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103 Wine Terms & Descriptions to Know

A list of general wine terms, broken down into 1) Wine Descriptions, 2) General Wine Terms, and 3) Winemaker Jargon...

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Wine Descriptions

Starting with 45 Terms used to describe wines such as Finish, Expression, Fruit-Forward, Foxy...

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Acidity

All wines are acidic, that is with a lower pH than that of water. However some wines are more acidic. The more acidic a wine is, the more it tends to give a "puckering" effect much like a lemon drop. Acidity is an important aspect for food and wine pairing.

 

Aftertaste

The sensation that is left after swallowing wine. Also known as the Finish - this is an important characteristic that is associated with the quality of the wine. High quality wines tend to have a pleasant, lingering finish that matches or balances the initial

 

Appearance

The visuals of a wine in terms of the clarity (not just "white" or "red"). Example - Clear or Cloudy. 

 

Aroma

Because the sense of taste is limited, Aromas in wine are often heavily analyzed.

Aromas are the "smells". Heavily influence the perceived quality of a wine. There are "Aroma Wheels" that can help discern and enjoy every flavor.

In contrast with Bouquet, Aromas are more associated with the smells that originate from the grape varietal, rather than winemaking technique.

 

Astringent

Descriptor for a wine that has compounds that bind with saliva, causing it to lose lubrication. Mostly found in red wines with high Tannin.

 

Attack

The initial sensations and flavors of wine after tasting.

 

Awkward

Without Balance

 

Balance

Generally refers to if a wines Acidity, Alcohol, Residual Sugar, Aromas, Flavors, and all other components work together for a pleasant experience. A "Balanced" wine have no characteristics that stick out in awkward or unpleasant manner.

 

Barnyard

Smelling like a barnyard - including the animals and their waste... not generally a positive descriptor for a wine.

 

Bitter

Taste sensation often caused by Tannin.

 

Body

The way wine feels in your mouth, typically "light", "medium", "heavy". Largely affected by the alcohol concentration.

 

Bouquet

In practice, another way of saying aroma. However - professionals are typically referring to smells that occur in winemaking (such as oak). Some use the term when referring to high quality wines with very pleasant Aromas.

 

Brilliant

Descriptor for appearance in wine - typically meaning sparkling, bright, or clear.

 

Buttery

Generally a taste that comes with Chardonnay's that have been Oaked - literally with a subtle "butter" Flavor.

 

Burnt

Having smokey characteristics - but often unpleasantly powering

 

Chewy

High in Tannin and Body

 

Clean

No blemish or faults in Flavor - but not typically bland. "Clean" wine has very little Aromas and Flavor to it.

 

Closed

Descriptor for a wine without much Expression.

 

Complex

A wine that has flavors that change as it is tasted

 

Corked

Descriptor for wine affected by Cork Taint

 

Cork Taint

Typically referring to wines affected by TCA, a compound that adds an unpleasant aroma to the wine. This aroma is often described as wet dog or cardboard.

TCA affects wines regardless of their quality - and is a byproduct of fungi that can grow on natural cork. 7% of wines were historically affected, significantly reduced by improvements in technology has brought this down to 2-3%.

 

Demi - sec

French for "half-dry", sweeter than dry wines (Sec) or Brut wines.

 

Dry

Not sweet

 

Earthy

Descriptor that generalizes many aromas such as: Dusty, Gravel, Stone, Wood, and similar specific descriptors - often also including some herbs (such as cut grass)

 

Elegant

Catch all for a wine that is Balanced and of good quality.

 

Expression

How noticeable a wines overall characteristics are. Low expression wines are often considered lower quality or to made to be consumed with food

 

Finish

Lingering taste left by the wine - the last impression made after swallowing.

See Aftertaste

 

Flavors

Combination of the perceptions on the tongue of acidity, sweet, bitter, and often using other foods to describe.

