Glossary of Wine Terms and Definitions
(Getting Rid of the Cloudiness)
Wine – that’s a pretty broad term in itself. There are as many branches of this topic are there are branches on a grapevine. They go from winemaking, to types of wine, to wine accessories, and much more. And throughout it all, there’s a language associated with this thriving industry that we need to know if we’re to understand anything about it at all. In light of this, we’ve compiled this glossary of wine terms and definitions to help clear up the cloudiness. And speaking of light, we’re going to keep this lesson as light as possible. There’s a lot here, so we’ve included the occasional quip – just to keep it light!
The proper acidity level in a wine gives it a fresh taste. But if the acidity is too high, then the wine will taste sour or tart.
Aging refers to the storing of wine in bottles, in hopes of improving its taste and aroma. Red wines are aged in oak barrels to improve their complexity.
Alcohol – the reason we drink wine. Well, not for everybody, but for some. There’s only one kind of alcohol found in wine – ethyl alcohol, or ethanol. If a wine has too much alcohol, it’ll be what the wine tasters refer to as hot. If a wine doesn’t have enough alcohol they say it’s unbalanced.
An amphora is the vessel they used in ancient times to store wine.
When you’re out for dinner, your host may offer you an aperitif before dinner. If you say yes, they’ll give you a small glass of wine, flavored with herbs and spices, like vermouth, for example.
A wine’s appearance refers to the clarity of the wine. If it’s crystal clear, they say it’s brilliant. If it’s cloudy, it has sediment in it.
Appellation refers to where the grapes were grown. For example, if the wine label says “Napa County”, it’s required by law to be made from at least 85% of grapes from Napa County.
A wine’s aroma comes from the origin of the grape.
Balance is what a wine taster looks for in a wine. A balanced wine tastes of acid, tannin, sugar, alcohol and flavor, all coming together in harmony.
BATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms)
The BATF is the U.S. branch of the federal government that regulates the wine industry and collects alcohol taxes.
Beerenauslese is a German word (but let’s use the English equivalent – berry selection). It actually refers to the way grapes are picked – one at a time, rather than in a bunch. The reason that’s done is because all grapes in a bunch may not have ripened at the same rate. By picking them separately, winemakers can chose only the best ones, resulting, of course, in only the best wine. So beerenauslese is a good word to learn; it’s pronounced BAY-ruhn-OWS-lay-zuh.
A big wine tastes rich and full-bodied.
- Blanc de blanc
Blanc de blanc is white wine made from white grapes.
- Blanc de noir
Blanc de noir is white wine made from red grapes.
Blending is the process of putting two or more wines together, in the hopes of making a better wine. (Could this be the same process as making shooters?)
A wine taster looks for body in a wine by testing its consistency, texture, thickness, and viscosity. If he says a wine has body, then it has a higher alcohol or sugar content than most.
Bordeaux is an area in southwest France world-renown for it’s fine wine-producing regions.
A wine’s bouquet is the smell you get from its production and aging processes.
Brandy is a liquor made by distilling and aging wine in wood.
Brilliant is another wine taster’s term, used to describe wine that’s crystal clear, with no cloudiness or sediment.
Brut is a type of Champagne that’s very dry – drier than extra dry.
Burgundy is another area of France world famous for it’s wine-growing.
The capsule is the wrapping that you may have trouble with (especially if you don’t have the right tools) that covers the neck and cork of a wine bottle.
Catawba is a hybrid grape, from the eastern U.S. and Canada, that produces sweet white, red, and rosé wines that have a foxy aroma.
Chablis is a wine region in France, named after the village nearby.
Champagne is a sparkling wine named after the region in France where it’s produced.
A wine’s character is what a wine taster would describe as it’s style of taste.
Wine charms are little charms, similar to the ones on a charm bracelet, that are attached to a ring that goes around the stem of your wine glass. Everyone at the table has a different wine charm on their glass, so there’s no confusion about who’s glass is who’s – except for that giveaway lipstick.
Chianti is a blended, full-bodied red table wine from the Tuscany region of Italy.
