wine dictionary

Wine Glossary

A compendium of terms associated with wine, wine making and wine tasting.

A

Acetaldehyde – A distinctive, desirable component of Fino sherry caused by aging under flor.

Acids – Naturally present in grapes, acid gives wine tartness, making a wine seem “crisp” or “refreshing.”

Aerate – To add oxygen to wine during the winemaking process or while decanting a wine.

Aftertaste–The impression left on the palate after the wine has been sipped. A good wine that leaves a lingering impression is sometimes said to “have a tail.”

Aging – Holding wines for a period of time in barrels, tanks or bottles to affect the character of the finished wine.

Alcohol Level – The percentage of alcohol by volume of a wine. Most table wines have between 9 and 15% alcohol by volume.

American Viticultural Area (AVA)—a specific region, defined and approved by State and Federal agencies, that is unique in its climate, soils and topography.

Ample – A descriptor used to describe the impression of fullness in the mouth.

Aperitif – Wine consumed as a before-dinner drink.

Appearance – Generally the first category by which wines are judged in a sensory evaluation. The wine’s clarity and color are the primary factors evaluated.

Appellation – The official geographic origin of a wine, which becomes part of a wine’s official name.

Aroma – The almost immediately recognizable scent of fruit or flower in a young wine. When the wine matures, aroma is superseded by the more complex bouquet.

Aromatic – A descriptor used to describe wines that have pronounced smells, particularly fruity and floral smells.

Aromatic Compounds – The chemical substances in wine, from either the grapes or the winemaking process, that are responsible for the wine’s aromas, bouquet and flavors.

Astringent – Pleasantly crisp and dry (when the tannin is in correct proportion); pucker (when the tannin is too pronounced, as in some young wines).

B

Baked – Describes the warm, even hot, earthy smell characteristic of red wines in the course of whose production there has been too much exposure to the sun.

Balance – The relationship between the various components of a wine; acid, sweetness, flavor, oak, tannin and alcohol.

Barrel-aged – A term used for wines that matured for a period of time after fermentation in oak barrels.

Barrel-fermented – A term used for wines that are fermented in oak containers. The benefit of this method is the development of a more subtle oak character than that of barrel-aged only wines.

Berry-like – The term used to describe red wines that exhibit aroma and flavor reminiscent of strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, etc.

Big – Applied to a wine endowed with an unusual degree of flavor and body and high in alcohol content. Unless it also has balance, a big wine may prove coarse and unattractive.

Bin – To store bottled wine for further aging, before its release for sale.

Biodynamic agriculture – a method of organic farming that emphasizes the holistic development and interrelationships of the soil, plants and animals as a self-sustaining system. One of the first modern ecological farming systems, it emphasizes a sustainable approach to agriculture. Biodynamics has much in common with other organic approaches – it emphasizes the use of manures and composts and excludes the use of artificial chemicals on soil and plants. Methods unique to the biodynamic approach include its treatment of animals, crops, and soil as a single ecosystem; an emphasis from its beginnings on local production and distribution systems; its use of traditional and development of new local breeds and varieties; and the use of a sowing and planting calendar. Biodynamic agriculture uses various herbal and mineral additives for compost additives and field sprays; these are sometimes prepared by mystical (and controversial) methods, such as burying ground quartz stuffed into the horn of a cow, which are said to harvest “cosmic forces in the soil”, and appear more akin to sympathetic magic than modern agronomy.

Bitter – A taste sensation generally experienced on the back of the tongue.

Black Fruits – Wine aromas and/or flavors that suggest black currants, black cherries, blackberries, blueberries, or other black fruit.

Black Grapes – Wine grapes with a blue or reddish skin pigmentation that are used to make red wines.

Blanc de blancs – A white wine made of white grapes.

Blanc de noirs – A white wine made of red grapes

Blend – To combine two or more individual lots of wine, either of different varietals, different vineyards or different vintages. The term generally applied to a wine derived from the juice of different grape varieties.

