth-puckering effect but leaves the mouth dry.  A number of acids are naturally present in wine, the most important of which are Malic and Tartaric acid. The Acidity in a grape decreases as it becomes riper, and grapes grown in warmer climates will naturally have lower acidity.

Aeration – The process of introducing oxygen to wine by increasing the circulation of air either through a motion of swirling or moving wine through an instrument made to enhance air flow. Aeration helps to soften harsh tannins that withhold the wine from expression.

Aging – Allowing a wine to rest within a barrel or wine bottle to gain flavors and aromas thru age. As wine ages, it begins to showcase tertiary compounds that emit subtleties or flavors and aromas that were not existent or dormant during the initial fermentation stages.

Alcohol – Of the many forms of alcohol (ethyl, methyl, isopropyl, etc.), only ethyl alcohol is safe to drink and is the key ingredient in alcoholic beverages such as wine. It is the byproduct of yeast metabolizing the sugars that are present in grapes.

Alte Reben – A German term used to describe ‘old vines’ that are aged 20 years and older which produce low yields and tend to produce higher quality fruit.

Amabile – Italian word meaning ‘Semi-Sweet’ used in regions such as Orvieto and other areas that produce a broad range of sweeter wine styles.

Ampelography – The study and scientific research behind identifying and describing grapevines. Ampelographers are not only trained to seek out variations on the leaves of the vines but also the color of fruit and cluster shapes of clones.

Anthocyanins – Pigments found in the skins of grapes holding red, purple or blue color. These components are technically termed as ‘flavonoids’ and are also being currently studied as possessing significant health benefits for humans.

Antioxidants – Components in red wine specifically that carry polyphenols, flavonoids and non-flavonoids which can also be found in cocoa, tea, fruits, nuts and vegetables. There are varying amounts and degrees of antioxidants in these mentioned foods that help battle damaging oxidative effects of fatty foods often attacking cells in the body, specifically the blood cells. By drinking red wine within moderation, the forming of damaging oxidative compounds decrease dramatically while the polyphenols in red wine are absorbed in the bloodstream allowing for a significant protective antioxidant effect to take place.

Appellation – A designated region that has been organized by a governing institute to set apart unique growing conditions that are comparable for growing wine grapes. These unique conditions considered can be described as soil variations, wind, mountainous or valley geography.

Aroma –  The fresh, often fruity scent of a young wine. Aroma is distinguished from the bouquet, a more complex scent in maturing wines, that is achieved through the process of bottle aging. In practice, the two terms are often used interchangeably.

Ascorbic Acid – An acid that is found used in stabilizing acids within grape juice, must, and wine contributing to higher properties of Vitamin C and is used as an antioxidant in wine.

Assemblage – A French term defining the process of blending grape varietals together. Used often in regions such as Bordeaux and Champagne as this process is standard to create a consistent house style.

Astringency – Describes the sensation of mouth-drying reaction when strong tannic acid or tannin is present in wine. Not to be confused with bitterness, astringency is a feeling and not actually a taste. Sometimes viewed as a flaw when astringency is taking over the mouthfeel of wine, however, is often intentionally produced in European wine growing regions such as Italy in both reds and whites.

Astringent –  A mouthwatering sensation associated with tannins, particularly less ripe tannins. While it is often associated with bitterness, astringency is actually a tactile sensation and not a taste.  Although a flaw when it dominates the mouthfeel of a wine, many Italian wines, both red and white are intentionally produced with a bit of astringency.

Auslese – German term meaning ‘selection’.

Balthazar – Large format wine bottle used rarely in French district of Champagne able to hold 16 regular 750ml bottles of wine.

Barrel – Used to hold, store and enhance flavors and aromas in wine. Barrels vary in style, shapes and sizes. Most barrels used are oak, however, other woods have historically been used such as cedar, acacia, and pine. Oak offers a variety of complex flavors that are determined by the trees growing region and variety.