 

Foxy

Having notes of animal fur on the nose

 

Fruity (or Fruit-Forward)

Fruit notes (for example: apple, cherry, strawberry, plum) dominating the Aromas

 

Full - Bodied

Heavy in alcohol and mouthfeel

 

Herbaceous

Notes of herbs and/or vegetables (for example: straw, bell pepper, black olive) dominating the Aromas

 

Hot

Having a burn from too much alcohol

 

Length

Short, medium, or long - describing the amount of time the Finish or Aftertaste lasts.

 

Mature

Wines that have been Aged properly and are at their "peak" for consumption (or for bottling)

 

Mouth-Feel

The way a wine feels in a mouth - in terms of texture. This can include descriptors like "hot", or "silky".

 

Nose

"On the Nose" refers to the Aromas.

 

Oak

Wood that is used in many barrels - generally a more expensive and often sought after. 

May impart and oak or vanilla flavor on the wine.

 

Open

Opposite of Closed. Wines described as "open" give off stronger aromas. 

 

Rough

Very Tannic (having strong Tannin), usually a young wine, or often a catch-all for a wine that is strong in an area that is not particularly pleasant.

 

Sec

French for "Dry", not sweet

 

Spicy

Descriptor that a wine has the Aromas or Flavors of spices such as: cinnamon, peppercorn, clover, or nutmeg. These are often infused by the Oak Barrels.

 

Structure

Similar to Balance, but refers to how a wine's Acid, Alcohol, Residual Sugar and non-Flavor/non-Aroma components come together.

 

Sweet

Wines with more Residual Sugar and taste, well, sweet

 

Tannin

A Phenolic Compound (Polyphenols to be precise) that contributes to high Astringency and Bitter flavors. Tannins can come from the grape skins, stems, and even the Oak from Barrels.

Strong Tannin's can be softened by letting a glass Breath for 5 to 20 minutes or, with some high quality wines, by Aging in a cellar.

 

Texture

The way a wine feels in a mouth - in terms of texture. This can include descriptors like "hot", or "silky". See Mouth-Feel

 

Typicity

The degree to which a wine is reflects wines of that region. For example, a wine has high Typicity from California has strong fruit charac

 

Vegetal

Descriptor for wines that have Aromas deriving from vegitables. For example, green beans or bell pepper.

 

Young

Descriptor for a wine that has not been aged long. These wines can be pleasant, but do not typically have the effects of Aging.

 

 

Basic Wine Terms to Know

37 general terms you should know about wine like Anosmia and Vintage....

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A.O.C.

French organization - "Appellation d'origine Contrôlée". Governing body of wines and other agricultural products. The purpose is to protect producers in the region and the quality of the product. Critics of the system often say it is too controlling on the method of winemaking.

 

Aeration

Process of mixing the air with wine in a forced way. This is similar to Breathing, and serves the same purpose, however Aeration is generally forced through an aerator or swirling. If aeration performed just before drinking, the flavors and aromas can be enhanced. 

 

Aging

Process of storing wine, usually in a cellar at home after bottling or in a cellar at the winery, to improve its taste. At the winery, this is often done in Barrels prior to bottling. For example, Tannins in the wine can soften when tiny amounts of oxygen squeeze past the cork over time. Note: Very few wines are meant to age after being bottled.

 

Anosmia

Loss of the sense of smell. Can be temporary caused by sickness such as a cold or permanent caused by a head trauma.

 

Appellation (of Origin)

See A.O.C

Balanced wine's typically have good Structure as well.

 

Balthazar

12.0 L bottle, contains the equivalent of 16 x 750 mL standard bottles

 

Barrel

A wooden container for storing wine after fermentation and prior to bottling. Often made of oak or other materials and adding a vanilla, oak, or spice to the wine. Wine may be stored in a Barrel for weeks to years depending on the wine's design.

 

Blanc de Blanc

White sparkling wine made entirely from white grapes (such as Chardonnay). Often considered high quality.

 

Blend

A wine that is produced from multiple grape varietals. Most wines are a Blend to some extent, since wines listed as one grape varietal may have significant (up to 30%) additions of other varietals. Blends are often referred to as wines with no single majority of grape.

 

Blind Tasting

Tasting a wine in a more "clinical" manner to evaluate its properties and quality. The taster is given wine in a glass with no information.

