107 Wine Terms Explained

Mar 28, 2024by Andrew Lowry
In alphabetical order
  1. Aeration - Exposing wine to air to allow it to breathe and open up its aromas and flavors.
  2. Acidic - Describes a wine with a crisp, tart, or sour taste due to its acidity level. All wines are more acidic than black coffee. Red (3.5-4.5 pH), White (2.5-3.5 pH). Lemonade sits at 2.5, give or take.
  3. Aged - Refers to wines that have been aged in barrels or bottles for an extended period. A wine needs to be ageworthy to age. If a wine is ageworthy and it was made 6-8 years ago, you can start to call it aged. Aging soften tannins. Color in red wine falls out with aging. Color in white wine becomes darker with aging. 
  4. Alcohol by Volume (ABV) - The measure of the percentage of alcohol content in a wine. Port and fortified wines reach as high as ~19%; red and white around ~15%
  5. Appellation - A legally defined and protected geographic area for wine production. Sometimes means a lot; sometimes means nothing. In an ideal world, appellations protect quality, and, since wine should taste like where it comes from, groups like tasting wines together.
  6. Aroma - The smells and scents that emanate from a wine. Maybe 80% of the taste of the wine! So smell your wines!
  7. Astringent - A mouth-drying, puckering sensation caused by tannins in wine. Some wine's tannins are more astringent than others based on phenolic ripeness and age. See aging. 
  8. Autolytic - A yeasty, bread-like aroma or flavor in wines that have undergone extended aging on lees. Adjective for a wine that underwent autolysis (usually a descriptor for white wines, including Champagne and other sparkling wine.)
  9. Backbone - A term used to describe a wine's structure and body. Or, Acid + tannin + body = backbone (synonymous with structure).
  10. Balanced - A wine in which the various components (acidity, tannins, alcohol, sugar, etc.) are in harmony.
  11. Barrique - A small oak barrel used for aging wine, typically holding 225 liters.
  12. Bâtonnage - The process of stirring the lees during aging (or elevage) to add complexity and texture. See lees. See elevage.
  13. Biodynamic - A holistic approach to viticulture and winemaking based on lunar cycles and natural preparations. Farming organically is typically a prerequisite. Especially if certified by Demeter.
  14. Bitter - A taste sensation often associated with high tannin levels or over-extraction. See phenolic bitterness.
  15. Blanc de Blancs - A sparkling wine made entirely from white grapes, typically Chardonnay in Champagne, or a mixture of white grapes in other sparkling wine regions.
  16. Blanc de Noirs - A sparkling wine made from red grapes with minimal skin contact. In Champagne, typically Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. 
  17. Blending - The process of combining different grape varieties or wines to create a desired style. Blending is an art and, often, the best wines in the world are blends, not single vineyard or varietal expressions. Single expressions is a new age thing.
  18. Body - The weight, fullness, or viscosity of a wine on the palate. Alcohol and sugar levels in a wine contribute to body primarily.
  19. Bouquet - The complex aromas of an aged wine, distinct from the primary fruit aromas. See primary aromas.
  20. Brambly - An aroma or flavor reminiscent of blackberries or wild bramble fruits.
  21. Bready - A yeasty, doughy aroma or flavor often found in aged Champagnes or lees-aged wines.
  22. Brettanomyces - A yeast strain that can produce barnyard, funky, or gamey aromas in wine.
  23. Brilliant - A term used to describe a wine with exceptional clarity and brightness. 
  24. Brix - A scientific term for the sugar content in grape juice or wine must. Helps predict the alcohol percentage of a wine after fermentation. If a winemaker wants a finished product with a certain ABV, they will pick the fruit and the correlating Brix level for that ABV.
  25. Brut - A term used to describe a dry or very dry style of sparkling wine. Could have 0-10 g of sugar in the bottle.
  26. Buttery - A rich, creamy, or buttery aroma or flavor often associated with oak-aged Chardonnay. Comes from malolactic conversion. 
  27. Cabernet Franc - A red grape variety known for its herbaceous, bell pepper, and tobacco notes.
  28. Cabernet Sauvignon - A popular red grape variety known for its full-bodied, structured wines.
  29. Cava - A Spanish sparkling wine produced using the traditional method.
  30. Cépage - A term referring to the grape variety or varieties used to make a particular wine.
  31. Chaptalization - The addition of sugar to unfermented grape must to increase alcohol levels. Not allowed in some appellations.
  32. Chardonnay - A popular white grape variety known for its versatility and ability to produce full-bodied, oaked styles.
  33. Chewy - A descriptor for a full-bodied, tannic red wine with a velvety texture.
  34. Clarity - The visual clarity and transparency of a wine, indicating its level of filtration.
  35. Closed - A term used to describe a wine that is still tight and not expressing its aromas or flavors fully. Needs to open up. See open
  36. Complex - A wine with multiple layers of aromas, flavors, and structural components. Typically the highest scoring wines, but not always the wines you want to be drinking. Simple wines have their place far more often.