Barrique –  A specific style of oak barrel  traditionally used in the Bordeaux region of France and its use in growing in popularity worldwide. Typically consists of space inside of 225 liters, but the term has been used to describe wood of new oak casks of almost any size. An expensive addition to wine production however, can add significant flavor and aroma compounds in wine.

Batonnage – A French term used to describe the technique of ‘stirring the lees’ in white wine production. Particularly in Chardonnays that have been fermented in barrels adding to the wine a creamy characteristic.

Beerenauslese – German word meaning ‘berry selection’ used when regulating German and Austrian dessert wines. This term when found on a label means that the wine was made from individually selected fully ripened grapes often infected by ‘noble rot’ or Botrytis Cinerea and picked berry by berry. High residual sugar is left as a by-product in the wine.

Bentonite – A specific type of clay found within the Western United States that when ground into a powdery form is an excellent product used for fining and clarifying wines.

Bin – A specific lot of wine set aside from a growers regular production and sold separately. Term used mostly in Australia.

Biodynamic – This term is used to define and describe wines and techniques used when applying the science of agricultural teachings taught by philosopher Rudolph Steiner who wrote extensive articles during 1861-1925. This process that was taught believed that a life force within nature involves ecological, energetic and spiritual phenomena that could improve organic viticulture when applied.

Bitter – A harsh taste sensation that relays a tight non-sweet, non-salt, non-sour like characteristic.

Blend – A combination of 2 or more grape varietals to make a wine. Blended wines are historically challenging to create balance between all varying flavors and aromas to create a palatable harmony.  The earliest form of wine being created in this style is still found to this day as the world’s leading most influential wines from famous growing regions. For Example: Bordeaux France.

Block – A term used to define and describe a specific section within a vineyard whether it may be different soil types or varietals of grapes.

Bodega – Spanish term for ‘wine cellar’ used to describe above ground wine storage rather than below ground.

Body –  Term referring to the weightiness of a wine, derived largely from the degree of alcohol and the amount of extract. Strictly speaking, it is an element of style rather than quality, although full bodied wines are currently in fashion.

Bordeaux – The most world famous region in France showcasing both elegance and power in red wines being praised and imitated worldwide.

Botrytis – A mold which is a blessing and a curse to the wine world. Technically known as ‘Botrytis Cinerea’ and in layman’s terms is known as ‘noble rot’ when desirable. In certain climates, following a period of warm weather and high humidity in the fall, the mold gathers on the skins of the grapes but does not rot them. Instead, it causes the skins to shrink and the juice to become concentrated, increasing the level of sugar, acids and extracts. It is essential to the production of the vast majority of naturally sweet wines, including Sauternes and Barsac of Bordeaux. The humidity required for the production of Botrytis-affected grapes is rain and moist conditions and can be controlled with canopy and water management.

Bouquet – A term often used interchangeably with aroma to refer to any of the various aromatic compounds found in a particular wine. Some members of the trade reserve the term for Secondary and Tertiary aromas. Traditionally, the term refers only to Tertiary aromas, those which arise from bottle age.

Breathing – Allowing oxygen to infiltrate wine to create smoothness of tannic acid to mitigate harsh tightness in mouth feel that can also inhibit flavor. Breathing wines can be done by pouring or decanting wines into larger vessels from the bottle it had been resting in.

Brettanomyces – A spoilage yeast often referred to as ‘Brett”. It is common in most parts of the world and at lower concentrations can impart notes that some feel add to the complexity of a red wine. These aromas are variously described as ‘barnyard’ or ‘smoke’. At higher concentrations, however, they can turn medicinal or metallic and mask fruit flavors. The level of infection can increase substantially after bottling, making the yeast a source of great anxiety for winemakers. It has become of more concern in recent years as the fashion for a longer hang time for grapes in the vineyard containing lower acidity and correspondingly higher pH is a hot bed for this organism. Attitudes against additives in wine have led to lower Sulfur Dioxide use, which helps stabilize the environment from spore growth of these bacteria.

