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Wine Terminology

One's enjoyment of wine will be enhanced considerably if there is both an understanding and appreciation of the definitions of some of the more commonly used terms in the wine trade. Like all specialized subjects, wine has developed a language of its own. Some of it seems to clarify the subject, while others tend to cloud and complicate the issue.

Clear as mud, right? Don't worry, the professor is here to help.  The more you use these terms in general conversation about wine, the more you will remember.

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Term Description
Abbocatto Italian semi-dry wine.
Abfüller / Abfüllung [ab-few-ler] German for "bottler" or indicates "bottled by."
Abruzzo Mountainous area in centrl Italy. The chief grapes grown are Trebbiano for white wine and Montepulciano for red wine.
Acidity Conditions in a wine due to naturally occuring (tartaric and malic) acids in grapes which contribute to the freshness of wines as they age.
Alicante Region in central Spain, on the Mediterranean coast, know for high alcoholic, rustic red wines.
Alsace [al-zass] French wine district bordering the Rhine just north of Switzerland and known for white wines such as Gewurztraminer and Riesling.
Alto Adige Region in northern Italy producing a range of well-made red and white wines. The reds are fruity and usually from Cabernet and Merlot and the whites from Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio and Riesling.
Amtliche Prüfungsnummer German identification number on all wines labeled with QbA/QmP quality designations.
Anbaugebiet German term for the eleven large wine-producing regions, which, as appropriate, must appear on the wine label.
AOC See also, Appellation Contrôlée.
Appellation Used generally to refer to a delimited and geographically defined winegrowing region.
Appellation Contrôlée (AC/AOC) French designation guaranteeing origin, grape varieties and method of production and presumably, quality.
Assemblage French term for the art of blending wine from different varieties. Associated with Bordeaux and Champagne.
Astringent The "mouth-puckering" characteristic usually associated with tannis in a wine.
Aszú [ah-soo] The sweet syrup made from dried and slightly rotten grapes, used to sweeten Hungarian Tokaji dessert wines.
Auslese [ows-lay-zuh] German term for mostly sweet wine from selected ripe grapes, usually affected by botrytis. Third rung on the QmP ladder.
Balance Term used to describe the harmony of fruit, acidity, alcohol, and tannins, which can develop with age, but should be evident in a wine's youth.
Balthazar A 12-liter bottle of wine (usually only Burgundy and Champagne) equivalent to 16 standard bottles.
Barrel Aging Many red wines and some whites are aged in small barrels made of oak following fermentation for varied periods of time. This aging tends to soften the wine and add to it's richness. It also imparts some wood flavor.
Barrel Select A marketing term, it has no real meaning as to type,style or quality.
Barrique [bah-reek] A 59 gallon (225 liter) oak barrel used for aging wine.
Beerenaüslese Austrian and German sweet wines from selected, very ripe grapes, affected by botrytis ("noble rot").
Bereich German. The geographic unit larger than a Grosslage. For example, the whole of the middle Mosel is called Bereich Bernkastel.
Bianco Italian word for white, often used as part of a wine name.
Blanc French word for white, as in vin blanc, or white wine.
Blanc de Blanc A type of white table wines, made from white grapes, and usually made of 100% Chardonnay.
Blanc de Noir A white, or sometimes slightly pink wine made from red grapes by using the free-flowing juice before the grapes are pressed.
Blanco Spanish word for white, as in vin blanco, or white wine.
Bodega A Spanish winery, producer or wine cellar.
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Bordeaux Region in France and considered the home of fine red wines. It has perfect soil and climate for grape growing and consists of the Médoc, Graves, Sauternes, St. Emilion, and Pomerol sub-regions.
Bordeaux style Loosely refers to a red wine blend consisting of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet franc. Percentages of each vary widely.
Botrytis [boh-tri-tiss] A mold that pierces grape skins, causing dehydration. Also called noble rot and useful in producing premium sweet wines.
