General Wine Terms Explained
Tartness that comes from any of several types of acid found in wine. The right amount of acidity gives a wine freshness.
Exposing the wine to oxygen during the winemaking process helps to round, soften and age it slightly. It also allows the yeast some necessary oxygen to grow and do its job of fermentation. This must be done carefully so as not to oxidize the wine. Aeration is also associated with decanting or giving the wine some breathing time before drinking it.
The flavor the wine leaves in your mouth after it is swallowed. It is also known as the finish of a wine. Fine wines have a long finish, or aftertaste.
As a wine ages, one of the natural chemical components in it, called tannin, binds together and makes the wine taste smoother. The flavors mellow and often take on a nutty, smoky, or dried-fruit character, depending on the wine. Not all wines benefit from aging. In fact, most are made to be consumed within a year or two of their purchase.
The substance formed by the fermentation of sugar by yeast. In the wine industry, alcohol usually refers to is ethyl alcohol.
Amarone is made from the grapes Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara that are grown in the Veneto region of Northeastern Italy. This dry, full-bodied red wine has a slight tartness with a raisiny sweetness of concentrated black cherries and the aroma of cedar or tobacco. This robust wine pairs well with beef, cheese, chocolate desserts, game, spices and vegetables in casseroles and stews.
The area where grapes are grown and made into wine. Appellations are used to identify most of the wines of the United States, France, Italy, Germany, Spain and Portugal. Often laws that govern the type of grapes used, yields, and other aspects of winemaking are based on the appellation system. New World countries such as the United States and Canada are embracing a voluntary appellation system as a means of differentiating wines from various regions.
The scent from the grape or the merely vinous smells found in young wine as opposed to smells that develop later with age. See Bouquet
A dry, mouth-puckering effect derived from high tannin (see Tannic) content that should soften and mellow as a wine matures. This effect is similar to drinking over-steeped tea or chewing on a grape stalk.
The Greek god of wine.
The relationship between a wine's acids, sugars, tannins and alcohol. When all are in harmony, a wine is well-balanced.
Barbaresco is made from the Nebbiolo grape in Piedmont, in the northern region of Italy. This medium- to full-bodied red wine can be sweet or dry and usually has low acidity. Its berry and ripe red fruit aromas, coupled with the flavors of tar and licorice, make it a lovely match for deeply flavored meat dishes such as beef, game, venison and chicken.
A wine powerful in aroma and flavor; full-bodied.
The French word for white.
Tasting wine without knowing the winery name, vintage or other label information. Both critics and consumers taste wine this way to evaluate it free from the bias that comes with knowing that information. It's only after writing a tasting note and giving the wine a score that they look at these details.
The weight of wine in the mouth due to its alcohol or other components. For example, a full-bodied wine can have enough density on the palate to feel chewy.
In the broadest sense, the odor created as a wine ages. Namely, the smell formed by the slow oxidation of the fruit acids and alcohol.
Allowing a wine to breathe or aerate can improve its taste and smell. Exposing the wine to the air allows the wine's aromas to open up and the flavors to improve. Breathing can occur during pouring, decanting or swirling the wine.
The measurement of the amount of sugar in a liquid. Grapes gain more brix as they ripen. The sugar converts to alcohol during fermentation and therefore the higher the brix, the greater the alcohol in the wine.
Describes a complex, intense red wine with hidden nuances and glories. A brooding wine may have a hulking depth and concentration of flavor.
A dry champagne or sparkling wine.
A wine with the taste or aroma of butter comes from the wine's contact with yeast during the primary alcoholic fermentation, the conversion of harsh acids into softer ones during the secondary malolactic fermentation, or the flavors imparted from oak barrel. New World chardonnays from California, Chile, and Australia in particular, are often described as having buttery aromas and flavors.
An important variety in Loire and Bordeaux, it's blended with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. It tends to be lighter in tannins and more fruit forward, with some herbaceous notes.