Brilliant – Bright sensation of either sight, aromas, and flavors. A term synonymously used to describe high acid levels in wine.

Brut – French for ‘natural’ or ‘unrefined’. Used on labels for champagne or other sparkling wine growing regions to designate a dry wine not more than 15 gallons per liter of residual sugar.

Bung – The stopper of a wine barrel, traditionally made of wood but now more commonly made of plastic used to keep oxygen from entering the barrel and controlling the environment the wine is aging in.

Bung Hole – The opening on a wine barrel that holds the bung sealing the barrel.

Canopy – The green foliage that grows above the vine.

Canopy Management – A term used to describe a vine management technique that when applied improves grape quality and involves light interception from the sun. Applying this technique of vine control, the grower will optimize the overall yield while reducing potential disease, mildew and rot. Varying styles and application of the vines canopy is determined by the climate, grape varietal, soil, applicable regulations, quality and quantity goals set apart by each wine house.

Capsule – A seal that is set and placed over the end of the bottle to protect the cork from overexposure to extreme temperatures as well as excessive oxygenation. The types and styles of capsules have evolved over the years and were originally lead based but have been more commonly combinations of tin and aluminum. Some capsules are polycarbonate combinations with aluminum.

Carbonic Maceration – This refers to a method of alcoholic fermentation commonly found in wine growing regions such as Beaujolais and has been adapted by many New World Regions to date. Instead of destemming the grapes from the bunch, whole grape bunches are allowed to sit and ferment in a sealed tank upon one another for a varying prolonged period of time. This allows the grape skins to remain unbroken but rather slowly release their flavor and sometimes even disintegrate within the must of the grapes. A slow fermentation process begins as carbon dioxide is released while the grapes enzymes act within its own cellular composition helping to produce extremely fruit driven juice. Very little tannin is extracted during this process and are usually performed on wines that are meant to be consumed within 2-3 years.

Casse – A foggy like haze that forms in wine containing high levels of iron or copper. This reaction is often more from the machinery and equipment used within the winery but can also naturally form when large amounts of iron deposits are present within the soil during growing periods within the vineyard. Health risk is low but present with both iron casse and copper casse both producing white and brown like reside  that would need to be clarified from the wine.

Chaptalization – The addition of sugar to grape must in order to increase the alcoholic strength of the wine. Chaptilization is named after a Frenchman named, Dr. Jean Antoine Chaptal (1756-1832), minister of agriculture under Napolean I, who wanted simultaneously to increase sugar beet acreage and to improve the quality of wines made in years when the grapes do not fully ripen. It is a common practice in Burgundy, even at the highest quality levels, but is normally limited to an increase in alcoholic strength of up to 2 degrees.  It is permitted in Bordeaux as well as Germany, Canada, New Zealand and almost all of the United States of America, however, varies in the overall quality of wines.  Chaptilization is illegal in California, Italy, and Spain.

Citric Acid – One of the main complex acid compounds that creates vivacity and brilliantly bright overtones in both white wine and red wine.

Claret – British term for the wines of Bordeaux, or less often, any wine made in a similar style.

Closed – A mouthfeel sensation that gives off the feeling of tightness to the wine. Breathing a wine or decanting a wine can offer oxygen to help open up the wine by introducing air.

Complex – Term used to describe a wine with a multitude of different flavors and aromas. Complexity can result from a high level of extract, variety of different wines or grapes in the blend, bottle age and other factors. It is one of the most sought-after elements of top-quality wine yet one of the most difficult to quantify.

Cork Taint – See ‘Corked’

Corked – A wine which displays undesirable aromas introduced by faulty corks is said to be “corked” or “corky”. The compound usually responsible is Trichloroanisole or ‘TCA’. The word should not be used to refer to a wine sealed with a cork or to one with pieces of cork floating in it.