Body – the weight or “mouthfeel” of a wine; light body connotes a thin, watery feeling in your mouth, while heavier bodied wine is “thicker” and more full-flavored.

Botrytis – In the Botrytis infection known as “noble rot”, the fungus removes water from the grapes, leaving behind a higher percent of solids, such as sugars, fruit acids and minerals. This results in a more intense, concentrated final product. The wine is often said to have an aroma of honeysuckle and a bitter finish on the palate.

Bottle-aged – Description of the character of a wine derived from its maturation period in bottle.

Bottle Aging – The maturation period of a wine after bottling that allows some of its components to mature and a bottle-aged bouquet to form.

Bottle Smell – Occasionally, immediately upon being opened, a bottle will emit a discernible odor (sulfurous in whites, musty in reds), which vanishes quickly. If it remains in the glass after inhalation, the bottle is probably a poor one.

Bouquet – The fragrance (associated with finer and older wines) the appreciation of which is one of the great pleasures of wine drinking. This widely varied message to the nose results predominately from esters that develop from the slow oxidation of the wine’s elements. Bouquet, being complex, invites more careful analysis than the much simpler aroma.

Breed – When the grape, the soil, and the winemaker’s skill are in perfect harmony, the resulting wine is said to have breed.

Bright – A term used to describe wines whose characteristics are perceived vividly, either visually or by aroma and flavor.

Brilliant – The description of a wine that is absolutely clear.

Brix – A standardized scale to measure the sugar content in grapes and grape juice before fermentation.

Brut – Almost-dry Champagne.

Buttery – Butter-like odor in wine created by malolactic fermentation caused by the presence of diacetyl.

C

Canopy – The foliage of a grape vine.

Canopy Management – The viticultural techniques used to balance shoot growth and fruit development to maximize the varietal character of the grapes.

Cap – A layer of skins and seeds that forms on top of the juice during fermentation of red wines.

Capsule – Metallic or plastic foil that covers the cork and the upper neck of a wine bottle.

Caramel – A distinctive odor in heated sweet wines and a subtle component of Champagne.

Cask – A large wooden container used for making or storing wines.

Cedary – Aromas or flavors that resemble the smell of cedar wood.

Character – The impression of a wine being solid and having integrity and substance.

Clarity – Clearness in the wine.

Clean – Describes wine free of any off taste or smell.

Clone – A sub-variety within a grape variety. There are different clones of many varieties, each expressing different characteristics of size, flavor profile, suitability to various soil and climate conditions and disease resistance.

Closure – The device used to seal a wine bottle, usually a cork.

Coarse – Rough-textured and heavy; lacking finesse.

Cold Stabilization – Chilling wine before bottling to remove potassium acid tartrate crystals or other sediment from the finished wine.

Compact – A descriptor used to describe a wine that is intense but not full.

Complex – A wine that exhibits many different odors and flavors.

Concentrated – A term to describe aromas and flavors that are dense.

Concentration – A descriptor used for a wine whose flavors or fruit character are tightly knit.

Cooper – One who makes or repairs wooden barrels or casks.

Corked Or Corky – A moldy odor and flavor caused from a fungus-infected cork, caused by tiny amounts of tyrene that contaminate the wine.

Corked – Fault in wine caused by a contaminated cork. Usually easier to recognize than describe; it is woody, moldy and musty smelling and often tastes of wet cardboard.

Cream – A full-bodied, golden sweet dessert sherry.

Crisp – A term for wine that feels clean and slightly brittle in the mouth, usually from high acidity.

Crush – After stems are removed, breaking the grape skins prior to pressing and fermentation. The term also applied to the season of the year (during harvest) when this occurs.

Crusher – A machine that breaks open grapes and usually de-stems them as well.