Bouquet The "nose" of a mature wine, often made up of several separate aromas.
Bourgogne [boorr-goyn] French for Burgundy.
Brix A measure of the density or sugar level of grape juice or fermenting wine.
Brut Term applied usually to Champagne and sparkling wines, meaning dry. To be labeled Brut, it must contain less than 1.5 grams per liter of sugar added.
Bung A plug for closing a wine cask.
Butt Wooden cask that is used to age Sherry.
Canopy The part of the vine growing above the ground, including the leaves and the grapes. It is trained and pruned to improve grape quality.
Cap Layer of grape skins that forms on top of the juice during fermentation.
Capsule The outer sleeve or sheath at the top of a wine bottle which covers the cork. In the past, made of lead, but now tin or plastic.
Carbonic Maceration The fermentation of uncrushed whole grapes which takes place inside the cells of the grapes.
Carneros Region at the northern edge of San Francisco Bay in California, including parts of both Napa and Sonoma counties. It is cool and foggy and best for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes.
Cava Term used for wood- and bottle-aged wines.
Cave [kahv] French for cellar.
Cellar The storage space or area where wines are aged. Also means "aging" ones wine collection under ideal temperature and humidity conditions.
Cépage French word for grape variety, often used in the United States to indicate the blend of the wine, as in cépage of Cabernet and Merlot.
Chablis [shah-blee] Wine from grapes (mostly Chardonnay) grown in the Chablis district of France. In the U.S., a semi-generic wine type.
Chai [shay] French for cellar or winery.
Champagne In Eurpoe, the term may be applied only to sparkling wine made in the Champagne region of France. In the U.S. it is inappropriately used as a generic term and often applied to inferior sparkling wine.
Chaptalization Refers to the addition of sugar during fermentation to boost a wine's alcohol content.
Chardonnay (See "Grapes" database)
Château [shah-toe] Literally, "castle", but refers to a vinyard or wine estate. Château names are titles that have existed for centuries and get "recycled".
Chéne [shehn] French oak as in that used for oak barrels.
Clairet See Claret.
Claret A dry red wine from the Bordeaux region of France. A semi-generic red wine type, usually including cabernet sauvignon and merlot as part of the blend.
Classico Italian for a defined area within a DOC identifying what are supposed to be the best vineyards, i.e. Chianti Classico.
Classified Growth The literal translation of the French term Cru Classé, which refers to the status of Bordeaux château.
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Corked Unpleasant, musty smell and flavor in a wine, caused by mold in the cork.
Côtes [koht] French for "hillsides."
Crianza Spanish meaning aged in wood and is the youngest oak-aged wine category. Wines with this label must be three years old and spend six months in oak barrels, but in Rioja it must be 12 months in oak.
Cru [crew] French word for a particular piece of land or vineyard.
Cru Classé The best wines of the Médoc in Bordeaux, France, are Cru Classé, split into five categories from first to fifth growth for the Great Exhibition in 1855.
Cuvée [cue-vay] Most frequently a blend put together in a process called assemblage.
Demi-sec French medium-dry sparkling wine.
Dessert Wine A misnomer for simply a highly acidic, very sweet wine. It is usually consumed at or during the dessert course of a meal.
Disgorging Using the pressure of the gas in the wine (sparkling) to expel the collected sediment, which has been frozen, from bottle-fermented sparkling wine.
DOC Denominación de Origem Controlada, Portugal's equivalent to Italy's DOCG.
DOCG Denominazione di Origine Controllata (e Garantita), Italian quality control designation based on grape variety and/or origin.
Domaine French wine estate.
Dosage [doe-sahj'] The addition of sweeteners to naturally dry Champagne to replace the wine lost with the yeast, and to set the sugar to the desired level.
Double Magnum A 3-liter bottle of wine equivalent to four standard bottles.
Doux French sweet wine.