Cru – The French word for ‘growth’. This term has varying meanings depending on the region and the context in which it is used and in the most common sense refers to distinguishing qualities of wine.  If speaking of Burgundy, this term refers to the vineyard that carries the rating of ‘Premier Cru’ (First Growth) or‘Grand Cru’ (Great Growth); the highest level of which both designations are clearly showcased on the label.  When speaking of Bordeaux, this term refers to the chateau that carries the rating of growth and can be seen as on the label in various classifications. The most well known is the classification that came about in 1855 applying to wines that hail from the Medoc and the Graves regions, listed from first through fifth growth as ‘Grand Cru Classe’, also clearly indicated on the label. Other Bordeaux regions that carry varying classifications include St.Emilion, Sauternes, and Barsac and showcase the term ‘Premier Grand Cru Classe’

Crush – Term used to describe the season and process of post-harvest action of extracting juices from the grape to be fermented and made into wine.

Cuvée – From the French word ‘cuve’, meaning ‘tank’: the contents of a vat of wine. There are several different meanings of cuvee, depending on the regions and context in which this term is used.  The first relates to the initial pressing of the juice from the grapes in making Champagne. Another meaning of cuvee is the process off blending finished wines together in Champagne or other regions. A third and rather ambiguous meaning is for any particular lot of wine that the winemaker has set aside.

Demi-Sec – French for ‘semi-dry’; a grade of sweetness used in French Champagne region. This term can be somewhat misleading because it actually indicates a sweetness level in the wine.

Dry – A dry wine contains no noticeable residual sugar. All wines start out as very sweet grape juice and become dry when yeast converts all of the sugar into alcohol.  In order to create a sweet wine, a winemaker may stop the fermentation at a particular point, or add back unfermented juice after fermentation is completed. In California and most of Europe it is illegal to add sugar to sweeten a wine some, although the practice is permitted in most other states and a few foreign countries. Consumers often confuse wines having aromas of sweet foods such as honey or apricots with sweet wines. Sweetness is a taste and cannot actually be perceived by olfactory senses such as smell. High alcohol can also contribute to the impression of sweetness in a wine.

Earthy – A flavor of minerals or soil in a wine believed to be caused by planting a vineyard in a soil with a high clay or alluvial content, although this relationship has not been proven scientifically and is constantly under debate by supporters. It is generally considered to be a positive attribute and is more frequently associated with Old World Wines.

Enology – The science of winemaking, including chemical and technical aspects of vinification.

Fermentation – The conversion process of grape sugar to ethyl alcohol and carbon dioxide by the action of yeasts, which convert the grape sugar by a complex series of biochemical reactions.  Fermentation in wine often stops when about 14-15 percent alcohol is reached, but a different type of fermentation can also take place called Malolactic fermentation after the initial fermentation and can increase the alcohol again.

Fining – The addition of a precipitating agent to a wine in order to remove or reduce the concentration of one or more unwanted substances. Fining agents are most commonly used to reduce tannins, improve or reduce phenolics, color in whites or rose wines, and aid in reducing undesirable aromas.

Finish – The elongated sensation that moves flavors across the front and mid palate lingering after wine has been tasted and swallowed in the mouth. The finish is enhanced by acids and glycerol in the wine that continues flavors and aromas.

Flavors – Complex compounds of acids and proteins that contain sweetness, bitterness, salt, savory, and sour notes. Flavors can be detected by taste buds on the tongue and relay messages to the brain on personal preferences.

Foxy – Term used to describe the peculiar flavor of predominantly Labrusca grapes, grown in the eastern United States and Canada. This flavor is the result of an organic ester, methyl anthranilate and has nothing to do with foxes. It has been used to add a certain ‘grapey’ flavor to other consumer products but is not to everyone’s taste.

Fruity – The perception of wine aromas and flavors that impart a unique multi-fruit ensemble.