Cuvée – On wine labels to denote wine of a specific blend or batch. Since the usage of the term cuvée for this purpose is unregulated, and most wines will have been stored in a vat or tank at some stage of their production, the presence of the word cuvée on a label of an arbitrary producer is no guarantee of its (superior) quality. However, in the range of discerning producers who market both regular blends and blends called “cuvée…”, the cuvée-labeled wines will usually be special blends or selected vats of higher quality, at least in comparison to that producer’s regular wine(s). Particularly terms like “cuvée speciale”, or “tête de cuvée” should indicate higher quality.

D

Decant – To transfer wine from one container to another, either to aerate the wine or to remove red wine from its sediment deposit.

Degorgement – The French term for “disgorging,” the removal of yeast sediment from bottles in methode Champenoise.

Demi-sec – Sparkling wines that are moderately sweet to medium sweet.

Depth – The characteristic of fine wines that gives the impression of having layers of taste, rather than being one-dimensional.

Dessert wine – A sweet wine that usually accompanies dessert, such as fortified or late harvest wines.

Diacetyl – A chemical byproduct of malolactic fermentation that gives a buttery odor to the wine, enhancing complexity.

Dilute – A term given to wines whose aromas and flavors are thin, as opposed to concentrated.

Disgorging – Using the pressure of gas in the wine to remove the collected sediment from bottle-fermented sparkling wine.

Dosage – In the making of Champagne and other sparkling wines, the wine and sugar mixture that is added to adjust the final sweetness of the wine.

Doux – The sweetest category of sparkling wines.

Dry – Term for wine that has no residual sugar. Often misused to describe wines that are not fruity. Most table wines (except for dessert wines) are dry, but many have fruity and/or oaky flavors that can be perceived as sweet.

Dull – A wine whose appearance, aromas and flavors, and/or general style are hazy and unclear.

E

Earthy – An odor or flavor suggestive of earth or soil, usually undesirable.

Elegance – A term applied to wines that express themselves in a refined or delicate manner, as opposed to intense.

Enology – The science of wines and winemaking.

Estate – Vineyards owned by or under the direct control of the winery. On a label, it means the grapes are sourced from vineyards owned by or under the direct control of the winery that made the wine.

Ethyl Acetate – A chemical responsible for vinegary odors in wine.

Ethyl Alcohol, Ethanol – Alcohol in wine that is the product of the conversion of sugar by yeast enzymes during fermentation.

Extended Maceration – A winemaking process for red wines where the juice is left in contact with the skin cap for an extended amount of time after fermentation is complete.

Extra Dry – A Champagne or sparkling wine that is sweet, containing 1.5 to 2.5% sugar.

F

Fat – Full-bodied, usually associated with  a high glycerine content.

Fermentation – The process in which yeast converts grape sugar into ethyl alcohol and carbon dioxide, making grape juice into wine.

Finesse–Encompasses delicacy, character, breed. An indefinable distinction analogous to that attributed to certain human beings.

Fining – Clarifying wine by mixing in agents such as gelatin or egg whites to remove specific components and suspended matter.

Finish— The overall taste and feeling that remains in your mouth after you’ve swallowed a wine. Typically described as “long,” “short,” “clean,” etc.

Firm – A term for wines that are not soft, but are not harsh or tough, generally referring to the tannic content of red wines or acidity of white wines.

Flabby – A term describing wines that are too soft.

Flat – A term for wine lacking a refreshing, tart or sour taste, or sparkling wines that have lost their bubbles.

Flavor Compounds – Organic substances in the grapes that are responsible for many characteristic flavors and aromas of a varietal wine.

Flavor Intensity – The degree to which a wine’s flavors are pronounced and clearly observable.

Flavors – Aromatic compounds of a wine perceived by the mouth.

Fleshy – The term used to describe a rich textural impression of a wine.

Flor – A yeast that forms after fermentation, producing a film on the wine’s surface and imparting a distinctive flavor if left in contact with the wine. Fino sherries are produced by aging under flor, which protects the wine from oxygen and destroys the bacteria that turns wine into vinegar, mycoderma aceti.

Fortified Wine – A wine in which the alcoholic content has been boosted by the addition of grape spirit or brandy.