This can be useful for unbiased appreciation of unknown - high quality wines and also as a trade skill for wine professionals.

 

Bodega

Literal translation from Spanish "Cellar" - this often is referring to a small wine and liquor store.

 

Bordeaux

One of the most famous wine regions in France. Known for its predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon blend.

 

Botrytis

Fungus that dries out grapes. Also referred to as "noble rot". 

 

Bottle Shock

The name of a popular 2008 Documentary and also refers to the condition where wine is "shocked" and unpleasant due to a journey across the sea or recent bottling.

 

Box Wine

Wine that can be found in a box. Often low quality, but some producers and packaging providers are attempting to change this standard.

 

Breath

Exposing wine, usually in a glass or Decanter, to air. The purpose is to cause a small amount of short term oxidation to release flavors and aromas in the wine. This can also soften highly Tannic wines. See Aeration for a more "aggressive" form of Breathing

 

Brut

Refers to "very" Dry wines, specifically sparkling wines or Champagne. Not sweet.

 

Claret

Wines in the style of the Bordeaux region in France

 

Cru Classé

Classification of French wines of higher quality. Exact names vary by region.

Other countries has adopted some similar techniques, such as the Spanish Reserva classifications of Crianza, Reserva, and Gran Reserva.

 

Cuvée

French for "tank", typically refers to a Blend.

 

Enology

Study of wines

 

Fermentation

Biological process where yeast eats sugar in grapes and releases various organic compounds including alcohols and ethyl esters (highly aromatic and often "pleasant").

 

Fining

Process where a "fining agent" is added to a vat of wine in order to clump suspended particles for easier filtration

 

Negociant

French for "dealer" or "merchant", these groups or individuals buy wine in some form and resell it. Some purchase grapes or unfermented juice and some just re-label.

 

Noble Rot

Fungus that dries out grapes. Also referred to as "noble rot". See Botrytis 

 

Oenology

Another spelling of Enology - the study of wines

 

Oxidation

Process in which wine reacts with oxygen. This is generally bad and makes wine go bad (We discuss here on "Why Does Wine Go Bad"). However - controlled "micro" oxidation in the Aging process can improve wine's taste over time by softening Tannin if it does not degrade the Phenolic Compounds.

 

Phylloxera

An infestation (bug) that led to the destruction of at least 2/3 of all vineyards in Europe during the late 19th century. Phylloxera is native to the North America, and Europe rebuilt its vineyards by grafting American rootstock - which had gave immunity to the bug.

 

Plonk

British term for low quality wine or table wine

 

Residual Sugar

Sugar that is leftover after the fermentation has stopped. That is - sugar that the yeast has not consumed. Generally, wines with less Residual Sugar as more Dry (less sweet). 

Measuring Residual Sugar is typically done in % (by weight) - with Dry Wines like Pinot Grigio typically in the 0.1 - 0.3% range and Sweet Wines like Port in the 5 to 15% range, with some Dessert and Fortified wines up to 20+%

 

Sommelier

A specialist in wine and wine service. Studies the history, method of tasting and pairing with foods. Focus is training to work in fine restaurants. 

 

TCA

See Cork Taint. TCA is an acronym for 2,4,6 - Trichloroanisole (say that three times fast), the chemical name for the component that can leave a wine smelling like wet dog or wet cardboard. This affects an estimated 2-3% of naturally corked bottles.

 

Terrior

French for "Earth" or "Soil". This is used to describe the place the grapes were grown, such as gravel, limestone, mud, and has evolved to encompass even the climate.

The role of Terrior in the end quality and components of a wine are debated.teristics versus a low Typicity for a wine from California that is very earthy.

 

Vinology

The study of the agricultural aspect of wine - vineyard and grape care. Although different than Enology - most school crossover these two studies as they are highly intertwined.

 

Vitis Vinifera

Refers to the species ("Vinifera") of grapes (of Genus "Vitis") that grow the most popular winemaking grapes such as Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon. This species is native to Europe (Mediterranean). Grapes such as the Concord grape are a part of a different species of grapes ("Vitis Labrusca").

