A Glossary of Wine Terminology

A Glossary of Wine Terminology

A

Acidity: A naturally occurring component of every wine; the level of perceived sharpness; a key element to a wine’s longevity; a leading determinant of balance.

Alcohol: The end product of fermentation; technically ethyl alcohol resulting from the interaction of natural grape sugars and yeast; generally, above 12.5 percent in dry table wines.

Alsace: A highly regarded wine region in eastern France renowned for dry and sweet wines made from Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, and others.

Amarone: A succulent higher-alcohol red wine hailing from the Veneto region in northern Italy; made primarily from Corvina grapes dried on racks before pressing.

AOC: Appellation d’Origine Controlee, a French term for a denominated, governed wine region such as Margaux or Nuits-St.-Georges.

Aroma: A scent that is a component of the bouquet or nose; i.e. cherry is an aromatic component of a fruity bouquet.

AVA: American Viticultural Area; a denominated American wine region approved by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms.

B

Bacchus: The Roman god of wine, known as Dionysus in ancient Greece; a hybrid white grape from Germany.

Balance: The level of harmony between acidity, tannins, fruit, oak, and other elements in a wine; a perceived quality that is more individual than scientific.

Barrel Fermented: A process by which wine (usually white) is fermented in oak barrels rather than in stainless steel tanks; a richer, creamier, oakier style of wine.

Barrique: French for ‘barrel,’ generally a barrel of 225 liters.

Beaujolais: A juicy, flavorful red wine made from Gamay grapes grown in the region of the same name.

Beaujolais Nouveau: The first Beaujolais wine of the harvest; its annual release date is the third Thursday in November.

Blanc de Blancs: The name for Champagne made entirely from Chardonnay grapes.

Blanc de Noirs: The name for Champagne made entirely from red grapes, either Pinot Noir or Pinot Meunier, or both.

Blend: The process whereby two or more grape varieties are combined after separate fermentation; common blends include Cotes de Rhone and red and white Bordeaux.

Blush: A wine made from red grapes but which appears pink or salmon in color because the grape skins were removed from the fermenting juice before more color could be imparted; more commonly referred to as rose.

Bodega: Spanish for winery; literally the ‘room where barrels are stored.’

Body: The impression of weight on one’s palate; light, medium, and full are common body qualifiers.

Bordeaux: A city on the Garonne River in southwest France; a large wine-producing region with more than a dozen subregions; a red wine made mostly from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc; a white wine made from Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon.

Botrytis Cinerea: A beneficial mold that causes grapes to shrivel and sugars to concentrate, resulting in sweet, unctuous wines; common botrytis wines include Sauternes, Tokay, and German beerenauslese.

Bouquet: The sum of a wine’s aromas; how a wine smells as a whole; a key determinant of quality.

Breathe: The process of letting a wine open up via the introduction of air

Brix: A scale used to measure the level of sugar in unfermented grapes. Multiplying brix by 0.55 will yield a wine’s future alcohol level.

Brut: A French term used to describe the driest Champagnes.

Burgundy: A prominent French wine region stretching from Chablis in the north to Lyons in the south; Pinot Noir is the grape for red Burgundy, Chardonnay for white.

C

Cabernet Franc: A red grape common to Bordeaux; characteristics include an herbal, leafy flavor and a soft, fleshy texture.

Cabernet Sauvignon: A powerful, tannic red grape of noble heritage; the base grape for many red Bordeaux and most of the best red wines from California, Washington, Chile, and South Africa; capable of aging for decades.

Cap: Grape solids like pits, skins, and stems that rise to the top of a tank during fermentation; what gives red wines color, tannins and weight.

Cava: Spanish for ‘cellar,’ but also a Spanish sparkling wine made in the traditional Champagne style from Xarello, Macabeo, and Parellada grapes.

Chablis: A town and wine region east of Paris known for steely, minerally Chardonnay.

Champagne: A denominated region northeast of Paris in which Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier grapes are made into sparkling wine.

Chaptalization: The process of adding sugar to fermenting grapes in order to increase alcohol.

Chardonnay: Arguably the best and most widely planted white wine grape in the world.

Chateau: French for ‘castle;’ an estate with its own vineyards.

Chenin Blanc: A white grape common in the Loire Valley of France.

Chianti: A scenic, hilly section of Tuscany known for fruity red wines made mostly from Sangiovese grapes.

Claret: An English name for red Bordeaux.

Clos: Pronounced ‘Cloh,’ this French word once applied only to vineyards surrounded by walls.

Color: A key determinant of a wine’s age and quality; white wines grow darker in color as they age while red wines turn brownish orange.

Cooperative: A winery owned jointly by multiple grape growers.

Corked: A wine with musty, mushroomy aromas and flavors resulting from a cork tainted by TCA (trichloroanisol).

Crianza: A Spanish term for a red wine that has been aged in oak barrels for at least one year.