The most renowned grape for making cellar-worthy reds. While it's most famous in Bordeaux, this grape is grown worldwide. At its most powerful, Cabernet Sauvignon is deeply colored, tannic and oaky from barrel aging. Lighter versions are made fresh and fruity. Its aromas can evoke black currant, cedar, herbaceousness, berries and, with age, undergrowth and tobacco.
A process of winemaking in which whole grapes are fermented without crushing them or breaking the skins. The flesh of the grape starts to ferment inside the skin. This produces a wine that is less tannic, less acidic, and more light and fruity and ready to drink quickly. Beaujolais nouveau is most famously made this way. Just saying "carbonic maceration" will make many people think that you are a wine expert.
A popular and versatile grape that thrives in most wine-growing countries. Aromas range from lemon to apple to tropical fruit. It adapts well to oak, which adds scents of vanilla, butter and spice. In its home region of Burgundy, it makes some of the world's finest whites.
A native of the Loire Valley in France, where it's made in many styles from bone dry to dessert sweet. Chenin Blanc can have aromas of quince, honey, flowers and minerals, not to mention a steely acidity that gives it longevity. In South Africa and California, this grape is often made into a simple, off-dry fruity wine.
Chewy refers to a wine that is full-bodied, robust and often tannic. The texture or mouthfeel of the wine is therefore often rich and chewy.
The name of a specific geographical area between Florence and Siena in the central Italian region of Tuscany associated with tangy, dry red wines of varied quality.
Wines are clarified using either fining or filtering. Fining agents such as egg whites attract any unwanted particles, which either settle at the bottom or float along the top of the wine where they are removed or filtered.
A young, undeveloped wine that does not easily reveal its character.
A cloudy wine is visually dull and hazy because particles haven't been removed during winemaking. This sediment can be removed by fining or decanting.
An overly sweet wine that lacks balancing acidity and is therefore unpleasant and not refreshing. This should not be confused with the false praise that some winery visitors lavish on the vintner in the hope of a free bottle or two.
Although a coarse wine may be full-bodied, it's also harsh in flavor and texture and often too tannic. Its lack of balance and flavor is usually the result of inferior grapes. A coarse wine is a person whose opinions are too blunt: you can't swallow too much of either of them.
Wines with a combination of flavors and aromas.
A wine with fresh, brisk character, usually with high acidity.
A French term meaning growth that is used in classifying vineyards. Often, but not always, grand cru refers to the best wine.
This describes red wine that has intense color and/or flavor, and often it's full-bodied in both depth and texture. A brooding heart of darkness wine.
To transfer wine from a bottle into a crystal or glass container (a decanter).
A delicate wine is mild and light in fragrance, flavor, and body. It may have many flavors but none is so strong that it overpowers the rest.
The French term for medium-dry.
A part of the process of making sparkling wine. The dead yeast from the second fermentation is frozen in the neck of the bottle. When the bottle is opened, this mass comes out.
A wine estate in France.
After disgorging the wine, the bottle is topped up with the dosage until it reaches the desired level of sweetness. This is a mixture of wine and sugar syrup.
The puckering sensation that wine imparts. It is the opposite of sweet. It's often caused by tannins in the wine.
A characteristic smell that suggests the soil in which the grapes were grown.
When a wine exhibits refined character, distinguished quality, stylish, not heavy.
The height the vineyard is, either above sea level or above some local landmark, such as that of a valley floor.
The science of wine production.
Before giving any fancy definition, let's just call this what it is: spitting. It may seem socially aberrant, but when you're tasting many wines, you need to do it unless you're sleeping overnight at the tasting room. Simply form your mouth into a circle and lean over the spittoon (spit bucket) and let go. Practice in the shower will reduce the incidence of unsightly dribbles and carpet stains.
A sparkling wine that is slightly sweet. This term often leads to confusion since Dry means without sweetness, but Extra Dry means slightly sweet.
