Acetic Acid: All wines contain acetic acid, or vinegar, but usually the amount is quite small–from 0.03 percent to 0.06 percent–and not perceptible to smell or taste. Once table wines reach 0.07 percent or above, a sweet-sour vinegary smell and taste becomes evident. At low levels, acetic acid can enhance the character of a wine, but at higher levels (over 0.1 percent), it can become the dominant flavor and is considered a major defect. A related substance, ethyl acetate, adds a nail polish-like smell.
Acid: A compound present in all grapes and an essential component of wine that preserves it, enlivens and shapes its flavors and helps prolong its aftertaste. There are four major kinds of acids–tartaric, malic, lactic and citric–found in wine. Acid is identifiable by the crisp, sharp character it imparts to a wine.
Acidic: Term used to describe wines whose total acid is so high that they taste tart or sour and have a sharp edge on the palate.
Acidity: The acidity of a balanced dry table wine is in the range of 0.6 percent to 0.75 percent of the wine’s volume. It is legal in some areas–such as Bordeaux and Burgundy, Australia, California–to correct deficient acidity by adding acid. When overdone, it leads to unusually sharp, acidic wines. However, it’s illegal in Bordeaux and Burgundy to both chaptalize and acidify a wine. See also chaptalization.
Acrid: Describes a harsh or bitter taste or pungent smell that is due to excess sulfur.
Aeration: the deliberate addition of oxygen to wine to round out and soften a wine.
Aftertaste: The taste left on the palate after the wine has been swallowed. The persistence of the aftertaste – the length – may be used as an indicator of the quality of the wine.
Aggressive: Unpleasantly harsh in taste or texture, usually due to a high level of tannin or acid.
Alcohol: ethanol (ethyl alcohol), the product of fermentation of sugars by yeast.
Alcohol By Volume: As required by law, wineries must state the alcohol level of a wine on its label. This is usually expressed as a numerical percentage of the volume. For table wines the law allows a 1.5 percent variation above or below the stated percentage as long as the alcohol does not exceed 14 percent. Thus, wineries may legally avoid revealing the actual alcohol content of their wines by labeling them as “table wine.”
Alcoholic: sed to describe a wine that has too much alcohol for its body and weight, making it unbalanced. A wine with too much alcohol will taste uncharacteristically heavy or hot as a result. This quality is noticeable in aroma and aftertaste.
American Oak: Increasingly popular as an alternative to French oak for making barrels in which to age wine as quality improves and vintners learn how to treat the wood to meet their needs. Marked by strong vanilla, dill and cedar notes, it’s used primarily for aging Cabernet, Merlot and Zinfandel, for which it is the preferred oak. It’s less desirable, but used occasionally, for Chardonnay or Pinot Noir. Many California and Australia wineries use American oak, yet claim to use French oak because of its more prestigious image. American oak barrels sell in the $250 range, compared to more than $500 for the French ones. See also French oak .
American Viticultural Area (AVA): A delimited, geographical grape-growing area that has officially been given appellation status by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Two examples are Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley. See also viticultural area.
Ampelography: The study of grape varieties.
Angular: Angular wines are wines that lack roundness, generosity, and depth. Wine from poor vintages or wines that are too acidic are often described as being angular.
Appearance: Refers to a wine’s clarity, not color.
Appellation: Defines the area where a wine’s grapes were grown, such as Bordeaux, Gevrey-Chambertin, Alexander Valley or Russian River Valley. Regulations vary widely from country to country. In order to use an appellation on a California wine label, for example, 85 percent of the grapes used to make the wine must be grown in the specified district. See also appellation d’origine contrôlée.
Appellation d’Origine Controlee (AOC): The French system of appellations, begun in the 1930s and considered the wine world’s prototype. To carry an appellation in this system, a wine must follow rules describing the area the grapes are grown in, the varieties used, the ripeness, the alcoholic strength, the vineyard yields and the methods used in growing the grapes and making the wine.
Aroma: Traditionally defined as the smell that wine acquires from the grapes and from fermentation. Now it more commonly means the wine’s total smell, including changes that resulted from oak aging or that occurred in the bottle–good or bad. “Bouquet” has a similar meaning.
Astringent: tasting term noting the harsh, bitter, drying sensations in the mouth caused by high levels of tannins.
Austere: Used to describe relatively hard, high-acid wines that lack depth and roundness. Usually said of young wines that need time to soften, or wines that lack richness and body.
Awkward: Describes a wine that has poor structure, is clumsy or is out of balance.
Bacchus: The Greek god of wine.
Backbone: Used to denote those wines that are full-bodied, well-structured and balanced by a desirable level of acidity.
Backward: Used to describe a young wine that is less developed than others of its type and class from the same vintage.
Back label: Also known as the “second label” this is usually put on by the importer. If you don’t recognize any relevant information on the front label turn the bottle around to the back. This is where they often list grape variety, food pairing and other information (hopefully in English). Of course this is also where they cram in all of the romance copy and marketing speak as well.