Cru: A French term for ranking a wine is inherent quality, i.e. cru bourgeois, cru classe, premier cru, and grand cru.

D

Decant: The process of transferring wine from a bottle to another holding vessel. The purpose is generally to aerate a young wine or to separate an older wine from any sediment.

Denominacion de Origen: Spanish for ‘appellation of origin;’ like the French AOC or Italian DOC.

Denominazione di Origine Controllata: Italian for a controlled wine region; similar to the French AOC or Spanish DO.

Disgorge: The process by which final sediments are removed from traditionally made sparkling wines prior to the adding of the dosage.

Dosage: A sweetened spirit added at the very end to Champagne and other traditionally made sparkling wines. It determines whether a wine is brut, extra dry, dry, or semisweet.

Douro: A river in Portugal as well as the wine region famous for producing Port wines.

Dry: A wine containing no more than 0.2 percent unfermented sugar.

E

Earthy: A term used to describe aromas and flavors that have a certain soil-like quality.

Enology: The science of wine production; an enologist is a professional winemaker; an enophile is someone who enjoys wine.

F

Fermentation: The process by which sugar is transformed into alcohol; how grape juice interacts with yeast to become wine.

Filtration: The process by which wine is clarified before bottling.

Fining: Part of the clarification process whereby elements are added to the wine, i.e. egg whites, in order to capture solids prior to filtration.

Fortified Wine: A wine in which brandy is introduced during fermentation; sugars and sweetness are high due to the suspended fermentation.

Fumé Blanc: A name created by Robert Mondavi to describe dry Sauvignon Blanc.

G

Gamay: A red grape exceedingly popular in the Beaujolais region of France.

Gewürztraminer: A sweet and spicy white grape popular in eastern France, Germany, Austria, northern Italy, and California.

Graft: A vineyard technique in which the bud-producing part of a grapevine is attached to an existing root.

Gran Reserva: A Spanish term used for wines that are aged in wood and bottles for at least five years prior to release.

Grand Cru: French for ‘great growth;’ the very best vineyards.

Green: A term used to describe underripe, vegetal flavors in a wine.

Grenache: A hearty, productive red grape popular in southern France as well as in Spain, where it is called Garnacha.

Grüner Veltliner: A white grape popular in Austria that makes lean, fruity, racy wines.

H

Haut: A French word meaning ‘high.’ It applies to quality as well as altitude.

Hectare: A metric measure equal to 10,000 square meters or 2.47 acres.

Hectoliter: A metric measure equal to 100 liters or 26.4 gallons.

Herbaceous: An aroma or flavor similar to green; often an indication of underripe grapes or fruit grown in a cool climate.

Hollow: A term used to describe a wine that does not have depth or body.

Hybrid: The genetic crossing of two or more grape types; common hybrids include Mueller-Thurgau and Bacchus

I

Ice Wine: From the German Eiswein, this is a wine made from frozen grapes; Germany, Austria, and Canada are leading ice wine producers.

J

Jeroboam: An oversized bottle equal to six regular 750 ml bottles.

K

Kabinett: A German term for a wine of quality; usually the driest of Germany’s best Rieslings.

Kosher: A wine made according to strict Jewish rules under rabbinical supervision.

L

Labrusca: Grape types native to North America such as Concord and Catawba.

Late Harvest: A term used to describe dessert wines made from grapes left on the vines for an extra long period, often until botrytis has set in.

Lees: Heavy sediment left in the barrel by fermenting wines; a combination of spent yeast cells and grape solids.

Legs: A term used to describe how the alcohol of the wine sticks to the inside of a wine glass after drinking or swirling.

Loire: A river in central France as well as a wine region famous for Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, and Cabernet Franc.

M

Maceration: The process of allowing grape juice and skins to ferment together, thereby imparting color, tannins, and aromas.

Madeira: A fortified wine that has been made on a Portuguese island off the coast of Morocco since the fifteenth century.

Maderized: Stemming from the word Madeira, this term means oxidization in a hot environment.

Magnum: A bottle equal to two regular 750 ml bottles.

Malbec: A hearty red grape of French origin now exceedingly popular in Argentina.

Malolactic Fermentation: A secondary fermentation, often occurring in barrels, whereby harsher malic acid is converted into creamier lactic acid.

Medoc: A section of Bordeaux on the west bank of the Gironde Estuary known for great red wines; Margaux, St.-Estephe, and Pauillac are three leading AOCs in the Medoc.

Merlot: A lauded red grape popular in Bordeaux and throughout the world; large amounts of Merlot exist in Italy, the United States, South America, and elsewhere.

Must: Crushed grapes about to go or going through fermentation.

N

Nebbiolo: A red grape popular in the Piedmont region of northwest Italy; the grape that yields both Barolo and Barbaresco.

Negociant: A French term for a person or company that buys wines from others and then labels it under his or her own name; stems from the French word for ‘shipper.’