Claret wines are red wines from Bordeaux.
A wine’s clarity refers to its clearness and absence of sediment.
A wine taster would say a wine is cloying if it’s so sweet that the sweetness stays in the mouth after tasting it.
A concord grape is an American hybrid from the eastern and mid-western U.S. and Canada that makes sweet wines with a foxy aroma. It’s also used to make grape juice and grape jelly.
Corks are made from the cork-oak tree. They’re best for stoppers in wine bottles because they’re waxy and springy. However, with the shortage of cork-oak trees, corks are now being made from plastic and rubber. There’s also a new glass cork being introduced.
A corkscrew, a device made for pulling the cork out of a wine bottle, was originally made of a pointed metal spiral attached to a handle or a screw mechanism. The latest advancement in corkscrew technology is the rabbit corkscrew, named after its shape. It fits over the neck of a wine bottle, cuts the foil, pulls out the cork, and automatically releases the cork – voila!
Cremant Champagne isn’t as carbonated as regular Champagne, and usually tastes light and fruity.
How do you like your wine – crisp? If so, then you like wine with good acidity and pleasant taste, but not too sweet.
Cuvée is a still wine that was purposely blended with the idea of eventually making champagne.
De Chaunac is a French-American hybrid grape named after its producer, an eastern Canadian winemaker.
To decant a wine, you gently pour it, being careful to leave any sediment in the bottom of the bottle.
Simply, decanters are bottles with stoppers that are used to hold drinks until they’re served. They’re usually quite decorative, and often made of fine glass like crystal. Wine decanters, among others, are wonderful pieces to show off to your guests as you pour them their favorite wine or liquor.
The Delaware grape, an American hybrid, is grown in eastern U.S., and can be used to make either dry, sweet, or sparkling white wines with a slight foxy character. It also makes a really good ice wine.
Demi-sec Champagne is medium-sweet.
A dessert wine can be enjoyed after a fulfilling meal. It’s quite sweet, and has been fortified to give it a higher alcohol content. Examples of dessert wines are Port, Sherry, Muscatel, and Madeira.
A dry wine has no sugar.
Early harvest wines are made from grapes that are picked before they fully mature. The wine is light (and less filling?) because it’s low in alcohol.
A wine is described by a wine taster as earthy if it tastes of mushrooms, mustiness, or soil. (Do you know what soil tastes like?)
Enology is the science of winemaking.
If a wine is estate bottled, it’s been produced from the winemaker’s own grapes, grown in his own vineyard, and made in his own winery. It’s usually very good quality wine.
If you see Fino on a Sherry label, it means it’s very light and very dry.
Flabby is a wine taster’s term for a wine that’s low in acidity and high in pH, meaning it doesn’t taste very good at all. It’s also a term for something you won’t get, if you drink wine, instead of a lot of beer.
You know that taste and smell that’s in the air when you strike a piece of steel on a flint? Well, a wine can taste like that – flinty – meaning it has a hard, dry, clean taste.
And you know that sweet aroma of fresh garden flowers? Well, that can refer to a wine, too. Wine tasters use this term for a wine with a very aromatic character.
A wine with a foxy aroma smells good (believe it or not) and particularly refers to the smell and taste of Concord grapes and wine.
Fruity wines are those that taste just like the grapes.
- Fumé Blanc
A Fumé Blanc table wine is the same as a Sauvignon Blanc wine.
Generic wines are blends of ordinary wines, and are usually found in the “cheap” section of the wine store.
Wine glass tags are similar to wine charms. They’re used to identify which glass is yours, when there are several on the table.
Herbaceousness is a wine taster’s term that refers to how much a wine tastes like vegetables. (Really?)
Hot is a word wine tasters use to refer to a wine that has a high alcohol content.
- Ice wine
Ice wine, made from frozen grapes, is very sweet, but still light and delicate.
Jug wines are sold in 1.5 liter or larger sizes. They can be found with generic wines in the “cheap” section.
- Late harvest
Late harvest, or overripe grapes are used to make dessert or full-bodied table wines.