Balance: when the elements of wine – acids, sugars, tannins, alcohol – come together in a harmonious way, it is said to be “balanced”.
Balthazar: An oversized bottle which holds the equivalent of 12 to 16 standard bottles.
Barnyard: An unclean, farmyard, fecal aroma that is imparted to a wine because of unclean barrels or unsanitary winemaking facilities
Barrel Fermented: Denotes wine that has been fermented in small casks (usually 55-gallon oak barrels) instead of larger tanks. Advocates believe that barrel fermentation contributes greater harmony between the oak and the wine, increases body and adds complexity, texture and flavor to certain wine types. Its liabilities are that more labor is required and greater risks are involved. It is mainly used for whites.
Barrique: a 225-litre oak barrel used in storing and aging Bordeaux wines.
Berrylike: As this descriptive term implies, most red wines have an intense berry fruit character that can suggest blackberries, raspberries, black cherries, mulberries, or even strawberries and cranberries.
Big: A wine powerful in aroma and flavor; full-bodied.
Bin Number: See also cask number.
Bite: A marked degree of acidity or tannin. An acid grip in the finish should be more like a zestful tang and is tolerable only in a rich, full-bodied wine.
Bitter: Describes one of the four basic tastes (along with sour, salty and sweet). Some grapes–notably Gewürztraminer and Muscat–often have a noticeable bitter edge to their flavors. Another source of bitterness is tannin or stems. If the bitter quality dominates the wine’s flavor or aftertaste, it is considered a fault. In sweet wines a trace of bitterness may complement the flavors. In young red wines it can be a warning signal, as bitterness doesn’t always dissipate with age. Normally, a fine, mature wine should not be bitter on the palate.
Blanc de Blancs: “White of whites,” meaning a white wine made of white grapes, such as Champagne made of Chardonnay.
Blanc de Noirs: White of blacks, white wine made of red or black grapes, where the juice is squeezed from the grapes and fermented without skin contact. The wines can have a pale pink hue. E.G., Champagne that is made from Pinot Noir or Pinot Meunier.
Blunt: Strong in flavor and often alcoholic, but lacking in aromatic interest and development on the palate.
Body: 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.
Botrytis Cinerea: Known as “Noble Rot.” A beneficial mold or fungus that attacks grapes under certain climatic conditions and causes them to shrivel, deeply concentrating the flavors, sugar and acid.
Bottle Sickness: A temporary condition characterized by muted or disjointed fruit flavors. It often occurs immediately after bottling or when wines (usually fragile wines) are shaken in travel. Also called bottle shock. A few days of rest is the cure.
Bottled By: Means the wine could have been purchased ready-made and simply bottled by the brand owner, or made under contract by another winery. When the label reads “produced and bottled by” or “made and bottled by” it means the winery produced the wine from start to finish.
Bouquet: The smell that a wine develops after it has been bottled and aged. Most appropriate for mature wines that have developed complex flavors beyond basic young fruit and oak aromas.
Brawny: Used to describe wines that are hard, intense, tannic and that have raw, woody flavors. The opposite of elegant.
Briary: Describes young wines with an earthy or stemmy wild berry character.
Bright: Used for fresh, ripe, zesty, lively young wines with vivid, focused flavors.
Brilliant: Describes the appearance of very clear wines with absolutely no visible suspended or particulate matter. Not always a plus, as it can indicate a highly filtered wine.
Brix: A measurement of the sugar content of grapes, must and wine, indicating the degree of the grapes’ ripeness (meaning sugar level) at harvest. Most table-wine grapes are harvested at between 21 and 25 Brix. To get an alcohol conversion level, multiply the stated Brix by .55.
Browning: Describes a wine’s color, and is a sign that a wine is mature and may be faded. A bad sign in young red (or white) wines, but less significant in older wines. Wines 20 to 30 years old may have a brownish edge yet still be enjoyable.
Brut: A general term used to designate a relatively dry-finished Champagne or sparkling wine, often the driest wine made by the producer.
Burnt: Describes wines that have an overdone, smoky, toasty or singed edge. Also used to describe overripe grapes.
Buttery: Indicates the smell of melted butter or toasty oak. Also a reference to texture, as in “a rich, buttery Chardonnay.”
Carbonic Maceration: Fermentation of whole, uncrushed grapes in a carbon dioxide atmosphere. In practice, the weight of the upper layers of grapes in a vat will break the skins of the lowest layer; the resultant wine is partly a product of carbonic maceration and partly of traditional fermentation of juice.
Cask Number: A meaningless term sometimes used for special wines, as in Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Cask 23, but often applied to ordinary wines.
Cedary: Denotes the smell of cedar wood associated with mature Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet blends aged in French or American oak.