Dumb Term as in "dumb nose" to describe a wine with little bouquet. This is not a negative term as many great wines go through a dumb phase.
Einzellage German. An individual vineyard and in 1971, part of the German classification system. See Grosslage.
Eiswein [ihs-vihn] Designation in Germany, Austria and Canada. Ultra-concentrated late harvest wine, made from grapes naturally frozen on the vine.
Enology See Oenology
Enoteca Italian term literally meaning wine library or now, wine shop.
Estate Bottled Term used to describe a winery which grows the grapes and bottles the wine it produces (versus purchasing grapes from other sources).
Esters Chemical components in wine responsible for all the aromas of fruits, herbs, vegetables, hamster cages and sneakers.
Fattoria Italian for "estate," particularly in Tuscany.
Feuillette The traditional 132 liter barrel used in France for aging Chablis wines.
Field Blend Once a common practice in California, this term refers to a vineyard where a number of different grape varieties are planted, harvested and fermented together, thus the wine blend is made "in the field."
Fining Clarifying young wine before bottling to remove impurities such as dead yeast cells, using a number of agents, including egg whites.
Finish The taste left in your mouth after swallowing the wine.
First growth In Bordeaux, France, a classification given to only five vintners, who were designated in 1855 as the best producers and labels.
Fortified The act of raising the alcohol content of a wine through blending, such as with brandy.
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Free-Run Grape juice that runs freely from the crusher and press before force is used.
Fumé Blanc [foo-may-blahn] Generic reference to a dry Sauvignon Blanc wine but it's really a marketing term.
Funder The traditional 1,000 liter barrel used in Germany to age wines.
Gebiet German. The largest unit of a winegrowing region, larger than a Bereich. For example, the Nahe or Mosel-Saar-Ruwer areas are each a Gebiet.
Gigondas Appelation in the southern Rhone region of France, producing ripe and concentrated red wines based chiefly on the Grenache grape.
Grafting Process of joining one part of a vine to another vine of the same or different spiecies, usually at root level.
Grand Cru Designation for the finest vineyards and wine made in Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne, and Alsace, but the label remains even if the wine is average.
Grand Vin [gron van]The first (quality) wine of a Bordeaux estate, as opposed to its second label.
Gran Reserva Spanish term for a wine that has spent a minimum two years in barrel and three years in tank or bottle. A white wine must spend four years in cask and bottle and also 6 months in cask.
Green For a red wine, it implies unripeness. For a white wine it implies youthful acidity, but still attractive.
Grosslage [gross-lah-guh] A group of Einzellagen (individual vineyards) all deemed to be of the same quality. It is usually given the name of its most renowned Einzellage.
Halbtrocken German off-dry (semi-dry) wine. Best are the QbA or Auslese versions.
Haut-Médoc [oh-may-dok] Large appelation in Bordeaux, France, which includes nearly all of the well-known crus classés.
Hermitage Usually refers to the Syrah grape as found on the Rhône of France, but also a premier appellation producing powerful wines capable of at least 20 years of aging.
Hogshead The traditional 300 liter oak barrel used in Australia to age wines.
Icewine Increasingly popular sweet wines of Canada, New York and other U.S. states made from frozen grapes. See also Eiswein.
Imperial A 6-liter bottle of wine equivalent to eight standard bottles.
Jeroboam A 5-liter bottle of wine equivalent to six standard bottles, except Burgundy and Champagne which is 3-liters.
Jug Wine American term for large bottles of ordinary, inexpensive table wine.
Kabinett First step in German quality ladder, for wines that achieve a certain natural sweetness.
Kellar German for cellar/producer/estate-bottled.
Late Harvest Refers to wines made from "riper" grapes picked after the main vintage and results in a sweeter slightly syrupy taste.
Lees The sediment of dead yeasts that fall in the barrel or vat as a wine develops.
Legs The drops that inch up the inside surface of a glass above the wine and slowly run back down. Same as "tears."