Extraction is the process of taking the flavor, color and tannin out of the grape skins during maceration when the grape skins are steeped in the grape juice during fermentation. It's a similar process to steeping tea and gives wine the color, flavor and structure that the winemaker desires. The challenge is to extract the right amount of these compounds so that the wine is still balanced. Highly extracted wines are described as full-bodied, intense and alcoholic, with powerful fruit flavors and tannins. This can be a criticism if it means that the wine is out of balance. These wines are often referred to as fruit bombs.
The process that turns grapes into wine. It is the metabolization of the sugars by the yeast, into alcohol, carbon dioxide and heat.
A winemaking process to remove small particles from the wine in order to clarify it. Some vintners believe that this removes some flavor and body from the wine, and therefore do not use the technique. Their bottles may be labeled as "unfined" or "unfiltered."
A wine with finesse exhibits elegance, refinement and delicacy. There is balance and harmony among its components.
The impression left in the mouth after a wine has been swallowed. To be good, it should be distinctive and memorable rather than watery or short.
A wine is said to be flowery when the aroma suggests flowers.
A wine which is felt to be developing quickly and is ready to drink before it might otherwise be expected.
A wine that's fruit-forward in that the fruit aromas dominate over others. The wine may lack balance, with too much fruit for the wine's acidity. Think Jim Carrey rather than Jeremy Irons, or Carmen Electra not Helen Mirren.
An attractive fruit flavor that comes from healthy, ripe grapes.
Wine that has a full proportion of flavor and alcohol. It is also know as big or fat.
These grapes produce light, fruity red wines and are used to make Beaujolais Nouveau and Beaujolais. Grown in France, Canada and many other countries.
A chemical compound (sugar alcohol) in wine that is a natural byproduct of fermentation. Glycerin, also known as glycerol, improves wine's quality by making it taste richer, more full-bodied and viscous. Although glycerin is colorless and odorless, its slightly sweet taste and syrupy texture gives the impression of smoothness on the palate.
French for "grand or great wine," and refers to the best quality wine made by a chateau. Many wineries make second and third labels that aren't considered as good as their grand vin. Although it sounds impressive, it actually has no legal or official designation. However, giving a bottle of wine with this on the label to friends may increase its value (and yours) in their eyes.
Wines that have slight vegetal-tasting undertones as part of the overall character like Sauvignon Blanc and certain other grape varietals.
A wine that has a perfect balance of fruit, acid and tannins. At this point, it is perfectly ready to drink and usually so am I (ready to drink that wine).
The process of picking the ripe grapes from the vine and transferring them to the winery.
An adjective for a full-bodied wine with high alcohol content. It often refers to a tannic red wine.
A wine that has a green, vegetable smell. For example, sauvignon blanc is grassy when subtle, herbaceous when overpowering.
Hermitage, pronounced without the 'h' (air-mee-tahj), is a wine region in southern France in the RhÃ´ne Valley. It's rich, robust wines are made, primarily, from syrah, Grenache and MourvÃ¨dre grapes for the reds and Marsanne, Rousanne and Viognier for the whites.
When the components of wine, such as tannin, oak and acidity fade as the wine develops.
The interweaving of subtle complexities of aroma and flavor in the wine.
The natural berrylike taste of the grape.
A large format wine bottle.
Produces grapes that are riper and sweeter. This makes sweet, dessert-style wines.
Describes wines that smell like leaves and sometimes herbs. A hint of this can add to the complexity of the wine, however a strong whiff of it is unpleasant and vegetal.
A heavy sediment consisting of dead yeast cells and other solid matter such as grape pulp, seeds and other grape particles.
The rivulets of wine that slowly glide down the glass after swirling the wine are often called legs or tears. They're related to surface tension differences between water and alcohol. Contrary to popular belief, these aren't related to the compound glycerine in wine. The more alcoholic the wine, the slower the legs go down the glass and the more defined they are. This doesn't indicate a better wine, just a more alcoholic one.
How long the flavor of the wine persists on the palate after it has been swallowed. This is also called the finish.