Cellared By: Means the wine was not produced at the winery where it was bottled. It usually indicates that the wine was purchased from another source.
Chaptalization: The addition of sugar to juice before and/or during fermentation, used to boost sugar levels in underripe grapes and alcohol levels in the subsequent wines. Common in northern European countries, where the cold climates may keep grapes from ripening, but forbidden in southern Europe (including southern France and all of Italy) and California.
Charmat: Mass production method for sparkling wine. Indicates the wines are fermented in large stainless steel tanks and later drawn off into the bottle under pressure. Also known as the “bulk process.” See also Méthode Champenoise.
Chewy: Describes rich, heavy, tannic wines that are full-bodied.
Cigar Box: A descriptor for a cedary aroma.
Clean: Fresh on the palate and free of any off-taste. Does not necessarily imply good quality.
Clone: A group of vines originating from a single, individual plant propagated asexually from a single source. Clones are selected for the unique qualities of the grapes and wines they yield, such as flavor, productivity and adaptability to growing conditions.
Closed: Describes wines that are concentrated and have character, yet are shy in aroma or flavor.
Cloudiness: Lack of clarity to the eye. Fine for old wines with sediment, but it can be a warning signal of protein instability, yeast spoilage or re-fermentation in the bottle in younger wines.
Cloying: Describes ultra-sweet or sugary wines that lack the balance provided by acid, alcohol, bitterness or intense flavor.
Coarse: Usually refers to texture, and in particular, excessive tannin or oak. Also used to describe harsh bubbles in sparkling wines.
Cold Stabilization: A clarification technique in which a wine’s temperature is lowered to 32° F, causing the tartrates and other insoluble solids to precipitate.
Complexity: An element in all great wines and many very good ones; a combination of richness, depth, flavor intensity, focus, balance, harmony and finesse.
Concentrated: Fine wines, whether they are light-, medium-, or full-bodied, should have concentrated flavors. Concentrated denotes that the wine has a depth and richness of fruit that gives it appeal and interest. Deep is a synonym for concentrated.
Cork taint: undesirable aromas and flavors in wine often associated with wet cardboard and/or moldy basements.
Corked: Describes a wine having the off-putting, musty, moldy-newspaper flavor and aroma and dry aftertaste caused by a tainted cork.
Crowd Pleaser: A value wine (under $15) that can be enjoyed by pretty much any wine drinker. They are always balanced (not too oaky, not too alcoholic, not a “fruit bomb”) and therefore very easy to drink. Sure sign of a crowd pleaser wine is when you find yourself saying, “We already drank the WHOLE bottle?” This is a wine you buy by the case.
Crush: Harvest season when the grapes are picked and crushed.
Cuvee: A blend or special lot of wine.
Decadent: If you are an ice cream and chocolate lover, you know the feeling of eating a huge sundae of rich vanilla ice cream lavished with hot fudge and real whipped cream. If you are a wine enthusiast, a wine loaded with opulent, even unctuous layers of fruit, with a huge bouquet, and a plump, luxurious texture can be said to be decadent.
Decanting: A process for separating the sediment from a wine before drinking. Accomplished by slowly and carefully pouring the wine from its bottle into another container.
Delicate: Used to describe light- to medium-weight wines with good flavors. A desirable quality in wines such as Pinot Noir or Riesling.
Demi-Sec: In the language of Champagne, a term relating to sweetness. It can be misleading; although demi-sec means half-dry, demi-sec sparkling wines are usually slightly sweet to medium sweet.
Dense: Describes a wine that has concentrated aromas on the nose and palate. A good sign in young wines.
Depth: Describes the complexity and concentration of flavors in a wine, as in a wine with excellent or uncommon depth. Opposite of shallow.
Diffuse: Wines that smell and taste unstructured and unfocused are said to be diffuse. When red wines are served at too warm a temperature they often become diffuse.
Dirty: Covers any and all foul, rank, off-putting smells that can occur in a wine, including those caused by bad barrels or corks. A sign of poor winemaking.
Disgorgement: A step in the traditional process of sparkling wine production wherein frozen sediment is removed from the neck of the bottle.
Dosage: In bottle-fermented sparkling wines, a small amount of wine (usually sweet) that is added back to the bottle once the yeast sediment that collects in the neck of the bottle is removed.
Double Decanting: This is done by first decanting the wine into a decanter and then rinsing the original bottle out with non-chlorinated water and then immediately re-pouring the wine from the decanter back into the bottle. It varies with the wine as to how long you cork it.
Dry: Having no perceptible taste of sugar. Most wine tasters begin to perceive sugar at levels of 0.5 percent to 0.7 percent.
Drying Out: Losing fruit (or sweetness in sweet wines) to the extent that acid, alcohol or tannin dominate the taste. At this stage the wine will not improve.
Dumb: Describes a phase young wines undergo when their flavors and aromas are undeveloped. A synonym of closed.