  37. Corked - Or Cork Taint: A wine tainted by a musty, moldy aroma caused by a contaminated cork. Might smell like carboard or wet dog or a dank basement. This is a wine fault. See fault.
  38. Crisp - A wine with bright, refreshing acidity.
  39. Cuvée - A blend of different wines or grape varieties, often used for sparkling wines.
  40. Decant - The process of pouring wine from its bottle into a decanter (bigger vessel with higher air to wine ratio) to aerate it and separate it from sediment.
  41. Demi-sec - A term describing a sweet style of wine, typically applied to sparkling wines. Can have up to 42 grams of sugar per bottle. Still might not taste as sweet as you would think due to the wines super high acidity. Like lemonade.
  42. Depth - A descriptor for a wine with intense, concentrated flavors and complexity.
  43. Descorchado - The art of opening a bottle of wine with a corkscrew.
  44. Dosage - The addition of a sweetened wine mixture to dry sparkling wine to adjust its sweetness level. 
  45. Dry - A wine with little to no residual sugar after fermentation. Tasting not sweet. 
  46. Earthy - Aromas or flavors reminiscent of damp soil, mushrooms, or forest floor. This is a secondary aroma. See secondary aroma.
  47. Enology - The study of winemaking and wine science.
  48. Ester - Aromatic compounds produced during fermentation, often contributing fruity or floral notes.
  49. Extract - The measure of a wine's concentration, body, and intensity.
  50. Fermentation - The process by which yeast converts sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide.
  51. Fault - an unagreeable presence in a wine. Common faults are: cork taint, reduction, oxidation, volatile acidity, brettanomyces, or UV damage
  52. Fining - The process of clarifying wine by adding agents that remove suspended particles. Egg whites, fish skin, and other stuff are used to fine if the wine is fined.
  53. Finish - The persistence of flavors and sensations in the mouth after swallowing the wine.
  54. Flabby - A wine lacking in acidity and structure, often tasting flat or unbalanced.
  55. Floral - Aromas or flavors reminiscent of flowers, such as rose, violet, or jasmine.
  56. Fortified - A wine to which distilled spirits have been added, increasing its alcohol content.
  57. Foxy - A musty, musky aroma sometimes associated with certain grape varieties or winemaking faults.
  58. French Oak - Oak barrels from France, known for imparting spicy, vanilla, and coconut notes to wine.
  59. Fruit-forward - A wine with pronounced, vibrant fruit aromas and flavors.
  60. Funkiness - A descriptive term for earthy, barnyard, or savory aromas in certain wines. A common descriptor of poorly made natural wine. 
  61. Garnet - A deep red color with hints of purple, often seen in older red wines.
  62. Green - Vegetal, herbaceous, or underripe aromas or flavors, often associated with unripe grapes.
  63. Grip - A term describing the level of tannins and structure in a wine. Cabernet Sauvignon is always grippy.
  64. Hang Time - The amount of time grapes remain on the vine before harvest.
  65. Herbaceous - Aromas or flavors reminiscent of herbs, such as mint, sage, or thyme. This is a primary aroma.
  66. Hot - A descriptor for wines with an overly high alcohol content, creating a burning sensation. A negative description of a wine.
  67. Lactic - A buttery, creamy aroma or flavor resulting from malolactic fermentation. Typical in Chardonnays around the world. A tell tale of Chablis.
  68. Lay-down - A wine suitable for extended aging or cellaring. Not as popular as it once was. People want to drink their wine NOW!
  69. Lean - A wine with a lighter body and lower alcohol content.
  70. Legs - The viscous streaks or tears that form on the inside of a wine glass, indicating alcohol content and body. Not a sign of quality. 
  71. Lees - The sediment of yeast cells and grape solids that settles during fermentation and aging. Yeast dies at a certain alcohol percentage and will then fall to the bottom of the barrel. If kept there, the yeast and wine will experience autolysis and then the wine may be described as autolytic if it tastes yeasty/beery/bready.
  72. Length - The persistence of flavors on the palate after swallowing the wine. Longer length typically is a sign of a higher quality wine.
  73. Maceration - The process of soaking grape skins, seeds, and stems in the juice during fermentation. 
  74. Malolactic Fermentation - A secondary fermentation that converts harsh malic acid into softer lactic acid. Contributes that buttery smell/taste in California Chardonnay.
  75. Meritage - A term used for Bordeaux-style red and white blends in the United States. Rhymes with heritage.
  76. Méthode ancestrale - French term for a an ancient or ancestral style of sparkling wine made by bottling still-fermenting juice and allowing it to finish to dryness in bottle. Carbon dioxide gas created during the finishing step gives the wine effervescence, while the spent yeast gives it a hazy cast. Some producers disgorge the bottles to purge the wine of this sediment, while others prefer to preserve its savoryness and texture. The wine may sometimes have a touch of residual sugar.