Madeira is a dessert wine, much like sherry, which comes from the Portuguese island of the same name.
A magnum is a very big wine bottle, (for those very big drinkers?) – 2 liters. This is another bottle you can find in – you guessed it – the “cheap” section.
Medoc is a district in the Bordeaux region, known for it’s red wine.
Mission grapes were the first grapes grown in California.
Muscatel is a sweet wine with a high alcohol content, that’s made from Muscat grapes.
The Niagara grape is an American hybrid, from the eastern and mid-western U.S. It makes a fruity white wine. It’s also used for table grapes.
A Norton grape, an American hybrid from southeast U.S., especially Virginia, is used to make good red wines with a spicy coffee flavor.
Nose refers to – you guessed it – the smell of wine, including the aroma and the bouquet.
A petillant wine is somewhat sparkling, or carbonated, but not as much as Champagne.
pH refers to the amount of hydrogen in a liquid. In wine or juice, it refers to its acidity.
Pinot refers to a family of grapes. Some of the members of that family are Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Blanc.
Port is a sweet full-bodied wine that comes from the Oporto region of Portugal.
If you turn a bottle of champagne over, you’ll see a concave indentation in the bottom. It’s called a punt, and it’s there to collect sediment.
A wine rack is an attractive stand that holds your bottles of wine, lying on their sides. There are many styles and varieties, usually made from wood, iron, steel or plastic.
The vineyards that run along the Rhine River in Germany are world famous for their wines.
The Rhone River is in France, and serves the region with vineyards, just like the Rhine.
The Riesling grape is used to make some of the world’s best dessert wines.
Rosé is French for pink wine.
Sec is French for dry. When used on Champagne labels, it means sweet.
Semillon is one of the more common white wine grapes from Bordeaux.
Soave is a white wine from northern Italy.
When you’re at a restaurant, and you want to see a wine list, call for the sommelier. That’s what they call the wine steward, or the waiter in charge of the wine.
When a wine tastes sour, you’re tasting the acid in it.
Spicy is another wine tasters term, referring to a wine that tastes like it has spices added to it. The German wine, Gewurztraminer, is a good example of a spicy wine.
Spumante is Italian for sparkling wine.
- Still wine
Still wine is any wine that’s not sparkling wine.
- Table wine
There’s a law that classifies all wines with lower than a 14% alcohol content as table wine.
Tannin is a by-product of the winemaking process, and comes from the grapes, and from wood, if it’s aged in barrels. If a wine has a strong tannin content, it’ll taste bitter, and will make you pucker up.
Tart is a word wine tasters use to describe an acidic wine, which will be a pleasant-tasting wine.
If you ask to taste a wine in a restaurant, the sommelier will bring you your sample in a shallow silver or gold cup, called a tastevin.
Terroir is French for terrain, or more specifically, special place. It refers to all the things that identify a grape-growing region, like climate, wind direction, humidity, soil type, drainage, etc.
And you thought beerenauslese was bad! Trockenbeerenauslese means dry berry selection, and refers to the process of picking only the dried, or raisin grapes. They’re then used to make the best German dessert wines in the world.
Vermouth is an aperitif, probably most famous as an integral ingredient in the perfect martini (hic!). It’s a fortified wine, flavored by herbs and barks.
Vigneron is French for winegrower, or winemaker.
Vignoble is French for winegrowing.
A wine’s vintage is the year the grapes were grown.
Viniculture is the science of growing grapes.
- Vitis vinifera
Vitis vinifera refers to the grapevines in Eurasia, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay, Merlot, and Riesling.
Well! That’s a lot! It’s enough to drive you to drink. And now that you know what wine’s all about, you’ll be able to get just the right one that suits your unique taste. And you don’t have to go out to get that wine. There are all kinds of online wine stores that offer all kinds of wines. So tip a glass for us, will you? Skoal!
About The Author
Gareth Marples is a successful freelance writer providing valuable tips and advice for consumers purchasing
wine glass tags,
wine racks and
specialty wines. His numerous articles offer moneysaving tips and valuable insight on typically confusing topics.
This glossary is reprinted with permission.
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