Early Harvest: Denotes a wine made from early-harvested grapes, usually lower than average in alcoholic content or sweetness.
Earthy: Used to describe both positive and negative attributes in wine. At its best, a pleasant, clean quality that adds complexity to aroma and flavors. The flip side is a funky, barnyardy character that borders on or crosses into dirtiness.
Elegant: Used to describe wines of grace, balance and beauty.
Empty: Similar to hollow; devoid of flavor and interest.
Enology: The science and study of winemaking. Also spelled oenology.
Estate-Bottled: A term once used by producers for those wines made from vineyards that they owned and that were contiguous to the winery “estate.” Today it indicates the winery either owns the vineyard or has a long-term lease to purchase the grapes.
Estufa (Portugal): The estufa are the hothouses where Madiera is made. The heating of the wine is an essential part in the development of the character and flavour of Madeira wine.
Ethyl Acetate: A sweet, vinegary smell that often accompanies acetic acid. It exists to some extent in all wines and in small doses can be a plus. When it is strong and smells like nail polish, it’s a defect.
Extra-dry: A common Champagne term not to be taken literally. Most Champagnes so labeled are sweet.
Extract: Richness and depth of concentration of fruit in a wine. Usually a positive quality, although high extract wine can also be highly tannic.
Fading: Describes a wine that is losing color, fruit or flavor, usually as a result of age.
Fat: Full-bodied, high alcohol wines low in acidity give a “fat” impression on the palate. Can be a plus with bold, ripe, rich flavors; can also suggest the wine’s structure is suspect.
Fermentation: The process by which yeast converts sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide; turns grape juice into wine.
Field Blend: When a vineyard is planted to several different varieties and the grapes are harvested together to produce a single wine, the wine is called a field blend.
Filtering: The process of removing particles from wine after fermentation. Most wines unless otherwise labeled are filtered for both clarity and stability.
Fining: A technique for clarifying wine using agents such as bentonite (powdered clay), gelatin or egg whites, which combine with sediment particles and cause them to settle to the bottom, where they can be easily removed.
Finish: The key to judging a wine’s quality is finish, also called aftertaste–a measure of the taste or flavors that linger in the mouth after the wine is tasted. Great wines have rich, long, complex finishes.
Flabby: Soft, feeble, lacking acidity on the palate.
Flat: Having low acidity; the next stage after flabby. Can also refer to a sparkling wine that has lost its bubbles.
Fleshy: Soft and smooth in texture, with very little tannin.
Flinty: A descriptor for extremely dry white wines such as Sauvignon Blanc, whose bouquet is reminiscent of flint struck against steel.
Floral: Literally, having the characteristic aromas of flowers. Mostly associated with white wines.
Foudre: Large oak barrels that vary enormously in size but are significantly larger than the normal oak barrel used in Bordeaux or the piece used in Burgundy.
Fortified: Denotes a wine whose alcohol content has been increased by the addition of brandy or neutral spirits.
Foxy: Term used to describe the unique musky and grapey character of many native American labrusca varieties.
Free-Run Juice: The juice that escapes after the grape skins are crushed or squeezed prior to fermentation.
French Oak: The traditional wood for wine barrels, which supplies vanilla, cedar and sometimes butterscotch flavors. Used for red and white wines. Much more expensive than American oak, it can cost more than $500 per barrel, as opposed to $250 for American.
Fresh: Having a lively, clean and fruity character. An essential for young wines.
Fruity: Having the aroma and taste of fruit or fruits.
Graceful: Describes a wine that is harmonious and pleasing in a subtle way.
Grapey: Characterized by simple flavors and aromas associated with fresh table grapes; distinct from the more complex fruit flavors (currant, black cherry, fig or apricot) found in fine wines.
Grassy: A signature descriptor for Sauvignon Blanc and a pleasant one unless overbearing and pungent.
Green: Tasting of unripe fruit. Wines made from unripe grapes will often possess this quality. Pleasant in Riesling and Gewürztraminer.
Green Harvest: The trimming of unripe grapes to decrease crop yields, thereby improving the concentration of the remaining bunches.
Grip: A welcome firmness of texture, usually from tannin, which helps give definition to wines such as Cabernet and Port.
Half-Bottle: Holds 375 milliliters or 3/8 liter.
Hall of Fame Wine: A great QPR (quality price ratio) wine. Not necessarily inexpensive but it is worth what you pay for it and it is so good, you buy it over and over. This is a wine you recommend to friends.
Hand sell: producers that either have small or no marketing budgets rely on retail stores or restaurants to sell their wines. These wines need to be recommended at point of purchase or “hand sold.”
Hard: Firm; a quality that usually results from high acidity or tannins. Often a descriptor for young red wines.
Harmonious: Well balanced, with no component obtrusive or lacking.
Harsh: Used to describe astringent wines that are tannic or high in alcohol.