Free-run – Grape juice that runs freely from the crusher and press before force is used.

French oak barrels – Barrels made from oak wood from French forests. French barrels impart more subtle wood flavors to wine than do American oak barrels.

Fruit Character – Characteristics of a wine that are derived from the grape, such as aroma, flavor, tannin, acidity and extract.

Fruity – Displaying aromas and flavors suggestive of fruit. It can apply to aromas or flavors suggestive of fresh fruit, dried fruit or cooked fruit.

Full, Full-bodied – The term for wines that give the impression of being large in the mouth, usually derived from high alcohol content.

G

Generous – The term for wines whose characteristics are expressive and easy to perceive.

Grape Tannin – Tannins in a red wine attributable to the grapes from which the wine was made.

Grape Variety – A particular type of grape, also called a “varietal.”

Green – The high acid taste of wines made from unripe grapes.

H

Harmonious – A term for wines that are well balanced and express themselves gracefully.

Headspace – The air space in the bottle between the wine and the closure, or in a tank between the wine and the lid.

Herbaceous, Herbal
Pleasant odors reminiscent of herbs, such as fresh herbs, dried herbs or specific herbs.

Heavy–Too full-bodied, over endowed with alcohol perhaps, just short of coarse. The second glass does not tempt.

Hot – High in alcohol, producing a slightly burning sensation on the palate. Generally undesirable except in fortified wines.

Hydrogen Sulfide – Chemical responsible for the “off” odor of rotten eggs in wine.

Hydrometer – An instrument used to measure the degrees Brix of grape juice during ripening, harvest or fermentation.

I

Intense – A term that describes wines that express themselves strongly, either aromas and flavors, or of the wine’s overall impression.

K

Kerosene – A descriptor used to describe a chemical smell found in wine, most often applied to wines of the Riesling grape that have some age to them.

L

Lactic Acid – An organic acid produced in wine during malolactic fermentation, where strong malic acid is converted to softer lactic acid. Lactic acid is also found in milk.

Late Harvest – A term applied to wines made from grapes left on the vine longer than usual. Late harvest is usually an indication of a sweet dessert wine, such as late harvest Riesling. Late harvest grapes are often more similar to raisins, but have been naturally dehydrated while on the vine. Botrytis cinerea, or noble rot, is a mold that causes grapes to lose nearly all of their water content. Wines made from botrytis-affected grapes are generally very sweet.

Lean – A term implying a thin, light-bodied, watery wine.

Lees – Any residue that settles out of wine after fermentation, made of grape solids or dead yeast cells.

Legs – Drops that inch up the inside surface of a glass above the wine and slowly run back down.

Length – A term describing the sustained sensory impression across the tongue of fine wines.

Light – Describes a wine that contains less than 14%* of alcohol by volume. The opposite of heavy or full-bodied. To be fine, a light wine must be blessed with charm and elegance.

Luscious – Soft, sweet, fat, fruity, and ripe. All these qualities in balance.

M

Maceration – The process of soaking the skins of red grapes in their juice to dissolve the skin’s color, tannin and other substances into the juice.

Macroclimate – Average, overall weather conditions in a winegrowing region, such as Napa Valley, California, or Champagne, France.

Malic Acid – The organic acid found in apples, grapes and wine. Malic acid is converted to lactic acid during malolactic fermentation.

Malolactic Fermentation – A bacterial fermentation that converts harsh malic acid into softer lactic acid and carbon dioxide. Performed on all red wines to increase stability, and performed on some white wines to increase complexity and add the buttery component diacetyl.

Marriage – In wine, the integration of the components of blended grapes or wines or of additions to wine, such as dosage or sulfur dioxide, to form a more pleasing combination.

Maturation – The aging period at the winery during which the wine evolves to a state of readiness for bottling. Also the ongoing development of fine wines during a period of bottle aging.

Mature – A wine that has reached its optimum point during aging, and exhibits a pleasing combination of aromas, flavors and bouquet.