Wines light in alcohol but also in texture and weight. It also describes how the wine feels in the mouth.
Describes a fresh, young, thirst-quenching wine with crisp acidity. Don't be afraid of acidity: it is to wine what salt is to food in that it brings the flavor forward. Think of it as a dinner party guest who's willing to talk about more than the weather.
The rich, opulent, and smooth taste of sweet wines and intensely fruity ones.
A large format bottle equivalent to two standard 750 ml bottles, containing about two fifths of a gallon or 1.5 liters of wine or liquor. This is a dramatic size and just placing it on the table tells your guests that the evening is going to be a festive one.
One of the main contributors to the acidity of a wine. Malic acid has a sharp, green apple like taste.
A bacterial process which results in conversion of the sharp tasting malic acid to the softer lactic acid.
The wine is fully developed and ready to drink.
Smooth and soft, with no harshness.
Less tannic with lower acidity than Cabernet Sauvignon, this grape makes reds that are often rounded and smooth textured. Aromas can be plums, hay, berries, and chocolate.
The climate immediately around the vine.
The term used to describe the grape pulp and juice after crushing the grapes during the harvest, before the wine is fermented.
One who buys grapes and grape juice from different vineyards throughout the region. They make wine from these grapes and sell it.
New World Wine
Wine from North and South America, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.
Great; of perfect balance and harmonious expression. Noble grapes are those that produce the world's finest wines, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Riesling and so on.
The way a wine smells.
Young, immediately drinkable wine.
The nutlike aromas that develop in certain wines, such as sherry.
The number one choice of wood for wine barrels. It imparts toasty, vanilla, and smoky aromas to the wine.
The science behind winemaking.
Old World Wine
Wine from European nations, such as France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Austria and others with a long history of viticulture.
This describes a wine that's ready to drink, often because it's been decanted (a process of opening up the wine by exposing it to oxygen). I also think of many people as open, especially around 5 pm when they're ready to drink.
The approach some winemakers take when they rely less or not at all on synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and other chemicals. Those that meet certain criteria may be labeled as organic.
The destructive action of oxygen on a wine.
A subjective evaluation of when a wine reaches its prime for drinking. This is usually expressed as a year or range of years.
An aromatic wine, often with a floral fragrance, that is usually due to the grapes from which the wine is made. See also Bouquet.
Produces crisp and refreshing white wines that appeal to many people as the aromas and flavors are not pronounced.
An interesting mutation of Pinot Noir that can produce full, rich and spicy whites, especially in Alsace, France and Germany. Pinot Gris is known as Pinot Grigio in Italy, where it's fresher and lighter. In Germany, it's called Grauburgunder.
A seductive variety known as the red grape of Burgundy, this "heart break grape" is difficult to grow. The best are complex and sensual in texture, with flavors of strawberries, cherries, violets, and sometimes animal "barnyard" notes.
A plump wine has low acidity but tastes full and rich due to lots of fruit flavors and glycerol. A plump wine is often delicious, though it may not age well due to its low acidity. When there's too little acidity, the wine is criticized for being flabby: as equally unattractive in wine as it is on thighs and underarms.
A sweet red wine that is made by adding neutral grape spirit (brandy) to the unfinished wine. This is the process known as fortification and increases the alcohol level.
The process of transferring the wine from one container, such as a barrel, to another.
Spanish red wines that have received a minimum of three years ageing prior to release. At least one year must be in oak.
Residual sugar is the unfermented grape sugar in wine and is measured in grams per liter of wine. The more the residual sugar the sweeter the wine.
High flavor concentration with balanced astringency, alcohol and fruit.
A noble grape that produces some of the world's finest, most long-lived whites. A light, vibrant white wine that often has citrus, floral and mineral notes. It's mostly associated with Germany, but other well-known regions making it include Alsace, Washington, Niagara, Finger Lakes, Okanagan and Clare Valley (Australia). Styles range from bone dry to super sweet. Aromas and flavors include apricot, peach, wet slate, minerals, flowers and petrol (when it's aged).