Hazy: Used to describe a wine that has small amounts of visible matter. A good quality if a wine is unfined and unfiltered.
Heady: Used to describe high-alcohol wines.
Hearty: Used to describe the full, warm, sometimes rustic qualities found in red wines with high alcohol.
Herbaceous: Denotes the taste and smell of herbs in a wine. A plus in many wines such as Sauvignon Blanc, and to a lesser extent Merlot and Cabernet. Herbal is a synonym.
Hollow: Lacking in flavor. Describes a wine that has a first taste and a short finish, and lacks depth at mid-palate.
Hot: High alcohol, unbalanced wines that tend to burn with “heat” on the finish are called hot. Acceptable in Port-style wines.
Imperial: An oversized bottle holding 4 to 6 liters; the equivalent of eight standard bottles.
Important: Wines/Wineries that are very well known or respected. Often they are highly rated (above 95 points), hard to find, and/or expensive.
Integrated: A tasting term. When the components of wine, such as tannin, oak and acidity, fade as the wine develops, they are said to have integrated.
Interesting: Not all wines are for the masses. Some wines are made by or for serious wine geeks. Very memorable but tthey will probably not be your everyday go-to wine. I was always told if you don’t have anything nice to say…call it “interesting.”
Isinglass: A fining agent comprising protein from fresh-water fish.
Jerez y Manzanilla (Spain): The Denominación de Origen in Spain famous for its dry and sweet fortified wines collectively known as Sherry. Common types of Sherry include Fino, Manzanilla, Amontillado and Oloroso. Less common types include Palo Cortado.
Jeroboam: An oversized bottle holding the equivalent of six bottles. In Champagne, a Jeroboam holds four bottles.
Late Harvest: On labels, indicates that a wine was made from grapes picked later than normal and at a higher sugar (Brix) level than normal. Usually associated with botrytized and dessert-style wines.
Leafy: Describes the slightly herbaceous, vegetal quality reminiscent of leaves. Can be a positive or a negative, depending on whether it adds to or detracts from a wine’s flavor.
Lean: A not necessarily critical term used to describe wines made in an austere style. When used as a term of criticism, it indicates a wine is lacking in fruit.
Lees: Sediment remaining in a barrel or tank during and after fermentation. Often used as in sur lie aging, which indicates a wine is aged “on its lees.” See also sur lie.
Legs: The viscous droplets that form and ease down the sides of the glass when the wine is swirled.
Limousin: A type of oak cask from Limoges, France. See also French oak.
Lingering: Used to describe the flavor and persistence of flavor in a wine after tasting. When the aftertaste remains on the palate for several seconds, it is said to be lingering.
Lively: Describes wines that are fresh and fruity, bright and vivacious.
Lush: Wines that are high in residual sugar and taste soft or viscous are called lush.
Maceration: During fermentation, the steeping of the grape skins and solids in the wine, where alcohol acts as a solvent to extract color, tannin and aroma from the skins.
Made and Bottled By: Indicates only that the winery crushed, fermented and bottled a minimum of 10 percent of the wine in the bottle. Very misleading.
Maderized: Describes the brownish color and slightly sweet, somewhat caramelized and often nutty character found in mature dessert-style wines.
Magnum: An oversized bottle that holds 1.5 liters.
Malic: Describes the green apple-like flavor found in young grapes which diminishes as they ripen and mature.
Malolactic Fermentation: A secondary fermentation occurring in most wines, this natural process converts malic acid into softer lactic acid and carbon dioxide, thus reducing the wine’s total acidity. Adds complexity to whites such as Chardonnay and softens reds such as Cabernet and Merlot.
Mature: Ready to drink.
Meaty: Describes red wines that show plenty of concentration and a chewy quality. They may even have an aroma of cooked meat.
Mercaptans: An unpleasant, rubbery smell of old sulfur; encountered mainly in very old white wines.
Meritage: An invented term, used by California wineries, for Bordeaux-style red and white blended wines. Combines “merit” with “heritage.” The term arose out of the need to name wines that didn’t meet minimal labeling requirements for varietals (i.e., 75 percent of the named grape variety). For reds, the grapes allowed are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petite Verdot and Malbec; for whites, Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon. Joseph Phelps Insignia and Flora Springs Trilogy are examples of wines whose blends vary each year, with no one grape dominating.
Méthode Champenoise: The labor-intensive and costly process whereby wine undergoes a secondary fermentation inside the bottle, creating bubbles. All Champagne and most high-quality sparkling wine is made by this process. See also Charmat.
Methuselah: An extra-large bottle holding 6 liters; the equivalent of eight standard bottles.
Monopole: Used to denote a vineyard owned exclusively by one proprietor, the word monopole appears on the label of a wine made from such a vineyard.
Murky: More than deeply colored; lacking brightness, turbid and sometimes a bit swampy. Mainly a fault of red wines.