Medium-dry – A term to indicate slight sweetness in wines that are not quite dry.

Medium Sweet – A term to indicate the perceived level of sweetness in wines that are not fully sweet.

Mesoclimate – The unique climate of a subsection of a wine region.

Methode Champenoise – The bottle-fermentation method of making Champagne and other sparkling wines that are released for sale in the same bottle in which the secondary fermentation took place.

Microclimate – The climate in and around the grapevine’s canopy.

N

Neutral- A wine lacking distinctive or recognizable flavor and/or odor. A common descriptor of ordinary blended wines.

New oak
 – A term used to indicate barrels that are brand new.

Noble rot – See Botrytis cinerea

Nose – A term for the aroma and bouquet of a wine. The nose is best evaluated immediately after swirling the wine in your glass.

Nutty – Exhibiting aromas or flavors that suggest nuts, desirable in dessert or aperitif wines such as sherry.

O

Oaky – Toasty, smoky or vanilla smells and flavors contributed by the oak during barrel aging.

Odors – Sensations caused by the volatile components of wines, including aroma, bouquet and “off” odors.

Off-dry – Very slightly sweet.

Off flavors – Undesirable odors perceived by the mouth.

Off odors – Undesirable odors perceived by the nose from a variety of possible sources.

Old vines – An unregulated term for grape vines whose fruit quality is presumably good because the vines are old and produce little crop.

Organic wine – wine made from grapes grown in accordance with principles of organic farming, which typically excludes the use of artificial chemical fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides and herbicides.

Over-aged – A general breakdown of wine kept too long in cooperage or bottle; oxidized.

Oxidation – The changes in wine caused by exposure to air.

Oxidized – Wine changed by contact with air, usually producing undesirable color and flavors; over-aged.

P

Palate – A term used as a synonym for “mouth,” or to refer to the characteristics of a wine that manifest in the taster’s mouth.

Petrol – Having aromas or flavors that suggest fuel.

pH – The measure of acid strength; the lower the pH, the higher the acid strength.

Phylloxera – A parasite louse that feeds on the roots of vitis vinifera grape vines, resulting in the vines’ death.

Plonk – A derogatory name for cheap, poor-tasting wine.

Plummy – Showing aromas or flavors that suggest ripe plums.

Plush – A textural descriptor for wines that feel luxurious in the mouth.

Polyphenols – A complex group of organic chemicals that includes wine’s tannins.

Pomace – The solid residue left after pressing, made up of skins and seeds.

Port – A fortified dessert wine made in several styles. Authentic port is from the Douro River Valley of Portugal.

Potassium bitartrate – The crystals that sometimes precipitate in bottled wine, but which are normally removed by cold-stabilization. Made of the same compounds as Cream of Tartar.

Powerful – A descriptor that indicates an impression of strength and intensity.

Premiere – In methode Champenoise, refers to the first batch or press juices collected after the free-run juice.

Press – To exert pressure on grapes or must to extract their juices; also the mechanical device used to do this.

Press juice – The juice obtained by pressing, as opposed to free-run juice.

Pretty – A descriptor indicating a wine that is attractive for its delicacy and finesse.

Primary aromas – Fresh aromas in wine that derive from the varietal used to make the wine.

Prise de Mousse – A French term for the second fermentation of methode Champenoise, executed in the bottles in which the wine is sold. Literally, “catch the foam.”

Pruning – The annual vineyard chore of trimming back plants from the previous harvest.

Puckery – The tactile sensation of highly tannic wines; astringent.

Pulp – The flesh of the grape (or other fruit).

Pump over – To circulate fermenting juice of red wines from the bottom of the tank over the skin cap that forms during fermentation to ensure optimal extraction and prevent bacterial spoilage.

Punch down – To push the skin cap down into the fermenting juice to ensure optimal extraction and prevent bacterial spoilage.

Punt – The indentation in the bottom of some wine bottles.

Q

Quality – The degree of excellence.