Maceration The extraction of aroma, color, flavor, and tannins from grape skins usually during skin contact during the alcoholic fermentation or carbonic maceration.
Maderized Describes wines which have a cooked flavor and brown color due to exposure to excess heat or suffering from oxidation.
Magnum A 1.5-liter bottle of wine equivalent to two standard bottles.
Malic acid The organic acid in apples, grapes, and wine which is converted to lactic acid during the malolactic fermentation.
Malolactic fermentation Secondary "fermentation" in which appley malic acid is converted into the softer, creamier lactic acid by naturally present or added strains of bacteria. Almost all red wines undergo this type of fermentation and in Burgundy, it is a common practice for white wines.
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Meritage A trademarked name (California) used to describe a typical Bordeaux-style blend of grapes.
Methuselah A 6-liter bottle of wine (Burgundy and Champagne only) equivalent to eight standard bottles. Same as an Imperial for other wines.
Midi [mee-dee] Vast region along the Mediterranean coast of France between the Pyrenees and the Rhone Valley, but not known for producing exceptional wines.
Mousseux French word for sparkling, representing the bubbles in Champagne and sparkling wines.
Must A term for the unfermented juice and pulp produced from crushing or pressing grapes.
Nebuchadnezzar A 15-liter bottle of wine (usually only Burgundy and Champagne) equivalent to 20 standard bottles.
Négociant French for a merchant who buys, matures, and bottles wine.
Nevers French for the most subtle of oak (flavors). From a forest in Burgundy.
New World Informal category including the wines from North America, South America, Australia, and New Zealand but also represents and up-front style of winemaking, characterized by up front flavor and fruit.
Noble Grapes Has a historical meaning in Alsace, France, where it refers to the eight major permitted grape varieties - Chardonnay, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc for whitesand Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, and Syrah for reds.
Noble rot Popular term for Botrytis cinerea.
Non-Vintage Wine that does not give a vintage year on the label usually because it's a blend form more than one year. Also, sparkling wines and sherry is traditionally labeled NV.
Nose Term used as a synonym for aroma and smell in wine tasting.
Nouveau [noo-vo] French for "new" wine, the most popular of which is Beaujolais.
NV See Non-Vintage above.
Oenology The science of wines and winemaking. Also called viniculture.
Oidium Fungal infection of grapes, shriveling them and turning them gray.
Old Vines Theory that older vines produce more concentrated grapes because as they age production declines. It seems to have a firm basis especially with Zinfandel.
Old World Refers to wine making countries, primarily those in Europe, who have historically older vineyards, techniques and grape varieties compared to New World wine producing countries, and less of an up-front fruit taste.
Oxidation The (usually negative) effect that oxygen has on wine.
Palate Loosely descriptive of one's taste buds and the ability to taste wine.
Pauillac The world's best cabernet blends come from this appellation in the Haut-Médoc, Bordeaux, France.
Perlant [pehr-lahn] French for wines that are naturally very slightly sparkling.
Perlwein German sparkling wine.
Pétillant [pur-tee-yon] Lightly sparkling wine.
pH The measure of acid strength: the lower the pH (number), the higher the acid strength.
Phylloxera Root-eating louse that wiped out Europe's vines in the 19th century. This was foiled by grafting vinifera vines onto resistant vines from the United States.
Piece The traditional 228 liter barrel used in France for aging Burgundy wines.
Pip In wine terms, refers to a grape seed.
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Plonk Term used in England, and now being heard in the U.S. which denotes a basic wine that is passable for everyday drinking.
Pomace The solid residue left after pressing.
Port Fortified wine made in the upper Douro Valley of Portugal. Comes in several styles: Tawny, Ruby, LBV, Vintage, Crusted, and White port.
Precipitation The creation of harmless deposits in the bottom of a wine bottle (sediment) or on a cork (usually tartrate crystals).