Must: The unfermented juice of grapes extracted by crushing or pressing; grape juice in the cask or vat before it is converted into wine.
Musty: Having an off-putting moldy or mildewy smell. The result of a wine being made from moldy grapes, stored in improperly cleaned tanks and barrels, or contaminated by a poor cork.
Nebuchadnezzar: A giant wine bottle holding 15 liters; the equivalent of 20 standard bottles.
Negociant (Negociant-Eleveur): A French wine merchant who buys grapes and vinifies them, or buys wines and combines them, bottles the result under his own label and ships them. Particularly found in Burgundy. Two well-known examples are Joseph Drouhin and Louis Jadot.
New World Wine Countries: Generally everywhere but Europe (North America, South America, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.)
New World Wine Labels: Consumer friendly for wine novices and English speaking countries. Grape varietal or blend (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, etc.) is prominently displayed. Many terms such as Old Vines, Reserve, etc. have no legal meaning). Often contain aroma/flavor notes as well.
New World Wine Style: Not as concerned with history or tradition. Generally very fruit forward and sometimes very ripe fruit. Wine maker has a much greater role in the final wine. Relying on the use of technology and science, wines strive to have a consistent style irregardless of conditions in the vineyard.
Noble Rot: See Botrytis cinerea.
Non-Vintage: Blended from more than one vintage. This allows the vintner to keep a house style from year to year. Many Champagnes and sparkling wines are nonvintage. Also, Sherry and the nonvintage Ports, the tawnies and the rubies.
Nose: The character of a wine as determined by the olfactory sense. Also called aroma; includes bouquet.
Nouveau: A style of light, fruity, youthful red wine bottled and sold as soon as possible. Applies mostly to Beaujolais.
Nutty: Used to describe oxidized wines. Often a flaw, but when it’s close to an oaky flavor it can be a plus.
Oaky: Describes the aroma or taste quality imparted to a wine by the oak barrels or casks in which it was aged. Can be either positive or negative. The terms toasty, vanilla, dill, cedary and smoky indicate the desirable qualities of oak; charred, burnt, green cedar, lumber and plywood describe its unpleasant side. See also American oak, French oak.
Off: If a wine is not showing its true character, or is flawed or spoiled in some way, it is said to be “off.”
Off-Dry: Indicates a slightly sweet wine in which the residual sugar is barely perceptible 0.6 percent to 1.4 percent.
Old World Wine Countries: Generally refers to Europe (France, Italy, Spain, Germany, Austria, Portugal).
Old World Wine Labels: Certified wine growing region (location) is most prominently displayed, along with producer. Most of label is in native language. Terms on the label such as reserve or superior, have legal definitions and are guaranteed. Labeling is geared toward wine enthusiasts or consumers with formal knowledge.
Old World Wine Style: Influenced by long history and established traditions. Generally the terroir (grapes, soil, weather) directly translates into the wine, very minimal intervention is made by the wine maker. Wines are classified as savory and tend to be dominated by something other than fruit (earth, spice, mineral). Relying mostly on what mother nature provides, wines strive to reflect the growing conditions, even if they are very different from vintage to vintage (year to year).
Oxidized: Describes wine that has been exposed too long to air and taken on a brownish color, losing its freshness and perhaps beginning to smell and taste like Sherry or old apples. Oxidized wines are also called maderized or sherrified.
Passito: Italian wine-making process in which harvested grapes are placed in a dry room (traditionally on straw mats) to dry into raisins before being pressed.
PH: A chemical measurement of acidity or alkalinity; the higher the pH the weaker the acid. Used by some wineries as a measurement of ripeness in relation to acidity. Low pH wines taste tart and crisp; higher pH wines are more susceptible to bacterial growth. A range of 3.0 to 3.4 is desirable for white wines, while 3.3 to 3.6 is best for reds.
Peak: The time when a wine tastes its best–very subjective.
Peppery: A peppery quality to a wine is usually noticeable in many Rhône wines that have an aroma of black or white pepper and a pungent flavor.
Perfumed: Describes the strong, usually sweet and floral aromas of some white wines.
Phylloxera: Tiny aphids or root lice that attack Vitis vinifera roots. The disease was widespread in both Europe and California during the late 19th century, and returned to California in the 1980s.
Potent: Intense and powerful.
Press Wine (or Pressing): The juice extracted under pressure after pressing for white wines and after fermentation for reds. Press wine has more flavor and aroma, deeper color and often more tannins than free-run juice. Wineries often blend a portion of press wine back into the main cuvée for added backbone.
Private Reserve: This description, along with Reserve, once stood for the best wines a winery produced, but lacking a legal definition many wineries use it or a spin-off (such as Proprietor’s Reserve) for rather ordinary wines. Depending upon the producer, it may still signify excellent quality.
Produced and Bottled By: Indicates that the winery crushed, fermented and bottled at least 75 percent of the wine in the bottle.