R

Racking – The process of moving wine from barrel to barrel, while leaving sediment behind.

Reserve – a term given to a specific wine to imply that is of a higher quality than usual, or a wine that has been aged before being sold, or both. Traditionally winemakers would “reserve” some of their best wine rather than sell it immediately, coining the term.

Round – Harmonious, satisfying to the mouth, full; the opposite of thin. Usually applied to a mature and well-balanced wine.

S

Silky – A term used to describe a wine with an especially smooth mouthfeel.

Sommelier – Technically a wine steward, but one potentially with a great degree of wine knowledge as well as a diploma of sorts in wine studies.

Spicy – A term used to describe certain aromas and flavors that may be sharp, woody, or sweet.

Stave – A narrow length of wood with a slightly bevelled edge to form the sides of barrels originally handmade by coopers.

Steely – A term used to describe an extremely crisp, acidic wine that was not aged in barrels.

Stemmy – A term used to describe harsh, green characteristics in a wine.

Sulfites – Sulfites occur naturally in all wines to some extent. Sulfites are commonly introduced to arrest fermentation at a desired time, and may also be added to wine as preservatives to prevent spoilage and oxidation at several stages of the winemaking. Sulfur dioxide (SO2), sulfur with two atoms of oxygen) protects wine from not only oxidation, but also from bacteria. Without sulfites, grape juice would quickly turn to vinegar.

Organic wines are not necessarily sulfite-free, but generally have the lowest amount because no additional sulfites are added, as with most wines. In general, white wines contain more sulfites than red wines, and sweeter wines contain more sulfites than dryer ones.

In the United States, wines bottled after mid-1987 must have a label stating that they contain sulfites if they contain more than 10 parts per million.

Supple – A term used to describe smooth, balanced wines.

Sustainability–the capacity to endure. In ecology the word describes how biological systems remain diverse and productive over time. Long-lived and healthy wetlands and forests are examples of sustainable biological systems. For humans, sustainability is the potential for long-term maintenance of well being, which has ecological, economic, political and cultural dimensions. Sustainability requires the reconciliation of environmental, social equity and economic demands – also referred to as the “three pillars” of sustainability or (the 3 Es).

T

Table Wine – A term used to describe wines of between 10 and 14 percent alcohol.

Tannins – Found in grape skins, seeds and stems. They can cause bitterness and astringency; some tannins are desirable in red wines to give them structure.

Tartrates – Tartaric acid crystals which sometimes form in wine (often on the cork, or at the bottom of the bottle). They do not affect flavor and are not harmful to drink.

Terroir – term for the complex combination of soil, climate and exposition that define the style of a wine. A sense of the “place” from which a wine came.

Thin – Meager, lacking in body; age will not improve a thin wine.

V

Varietal – the type of grape from which the wine was made.  A wine made (or sold) in the US must contain at least 75% of the varietal listed on the label.

Viognier – (vee-own-yay),  a white wine varietal indigenous to France’s northern Rhône Valley. Known for its exotic, floral bouquet and flavors.

Vintage – A particular year in the wine business; a specific harvest.

Viticulture – The science and business of growing wine grapes.

Y

Yeast – Organisms that issue enzymes that trigger the fermentation process; yeasts can be natural or commercial.

Yield – The amount of grapes harvested in a particular year.

Wines under 14% alcohol are taxed at $1.07 per gallon, with a $0.90 per gallon credit for wineries that produce less than 250,000 gallons — a great tax incentive for the little guys. Wines from 14% to 21% alcohol are taxed at $1.57 per gallon, with the same small-producer credit. Sparkling wines are among the lowest in alcohol. Yet sparkling wines are taxed at $3.40 per gallon (67 cents per 750 ml bottle), with NO small producer credit. In other words, if you’re a small wine producer, you would pay 20 times as much tax to make bubbly as you would to make, say, Sauvignon Blanc. Or, for that matter, slightly fizzy Muscat. – The Grey Report, 7/19/2011

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