Premier Cru In Burgundy, indicates wines that fall between village and Grand Cru quality, but sometimes indicates a blend from two or more vineyards.
Proprietor's Reserve A marketing term, it has no real meaning as to type,style or quality of wine.
Puncheons Larger oak barrels, usually 135 gallons.
Punt The indentation in the bottom of some wine bottles.
Puttonyos The measure of sweetness (from one to six) of Tokaji, a Hungarian wine. The number indicates the number of puttonyos (baskets) of sweet aszú paste that are added to the base wine.
QbA German. An abbreviation for Qualitätswein mit Prädikat.
Qualitätswein [kvah-lee-tayts-vine] Better quality German wines. See Tafelwein.
Quinta [keen-tah] Portuguese vineyard or estate, particularly in the Douro, where single-Quinta vintage ports are becoming popular.
Racking Siphoning or pumping wine from one container to another to clarify it by leaving the sediment behind.
Récolte French term for vintage, literally "harvest."
Rehoboam A 4.5-liter bottle of wine (Burgundy and Champagne only).
Remuage [reh-moo-wazh] The gradual turning and tilting of bottles so the yeast deposit collects in the neck ready for degorgement.
Reserva Spanish wine aged for a period specified by the relevant DOC; usually one year for reds and six months for whites and pinks. Mistakenly thought of as a quality or special bottling designation.
Réserve A French term that is legally meaningless, but implies a wine selected and given more age. In the U.S. it implies a vintage from select grapes and usually accompanied by a premium price.
Residual sugar Term for wines which have retained grape sugar not converted to alcohol by yeast during fermentation. In France, 4 grams per liter is the threshold, while in the U.S., the figure is 5 grams to still be called "dry."
Riddling Turning bottles of sparkling wine to collect the sediment on the closure (cork or bottle cap) for removal during disgorging.
Ripasso Italian technique of adding the lees of Recioto wines to Valpolicella to give extra alcohol and flavor.
Riserva Italian DOC wines aged for a specified number of years. The name may have little to do with the actual quality of the wine.
Rosato Italian Rosé wine.
Rosé Rosé wines range in color from a very light pink to light red. The best come from southern France and from Spain. The best rosé is made by leaving the fermenting wine on its skins for a very short period of time.
Ruby Least expensive, most basic port from Douro, Portugal. It is young, blended and sweetly fruity.
Salmanazar A 9-liter bottle of wine (usually only Burgundy and Champagne) equivalent to 12 standard bottles.
Sancerre A French Loire Valley appellation making excellent white wines from Savignon Blanc and very good reds and rosés from Pinot Noir.
Schloss German for "castle" vineyard or estate.
Sec French/Italian/Spanish term for dry.
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Second label Wine from a producer's lesser vineyards or grape pickings. May not be indicative of lesser quality as some second labels can be both excellent quality and much lower price.
Sekt [zekt] German term for very basic sparkling wine. Anything other than that made from Riesling grapes may be of questionable quality.
Sommelier Title given to a trained wine expert in a resaurant useful in selecting fine wines to accompany a meal.
Sparkling A wine containing an induced effervescence from carbon dioxide most commonly captured during a second alcoholic fermentation.
Spätlese [schpate-lay-zah] The second step in "quality" of the German QmP scale, late harvested grapes making the wine a bit drier than Auslese.
Spirit A fermented liquid which is then distilled to produce a drink of higher alcohol content than normal fermentation allows.
Spumante Italian sparkling wine.
Steely Flavor description usually applied toward Chablis and dry Sauvignon (as a good trait), but usually indicates evident acidity.
Still Wine Wine that is finished without any carbonation (bubbles).
Structure Components of a wine which together "build" the overall backbone of the wine and which supports the fruit and other flavors. This includes tannin acidity and alcohol. A young wine with good structure will usually age well.
Sulfites Used in wines in the form of sulphur dioxide to protect from bacteria and oxidation.