Pruny: Having the flavor of overripe, dried-out grapes. Can add complexity in the right dose.
Puckery: Describes highly tannic and very dry wines.
Pungent: Having a powerful, assertive smell linked to a high level of volatile acidity.
QbA (Germany): The labelling term QbA (Qualitätswein bestimmter Anbaugebiete) literally describes a “quality wine from a designated region”. It is a lower quality category than QmP, permitting the addition of süssreserve.
QmP (Germany): The term QmP is an abbreviation for Qualitätswein mit Prädikat, which literally interprets as “quality wine with distinction”. The distinction is the Prädikat, which contains a number of categories which depend on must weight. This is the classification for the vast majority of German wines of any interest.
Quinta (Portugal): A term describing a farm, estate or vineyard. The individual quintas of the Port houses became of interest with the development of the single quinta Ports, initially bottled in non-declared vintages but now bottled in these years as well by some houses.
Racking: The practice of moving wine by hose from one container to another, leaving sediment behind. For aeration or clarification.
Raisiny: Having the taste of raisins from ultra-ripe or overripe grapes. Can be pleasant in small doses in some wines.
Raw: Young and undeveloped. A good descriptor of barrel samples of red wine. Raw wines are often tannic and high in alcohol or acidity.
Reduced: Commonly used to describe a wine that has not been exposed to air.
Rehoboam: Oversized bottle equivalent to 4.5 liters or six regular bottles.
Residual Sugar: Unfermented grape sugar in a finished wine.
Rich: Wines with generous, full, pleasant flavors, usually sweet and round in nature, are described as rich. In dry wines, richness may be supplied by high alcohol and glycerin, by complex flavors and by an oaky vanilla character. Decidedly sweet wines are also described as rich when the sweetness is backed up by fruity, ripe flavors.
Ripasso: LIterally, “passing again”, Ripasso is a traditional production technique that subjects basic Valpolicella wine to a second fermentation on Amarone lees.
Robust: Means full-bodied, intense and vigorous, perhaps a bit overblown.
Round: Describes a texture that is smooth, not coarse or tannic.
Rustic: Describes wines made by old-fashioned methods or tasting like wines made in an earlier era. Can be a positive quality in distinctive wines that require aging. Can also be a negative quality when used to describe a young, earthy wine that should be fresh and fruity.
Saignée: French term which means “bleeding the vats”. This is a method of making rosé wines as a by-product of red wine fermentation. Therefore, the wine was not specifically produced as a rose but rather as a drained off red.
Salmanazar: An oversized bottle holding 9 liters, the equivalent of 12 regular bottles.
Savory: A general descriptive term that denotes that the wine is round, flavorful, and interesting to drink.
Smoky: Usually an oak barrel byproduct, a smoky quality can add flavor and aromatic complexity to wines.
Soft: Describes wines low in acid or tannin (sometimes both), making for easy drinking. Opposite of hard.
Spicy: A descriptor for many wines, indicating the presence of spice flavors such as anise, cinnamon, cloves, mint and pepper which are often present in complex wines.
Stale: Wines that have lost their fresh, youthful qualities are called stale. Opposite of fresh.
Stalky: Smells and tastes of grape stems or has leaf-like or hay-like aromas.
Stemmy: Describes a wine with green flavors of unripe fruit or wood, usually a result of a wine being fermented too long with the grape stems.
Structure: The interaction of elements such as acid, tannin, glycerin, alcohol and body as it relates to a wine’s texture and mouthfeel. Usually preceded by a modifier, as in “firm structure” or “lacking in structure.”
Subtle: Describes delicate wines with finesse, or flavors that are understated rather than full-blown and overt. A positive characteristic.
Sulfites: All wines have sulfites (sulfur dioxide), they are a naturally occurring byproduct of fermentation. Some wines have additional (added) sulfites to keep them fresh and to keep them from browning.
Sulfite statement (on labels): In the United States, wines containing more than 10 parts per million of sulfur dioxide-which is basically all wines, are required to carry a label statement such as “Contains Sulfites.” This is on all wines produced and/or imported into the United States for sale.
Supple: Describes texture, mostly with reds, as it relates to tannin, body and oak. A positive characteristic.
Sur Lie: Wines aged sur lie (French for “on the lees”) are kept in contact with the dead yeast cells and are not racked or otherwise filtered. Mainly done for whites, to enrich them (it is a normal part of fermenting red wine, and so is not noted). Originated in Burgundy, with Chardonnay. Popular in Muscadet, Alsace, Germany (Riesling and Pinot Gris) and California. Adds complexity to Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc; can occasionally be overdone and lead to a leesy flavor that is off-putting.
Tanky: Describes dull, dank qualities that show up in wines aged too long in tanks.
Tannin: The mouth-puckering substance–found mostly in red wines–that is derived primarily from grape skins, seeds and stems, but also from oak barrels. Tannin acts as a natural preservative that helps wine age and develop.