Full-Bodied – A sensation in the mouth when tasting wine that offers rounded fullness of flavor and feel enhancing larger perception of acids and proteins along with well-balanced alcohol.

Herbaceous – Aromas or flavors in wine that take on a green vegetal or green spice like nuance.

Hot –  Term used when a finished wine gives off aromas and flavors that seem to reflect high levels of alcohol.

Lees – The residue or sediment thrown off by a wine soon after it is made. It is composed of dead yeast cells, pieces of skins, stems, seeds, and tartrates. Most fine wines are allowed to age in barrel or cask following vinification, when most of the lees have settled to the bottom of the barrel, the clarified wine is siphoned off into another container in a process called ‘Racking’.  The wine may be allowed to age on the lees, which adds flavor and creaminess.

Leesy – A term used to describe the flavor and creamy mouthfeel of a wine.

Length – Otherwise known as the ‘Finish’ of a wine, indicates the longevity of flavors that linger upon the palate.

Malic Acid – One of the natural acids in grapes, often contributing an apple-like note.

Malolactic Fermentation – The conversion of malic acid to lactic acid through the action of lactic bacteria, a process often referred to as ‘malo’, ‘ML’ or ‘MLF’. The term ‘secondary fermentation’ is also used, although it is not technically a fermentation as yeast is not involved. Malic acid is much stronger than lactic acid, so wines that undergo this process are softer as a result. Most reds go through this process and has often been the standard process for most chardonnays up until recently where style has played a part. The byproducts of malolactic fermentation include carbon dioxide and diacetyl, a compound that contributes to the buttery aroma in the wine. Sometimes malolactic fermentation will occur simultaneously with alcoholic fermentation but more commonly are done after the first fermentation process as finished. Many traditional winemakers prefer to let it occur naturally while other will induce it by adding cultured lactic bacteria.

Mature – Term referring to the noticeable aromatic and flavor nuances in an aged wine.

Mouth-Feel – Tasting term referring to the tactile impression a wine makes in the mouth. The character of the tannins is the single most popular component of mouthfeel in a red wine and the subject of much ongoing research. Body, alcohol, astringency, acidity, viscosity, and pH are other important factors in determining mouthfeel.

Must –  The juice of the grapes before or during its transformation into wine.

Negociant – French term for ‘Merchant’ or ‘Shipper’ that indicates a buyer who purchases wines or grapes from a number of sources and blends them together to sell under a custom label. This is in direct contrast with an estate or domain which produces wine from vineyards it owns or controls.

Noble Rot – See Botrytis Cinerea

Nose – An Alternative term used for aroma or bouquet.

Oak – Most widely used type of wood for wine cooperage. Oak is used both for storage of wine and even for fermentation. Oak is found in the form of barrels that impart aromas, flavors, and color to the wine.

Oaky – Refers to the aromas and flavors that are detected when analyzing wine. The characteristic of wood – like qualities, specifically oak, is a common occurrence in wines that have been aged in toasted oak barrels before bottling.

Oenology – British spelling for Enology. See Enology.

Open – Term used when a wine is showing wide aromatic nuances that are not being obstructed by tannin or flaws.

Oxidation – Wine oxidizes when it incorporates oxygen and loses hydrogen ions. A limited amount of oxygen is necessary for fermentation and for the proper evaluation of aging wines.  However, excess oxidation damages a wine, causing it to turn brown and take on a flat musty flavor.

Phenolic Compounds – A group of highly reactive compounds very important in wine as they include anthocyanins which are responsible for color, tannin and many flavors in the wine.

Phylloxera – Known as the ‘burrowing plant louse’ or by its full name ‘Phylloxera Vastatrix’, this vineyard parasite is one of the most serious of all potential obstacles in vineyards. Native to the United States, phylloxera attacks the roots of the vine and eventually kills it.

Region – A specific designated area of geographical land mass proving unique varietal variation and growth.