  77. Mouthfeel - The tactile sensations and weight of a wine on the palate. Can be pleasant or unpleasant.
  78. Must - The freshly pressed grape juice containing skins, seeds, and stems.
  79. Natural Wine - motto: "nothing added or taken away," meaning in its purest form, no additions of chemicals of any kind, no intervening on the fermentation, no fining or filtering of the wine, no sulfites. In reality, this is an undefined term. In the natural wine community, 30-50 ppm sulfur is okay to be added, certain filtering methods are okay, and others are not, organic farming is a must but you don't have to be certified (scout's honor), and can be a term that shitty winemakers hide behind to make kombucha labeled as wine. 
  80. Noble Rot - A beneficial fungus (Botrytis cinerea) that concentrates sugars and flavors in grapes. Also the name of a killer wine magazine and wine bar in the UK. 
  81. Oaky - Aromas or flavors reminiscent of oak barrels, such as vanilla, spice, or toast. Or oak itself. Oak presence in wine is less popular than it used to be, bust still ever present and delicious when balanced.
  82. Off-dry - A wine with a slightly perceptible sweetness but not fully sweet. Could be up to 14g of sugar in a bottle give or take. 
  83. Old World - A term referring to the classic winemaking regions of Europe, such as France, Italy, and Spain. Starting to be a frowned upon phrase. 
  84. Open - A wine that is expressive and showing its full range of aromas and flavors. In a sentence: For the best experience, decant Grand Cru Classe Bordeaux for 60 minutes prior to drinking to allow it to open up fully.
  85. Orange Wine - A style of white wine made by leaving the juice in contact with the skins, resulting in an orange hue. This will impart loads of phenolic bitterness. 
  86. Oxidized - As a flaw, a wine exposed to excessive oxygen, resulting in flat, nutty, or sherry-like aromas. But, also a winemaking style in many parts of the world, namely, Italy (and in Italy, namely Barolo and Barbaresco) where this isn't a flaw or fault at all.
  87. Palate - The overall taste and mouthfeel experience of a wine. OR, of or belonging to a person. Their taste sensing system. Can be impressively trained and accurate as in Master Sommeliers' ability to blind taste a wine and know where it comes from based on their impeccable palate.
  88. Petillant - A wine with a light, gentle sparkle or fizz.
  89. Pétillant-Naturel (natural sparkling) - A catch-all term for practically any sparkling wine made in the méthode ancestrale, meaning the wine is bottled before primary fermentation is finished, without the addition of secondary yeasts or sugars. See méthode ancestrale.
  90. Phenolics - Compounds that contribute to the structure, color, and tannins in wine.
  91. Phenolic Bitterness - Bitterness derived from the phenolic compounds found in grape seeds, stems, and skins. Almost non-existent in white wines, but a telltale sign for thicker-skinned white grape varieties, or when a winemaker over extracts compound from their white grapes. 
  92. Plonk - A derogatory term for cheap, low-quality wine.
  93. Primary aroma - aromas derived from the grape variety itself.
  94. Punch-down - In winemaking, the process of pushing the cap of skins and solids back into the fermenting juice. (When fermenting the grape juice and skins and seeds and stems together, the fermenting juice will push the hard material up, and winemakers will punch it back down to extract more flavors and tannins from the hard material.)
  95. Racking - The process of transferring wine from one container to another, leaving sediment behind. A laborious, but excellent way to filter a wine (making it nice and clear without using chemicals or other organic matter like albumen).
  96. Reduction - A wine that has been deprived of oxygen too much during the winemaking proces. Will smell of rotten eggs or cooked cabbage. See fault.
  97. Residual Sugar - The amount of unfermented sugar remaining in a wine after fermentation. 
  98. Rift - A term used to describe a wine fault, often a unpleasant aroma or flavor.
  99. Robust - A full-bodied, richly flavored wine with significant structure.
  100. Rose - A pink-hued wine made from red grapes with limited skin contact or by using the Saignée method. See Saignée.
  101. Rustic - A wine with earthy, rugged, or simple flavors, often associated with Old World styles like Italy. Old World is a term that is starting to be frowned upon. Maybe use classic or traditional region.
  102. Saignée - The process of bleeding off or removing some juice from the must to concentrate the remaining wine. The bled off juice will become a rose wine. This is popular in Tavel, a region in the South of France known for ageworthy roses.
  103. Secondary Aroma - Derived from fermentation related microbial reactions. Smells like mushroom, wet forest floor, smoke, slate, tar, petroleum are secondary aromas and help tell where the wine came from. 
  104. Sediment - The solid particles that settle at the bottom of a bottle as a wine ages. Not a fault in wine. Use a filter or a decanter to remove. Can lead to an unpleasant drinking experience if not removed. 
  105. Sommelier - A trained wine professional responsible for selecting and serving wines. A now in the modern world, also responsible for cigars, beer, liquor, and other fermented beverages like sake and cider.
  106. Stemmy - A descriptor for green, vegetal aromas or flavors reminiscent of stems or stalks. Whole bunch fermentations can lead to a stemmy wine.
  107. Structure - The combination of acidity, tannins, and alcohol that provide a wine with its framework. Similar to backbone. See backbone.