A mature wine that's ready to drink. If used to describe the grapes, this term means they were picked at sweet full maturity and richness.
Full-bodied, powerful, heady.
Rosés are generally made from red grapes pressed lightly. Champagnes are made from either red, white or a combination of the two.
Smooth and well-developed flavor, without angularity or rough edges.
An aromatic variety responsible for distinctive whites such as France's Sancerre, California's FumÃ© Blancs and many of New Zealand's best whites. In cool climates, their aroma is often grassy, herbal and gooseberry-like, but in warmer regions they tend toward tropical scents like passion fruit and pineapple.
The small particles in wine from the grape skins, seeds, and other grape particles. Sediment often settles at the bottom of the bottle and should be left behind when pouring or decanting as it tastes bitter.
Often blended with Sauvignon Blanc. In Bordeaux, this grape makes good dry whites as well as the famous dessert wine, Sauternes. In Australia's Hunter Valley, it produces dry, long-lived whites that develop a honey, nutty character with age.
The mellowness found in either a mature wine or a young wine with low tannins and acids.
Structure refers to the interplay and balance among the following characteristics in wine: flavor, acidity, alcohol, and tannin. (Tannin is often less a factor in white wines, especially those that aren't aged in oak.) If one of these elements dominates, the wine is not well-structured. However, when these elements are balanced with each other, the wine has good structure. It will likely age well for years, as each element develops in proportion and knits together with the others.
A popular, intensely flavored grape that's notable in Rhone, France. It's also famous in Australia and is grown increasingly around the world. Often bold and velvety with black pepper, smoky ripe berry and meaty notes.
A wine is called tannic when it has perceptible levels of tannin, a naturally occurring preservative that's essential to a wine's long life. Tannin is found in the skins, seeds and stems of grapes as well as in the wood of barrels often used to age reds and some whites. Young tannins can feel unpleasantly dry and gripping in the mouth.
Found in grape skins, seeds and stalks. Tannins are harsh, bitter compounds which if present in large amounts make a wine difficult to drink as they leave a dry, puckered sensation in the mouth.
A wine with a high degree of acidity that still tastes in balance with other elements, such as fruit flavor or sweetness, is described as tart. Too much acidity and we criticize the wine as harsh or even sour.
Lush in texture, low in tannins, this grape has an affinity for oak. It's renowned in Spain's Rioja region and is very much in vogue today.
A French term referring to the unique combination of soil, climate, elevation and topography that gives wine its character.
The way the wine feels in the mouth. Is it silky, velvety, rounded, or smooth?
The small pocket of air in the bottle between the top of the wine and the cork.
Any wine that takes its name from the predominant grape variety. This is common in the New World, but in Europe wines are usually labeled with the place name.
A velvety wine has a smooth, silky, lush texture and is often rich in flavor.
The French words for winegrower.
Firm, lively fruit, strong body; assertive flavor.
The French word for wine.
Viniculture, also known as enology or oenology, is the study of making wine and of the grapes produced for the purpose of making wine.
The year that the grapes were picked to make the wine, usually indicated on the label. The vintage is important in cool climates, such as France, Canada and Germany, where the weather varies significantly from year to year. In warmer climates, such as Australia, Chile and California, it's of less importance since the climate is more consistent and hospitable to grape growing.
Viticulture is the science of grape growing, which includes the cultivation of grapes and their vines.
Strong, powerful, full-bodied, and forceful.
The German word for wine.
An alcoholic beverage produced by the fermentation of the juice of fruits and berries, but usually grapes.
An excessive aroma of wood, common to wines aged too long in cask or barrel.
A micro-organism that converts the sugar to alcohol in a process known as alcoholic fermentation.
The amount of fruit any given vine or vineyard produces.
A wine that is balanced between fruit and prominent acidity.
These famous grapes of California produce wines with a vibrant berry character.