Rough – A mouthfeel sensation that showcases tannic acid in an aggravated way. Oxygen and acid variation reduces and mitigates the overall palate exposure to this characteristic often found in young red wines.

Sec – French for ‘Dry’, which as it is used in Champagne, can be misleading. A Champagne labeled ‘Sec’ will be somewhat sweet to modern palates; it may legally contain up to 35 grams per liter of residual sugar. Sec Champagnes are dry in comparison to the 18thand early 19th century wines which were much sweeter.

Sommelier – A wine professional that is dedicated to constant learning about wines from all over the world for the sole purpose of serving guests with grace and traditional standards of service etiquette.

Spicy – Term used to describe aroma and flavor nuances that showcase more of a dried spice or vegetal spice element or nuance within the wine.

Structure – Term used to describe the tannin supporting the acid and flavor compounds in a wine without obstacles or flaws.

Sweet – Flavors in wine that showcase higher perception of sugar or residual sugar and forward fruit.

Tannins – A group of organic substances responsible for the mouth-drying quality in a structured red wine. They can also be present in white wines such as Pinot Grigio and Gewurtztraminer, which are made from pinkish red grapes.  The primary source for tannin in wine is found in the skins of the grapes, although it may also come from the oak treatment, seeds, and stems. Some grapes naturally have more tannic compounds than others and its levels of strength are determined by style and maceration time.

Tartaric Acid – The most important acid in grapes and is the principal cause for tartrates in wine.

Terroir – Term widely used in France recently adopted by New World wine growing regions and has been the topic of controversial debate. It may be translated as ‘soil’, however, the concept is far broader and embraces all of the environmental factors that form the character of a wine. These include the macroclimate, vineyard mesoclimate, precipitation patterns, the length of the growing season and the geographical features of a particular vineyard.

Texture – Term used to describe the mouthfeel of a wine.

Typicity – Is a term when tasting wine in an analytical context to discern genuine signature characteristics of one specific varietal within its original region.

Ullage – The headspace in a cask or bottle of wine. Too much ullage in a bottle is a sign that the cork has failed, resulting in an oxidized wine, which is not fit to drink.

Varietals – Wines made entirely or principally from a single grape variety showing differing components of aromas and flavors.

Vegetal – Term used to describe green vegetation like qualities in wine such as grass, green bell pepper, and green spices.

Vinification – All of the necessary steps by which grapes are made into wine.

Vintage – The vintage is the year in which the harvest of the grapes occurred.

Vitis Vinifera – A European or East Asian species of grapevine, the only one of 32 Vitis Species that gives uniformly good wine. The name literally means ‘wine bearer’  and was originally native to the Transcaucasia region on the eastern shores of the Black Sea. The vines were transported throughout the ancient world and are now grown in nearly every temperature zone where they are suited.

Weight – Standard measurements applied to grape growing yields are measured predominantly in tons and kilograms. This term is often used in a tasting format to describe a less specific standard of weight but rather a sensation of quality and body of a wine. A term describing mouthfeel.

Wine – The byproduct of yeast eating sugars in grapes creating a fermentation process having the end result be alcohol, carbon dioxide, and heat. When the juice has fully fermented the finished product can be aged in oak, vats, tanks, or bottle.

Yeast – Single cell organisms that initiate the fermentation of the grape juice to react chemically. There are various types of yeast strains that are natural within the vineyard environment and perform in varying levels. Some of these yeast strains that are found naturally at times are referred to as ‘indigenous’  or ‘wild’ yeast. Cultured yeast that has been developed in laboratories have been known to work more efficiently and consistently than some wild strains and have become a choice tool for wine production.

Yield – A term used to describe the harvest of grapes brought in to the production of the winery. Yields are managed throughout the growing season to gain tonnage in weight and quality.

Young – This terms describes a finished wine product in its early stages of bottling and is showing ‘youthful’ expression of proteins bonding together with tannic acid or tannin to create tight and muted sensations of aromas and flavors.