Super Tuscan Italian red (usually) wines, pioneered by producers like Antinori, which stand outside traditional DOC rules. They are usually Bordeaux style blends or Sangiovese or a mixture of both.
Sur lie [soor-lee] French term (literal meaning "on dregs") for the aging "on its lees" (dead yeasts) most commonly associated with Chardonnay or Muscadet.
Tafelwein German term for ordinary table wine.
Tannic/Tannin Astringent component of red wine which comes from the skins, seeds and stalks and helps the wine to age.
Tartaric (acid) Type of acid found in grapes. Also the form in which acid is added to wine where it is allowed.
Tastevin [tat-van] The silver Burgundy tasting cup used (occassionally) by sommeliers in restaurants to "pre-taste" a wine.
Tawny Pale, brick-colored port from Douro, Portugal, that acquires its appearance and nutty flavor from lengthy aging in oak casks. Some port produces Tawny by mixing basic ruby with white port and skipping the aging process.
Tears See Legs.
Tenuta Italian term for estate or vineyard.
Terroir [tear-wahr] French referring to the distinctive growing conditions of each vine plot (location, slope, weather, soil, etc.). Loosely meaning environment.
Thief A tubular glass, plastic or wooden vessel for withdrawing a sample of wine from a cask or barrel.
Thin A wine lacking body or "fullness."
Tokay Primarily a fortified, sweet dessert wine. The most famous is from Hungary, which has been renamed Tokaji and made from Furmint grapes.
Trocken Generic for German dry wine.
Trockenbeerenauslese Fifth rung of the German QmP ladder, wine from selected dried grapes that are usually botrytis infected and full of natural sugar. It is only made in the best years and is very rare and expensive.
Ullage Space between the surface of wine and the top of the cask or, in a bottle, the cork. The wider the gap, the greater the potential for oxidation.
Umbria Italian wine region primarily producing Orvieto wine. Some reds are also produced in a fruity, modern style.
Unfiltered Describes a wine which has eliminated the process which clarifies and removes sediment from a wine. Some feel filtration removes flavor while others feel it removes harmful bacteria that could create vinegar.
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VDP German association of high-quality wine producers. Carries an eagle on the label.
Vecchio Italian for "old."
Vegetal A flavor description that can be positive (as in meaning "grassy" in a Suavignon Blanc) or negative to mean unripe or "leafy" taste.
Vendange [von-donzh] French term for harvest or vintage.
Vendemmia Italian/Spanish term for harvest or vintage.
Villages French suffix used to indicate a slightly superior wine from a smaller area made up of certain village vineyards.
Vin [van] French term for wine.
Vin de Cuvée [van-duh-cue-vay] Wines that are fermented from the free-run juice. About 110 gallons per ton.
Vin de Pays [van dur pay-yee] French lowest/broadest geographical designation. Usually represent simple "country" wines but free from the restrictive requirements imposed on appellation contrôlée wines.
Vignoble French for vineyard or vineyard area.
Vinous A wine without a specific, distinguishable odor.
Vintage The year in which a wine was produced. A vintage wine is the product of a single year's harvest, while a non-vintage wine is a blending of wines from two or more years.
Vintage Port Produced only in "declared" years, aged in wood then in the bottle for many years.
Vintner Refers to the individual or winery which produces or sells wine.
Viticulture English adaptation of the French word "viticulteur," for the science of growing grapes.
Vitis Vinifera Classic vine species of Europe and the Middle East, now grown all over the world and responsible for all the world's great wines.
Weingut German term for wine estate.
Wine The fermented juice of grapes.
Wine Thief Pipette used to extract a sample of wine from a barrel.
Yeast Microscopic fungi. Some species catalyze useful fermentations in bread and winemaking.
Yeasty The odor of the yeast used in fermentation, attractive in modest amounts in young wines.
Young A fresh, fruity, unoxidized, wine with possibly very slightly yeasty odor.
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