Tart: Sharp-tasting because of acidity. Occasionally used as a synonym for acidic.
Tartaric Acid: The principal acid in wine.
Tartrates: Harmless crystals of potassium bitartrate that may form in cask or bottle (often on the cork) from the tartaric acid naturally present in wine.
Terroir: The over all environment within which a given varietal grows. Derived from the French word for Earth, “Terre.”
Thin: Lacking body and depth.
Tight: Describes a wine’s structure, concentration and body, as in a “tightly wound” wine. Closed or compact are similar terms.
Tinny: Metallic tasting.
Tired: Limp, feeble, lackluster.
Toasty: Describes a flavor derived from the oak barrels in which wines are aged. Also, a character that sometimes develops in sparkling wines.
Tobacco: Some red wines have the scent of fresh tobacco. It is a distinctive and wonderful smell in wine
Ullage: The small pocket of air in the bottle between the top of the wine and the cork. Most wines are bottled for immediate consumption and the ullage should be small, and of no concern. When purchasing older bottles, however, knowing the ullage can be an indicator of the quality of the wine. It is certainly an indicator of price – wines with a lot of ullage will fetch a much lower price than those with wine up to top-shoulder or into the neck of the bottle. A large ullage may suggest deterioration of the wine through oxidation.
Vegetal: Some wines contain elements in their smell and taste which are reminiscent of plants and vegetables. In Cabernet Sauvignon a small amount of this vegetal quality is said to be part of varietal character. But when the vegetal element takes over, or when it shows up in wines in which it does not belong, those wines are considered flawed. Wine scientists have been able to identify the chemical constituent that makes wines smell like asparagus and bell peppers.
Velvety: Having rich flavor and a silky, sumptuous texture.
Viniculture: The science or study of grape production for wine and the making of wine.
Vinous: Literally means “winelike” and is usually applied to dull wines lacking in distinct varietal character.
Vintage Date: Indicates the year that a wine was made. In order to carry a vintage date in the United States, for instance, a wine must come from grapes that are at least 95 percent from the stated calendar year. See also Non-Vintage.
Vinted By: Largely meaningless phrase that means the winery purchased the wine in bulk from another winery and bottled it.
Vintner: Translates as wine merchant, but generally indicates a wine producer/or winery proprietor.
Vintner-grown: Means wine from a winery-owned vineyard situated outside the winery’s delimited viticultural area.
Viscous: Viscous wines tend to be relatively concentrated, fat, almost thick wines with a great density of fruit extract, plenty of glycerin, and high alcohol content. If they have balancing acidity, they can be tremendously flavorful and exciting wines. If they lack acidity, they are often flabby and heavy.
Viticultural Area: Defines a legal grape-growing area distinguished by geographical features, climate, soil, elevation, history and other definable boundaries. Rules vary widely from region to region, and change often. Just for one example, in the United States, a wine must be 85 percent from grapes grown within the viticultural area to carry the appellation name. For varietal bottling, a minimum of 75 percent of that wine must be made from the designated grape variety. See also appellation d’origine côntrolée.
Viticulture: The cultivation, science and study of grapes.
Vitis Vinifera: Classic European wine-making species of grape. Examples include Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. Compare Vitis labrusca, North American grape species used mainly for New York state wines. For example, Concord.
Volatile: (or Volatile Acidity) Describes an excessive and undesirable amount of acidity, which gives a wine a slight sour and vinegary edge. At very low levels (0.1 percent), it is largely undetectable; at higher levels it is considered a major defect.
Weight: A tasting term. When tasters refer to the weight of a wine, I think most are referring to its body.
Woody: When a wine is overly oaky it is often said to be woody. Oakiness in a wine’s bouquet and taste is good up to a point. Once past that point, the wine is woody and its fruity qualities are masked by excessive oak aging.
WTF Wine: This is my term for a wine that doesn’t have the grape varietal on the bottle has no consumer friendly information on the back label and will therefore be passed over in a wine retail store. If this term is not used along with “delicious” or “crowd pleaser” it may be for wine geeks only. See “interesting.”
Yeast: Micro-organisms that produce the enzymes which convert sugar to alcohol. Necessary for the fermentation of grape juice into wine.
Yield: The yield is the amount of wine produced in vineyard or estate, and is usually expressed in hectolitres per hectare. Yields vary according to the type of vine – some are heavy croppers, some yield less – and also with climate and soil. Yields may be influenced by the winemaker, who may perform a green harvest on order to reduce them. Low yields are associated with increased quality.
Zesty: A wine that is balanced between fruit and prominent acidity.
Zinfandel: These famous grapes of California produce wines with a vibrant berry character. DNA fingerprinting revealed that it is genetically equivalent to the Croatian grape Crljenak Kaštelanski, and also the Primitivo variety traditionally grown in the “heel” of Italy, where it was introduced in the 1700s.