 

Vintage

The year in which the grapes were harvested. This can be used to determine the likelihood of quality for the wine and also scarcity. For example - the 2017 vintage of wines from Napa, Sonoma, and Santa Barbera are likely to have affects from the fires in the regions including lower supply and possibly smoke damage.

 

VOC

Stands for Volatile Organic Compounds. Refers to the compounds that make up the Aroma's since they are present in the headspace just above the wine. These compounds often make up a majority of a wine's first impression and oxidize quicker than the compounds that remain liquid.

 

 

Winemaker Terms

21 Terms used by winemakers to describe parts of the process, the wine itself, and important processes that makes your wine taste fantastic...

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Alcohol

Organic compound found in wine. The amount of alcohol in wine is proportional to the amount of sugar in the grapes used to make wine.

 

Argon

Noble Gas that is used for its inerting properties. This Inert Gas is denser than air, allowing it to layer. 1% of the air we breath is Argon.

Though significantly more expensive than Nitrogen, Argon is often used in the wine bottling process for its superior oxidation prevention.

 

Biodynamic Wine

Wines created according to a Biodynamic calendar. This calendar determines days that are best for harvest, watering, pruning, and rest. Very few wineries follow this method.

 

Bung

A stopper for Barrels

 

Chaptalization

Adding sugar to (generally unfermented) grapes. Method used by winemakers to adjust ABV and sweetness to meet desired flavor profile or even regional requirements.

 

Citric Acid

Present in many fruits, this acid is often used to "correct" flavor profiles in the winemaking process or created through fermentation of grapes

 

Crush

One of the six major steps to making wine: Harvest, Crush, Pressing, Fermentation, Aging, and Barreling.

 

Inert Gas

Technology behind the ArT Wine Preserver that prevents oxidation.

Inert Gases are non-reactive gases that impart no Flavors or Aromas onto the wine, but take up physical space. Examples of which are Argon and Nitrogen

 

Lactic Acid

Research for full answer in progress...

 

Lees

Residual (dead) yeast. Typically removed through Racking.

"Sur lie" is a term meaning the wine is at least partially aged with the Lees left. Chardonnay and Champagne can be found in this manner and imparts a yeast flavor.

 

Malic Acid

Acid that is naturally found in fruits such as apples, imparts a sour taste.

 

Malolactic Fermentation

Secondary fermentation referred to as MLF that converts Malic Acid into Lactic Acid. This reaction reduces the sour taste and can impart a buttery taste from the byproduct diacetyl in wines such as Chardonnay. 

 

Must

Pressed grapes that is a mixture of the juice, stems, seeds, and skins.

 

Nitrogen

An Inert Gas that displaces oxygen. Unlike Argon, Nitrogen is around the same density as air and oxygen so its best used when it can be continuously pumped. 79% of the air we breath is Nitrogen.

 

Phenolic Compounds

Term for the large array of aromatic organic compounds found in foods that are particularly prominent in wine.

These compounds are associated with providing much of the Structure, Mouth-Feel, and other aspects of the wine. Often these are included as some of the Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) that contribute to the Aromas. 

 

Racking

Process of moving wine from one Barrel to another Barrel while leaving behind sediment and Lees.

 

Tartaric Acid

One of the major acids found in wine - that is responsible for the Tartaric Crystals that are often formed on overly chilled wines.

 

Ullage

Derived for the French word "Ulliage". Refers to the head-space in a Barrel or other container with wine.

 

Vinification

Another term for Winemaking - fermenting grapes to make an alcoholic beverage.

 

Yeast

Single-celled organisms that are used in winemaking to convert sugars into alcohols and other compounds.

Yeast is found in natural growing on grapes - which can be used for "Wild Fermentation" or can be grown in a lab for more controlled fermentation.

 

Yield

Measurement of the efficiency of vineyards in terms of the amount of grapes produced per acre.

 

 

Need more? Some great visuals can be found at:

Wine Folly - 40 Descriptors and What they Mean

 

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