Nose: Synonymous with bouquet; the sum of a wine’s aromas.

O

Oaky: A term used to describe woody aromas and flavors; butter, popcorn, and toast notes are found in ‘oaky’ wines.

Organic: Grapes grown without the aid of chemical-based fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides.

Oxidized: A wine that is no longer fresh because it was exposed to too much air.

P

pH: An indication of a wine’s acidity expressed by how much hydrogen is in it.

Phylloxera: A voracious vine louse that over time has destroyed vineyards in Europe and California.

Piedmont: An area in northwest Italy known for Barolo, Barbaresco, Barbera, Dolcetto, and Moscato.

Pinot Blanc: A white grape popular in Alsace, Germany, and elsewhere.

Pinot Gris: Also called Pinot Grigio, this is a grayish-purple grape that yields a white wine with a refreshing character.

Pinot Noir: The prime red grape of Burgundy, Champagne, and Oregon.

Pinotage: A hybrid between Pinot Noir and Cinsault that is grown almost exclusively in South Africa.

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

Pomace: The mass of skins, pits, and stems left over after fermentation; used to make grappa in Italy and marc in France.

Port: A sweet, fortified wine made in the Douro Valley of Portugal and aged in the coastal town of Vila Nova de Gaia; variations include Vintage, Tawny, Late Bottled Vintage, Ruby, White, and others.

Premier Cru: French for ‘first growth;’ a high-quality vineyard but one not as good as grand cru.

Press: The process by which grape juice is extracted prior to fermentation; a machine that extracts juice from grapes.

Primeur (en): A French term for wine sold while it is still in the barrels; known as ‘futures’ in English-speaking countries.

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

R

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

Reserva: A Spanish term for a red wine that has spent at least three years in barrels and bottles before release.

Reserve: A largely American term indicating a wine of higher quality; it has no legal meaning.

Rhône: A river in southwest France surrounded by villages producing wines mostly from Syrah; the name of the wine-producing valley in France.

Riddling: The process of rotating Champagne bottles in order to shift sediment toward the cork.

Riesling: Along with Chardonnay, one of the top white grapes in the world; most popular in Germany, Alsace, and Austria.

Rioja: A well-known region in Spain known for traditional red wines made from the Tempranillo grape.

Rosé: French for “pink” and used to describe a category of refreshing wines that are pink in color but are made from red grapes.

S

Sancerre: An area in the Loire Valley known mostly for wines made from Sauvignon Blanc.

Sangiovese: A red grape native to Tuscany; the base grape for Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino, Morellino di Scansano, and others.

Sauternes: A sweet Bordeaux white wine made from botrytized Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc.

Sauvignon Blanc: A white grape planted throughout the world; increasingly the signature wine of New Zealand.

Sherry: A fortified wine from a denominated region in southwest Spain; styles include Fino, Manzanilla, Oloroso, and Amontillado.

Shiraz: The Australian name for Syrah; also used in South Africa and sparingly in the United States.

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

Solera: The Spanish system of blending wines of different ages to create a harmonious end product; a stack of barrels holding wines of various ages.

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

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

Split: A quarter-bottle of wine; a single-serving bottle equal to 175 milliliters.

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

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

Super Tuscan: A red wine from Tuscany that is not made in accordance with established DOC rules; often a blended wine of superior quality containing Cabernet Sauvignon and/or Merlot.

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

Syrah: A red grape planted extensively in the Rhone Valley of France, Australia, and elsewhere; a spicy, full and tannic wine that usually requires aging before it can be enjoyed.

Sémillon: A plump white grape popular in Bordeaux and Australia; the base for Sauternes.

T

Table Wine: A term used to describe wines of between 10 and 14 percent alcohol; in Europe, table wines are those that are made outside of regulated regions or by unapproved methods.

Tannins: Phenolic compounds that exist in most plants; in grapes, tannins are found primarily in the skins and pits; tannins are astringent and provide structure to a wine; over time tannins die off, making wines less harsh.

Tempranillo: The most popular red grape in Spain; common in Rioja and Ribera del Duero.

Terroir: A French term for the combination of soil, climate, and all other factors that influence the ultimate character of a wine.

Tokay: A dessert wine made in Hungary from dried Furmint grapes.

Trocken: German for ‘dry.’

V

Varietal: A wine made from just one grape type and named after that grape; the opposite of a blend.

Veneto: A large wine-producing region in northern Italy.

Vin Santo: Sweet wine from Tuscany made from late-harvest Trebbiano and Malvasia grapes.

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

Viognier: A fragrant, powerful white grape grown in the Rhone Valley of France and elsewhere.

Viticulture: The science and business of growing wine grapes.

Y

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

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

Z

Zinfandel: A popular grape in California of disputed origin; scientists say it is related to grapes in Croatia and southern Italy.