The wine world has a language all of its own and this can be confusing for many. Understanding this language will not only allow you to better describe wine in conversations but it will also help you to recognise why you like a certain type of wine, as well as allowing you to become better at remembering the wines and styles of wine you enjoy to taste, drink and buy.
To make it easier for you we have put together a glossary of many general terms within the wine industry that will help you understand all the keywords and phrases you need to know in simple, easy to remember terms.
One of the essential elements in both grapes and finished wines. Acidity is necessary to keep any wine fresh. Ironically, acidity is perhaps most important in sweet wines, where it prevents then from being merely sickly-sweet.
Adding acidity during winemaking to compensate for grapes, which have over-ripened.
Ethanol is produced as a by-product of fermentation. The alcoholic strength of a wine is a measure of its concentration of Ethanol.
A tasting term. A wine is balanced when all of its characteristics work together in harmony, with no single element – fruit, tannin, acidity or alcohol - overpowering anything other.
French term for stirring of the lees.
When one or more grape varieties is used to produce the wine.
Tasting term for the weight and texture of a wine on the palate – the “mouth feel” of the wine. A combination of alcohol, extract and glycerol.
A fungus to which grapes are prone. Often it is bad news in the vineyard where it destroys grapes, but in a few places conditions allow it to develop beneficially as “Noble Rot”. Botrytis draws the water content from the grape and leaves concentrated sugary juice that makes luscious sweet wine.
Bouquet is the term used to describe the non grape or berry aromas a mature wine displays.
Or just “brett” to some wine buffs. A controversial fault in wine caused by a rogue strain of yeast. It imparts a “mousey” aroma that some find repulsive, some find adds character, particularly in Rhône and Burgundy reds.
The bubbling mass of skins and pips that floats to the surface during fermentation of red wine. It must be submerged regularly.
Another by-product of fermentation, winemakers take great pains to make sure none is left in the wine before bottling, unless they are making a sparkling wine.
A special fermentation technique where whole berries are starved of oxygen so fermentation begins within the grape. Common in Beaujolais, it makes soft, fruity wines not made for keeping.
Named after its “inventor” Jean-Antoine Chaptal who suggested adding sugar to under-ripe juice before fermentation so that more alcohol could be produced.
A process in which white wine is chilled to precipitate tartaric acid as small crystals which can then be removed before bottling. Wines that have not been cold stabilised may throw these crystals at a later stage. They are harmless, but don’t look very nice in the bottle.
A “corked” wine suffers from a specific fault where a mouldy cork (or faulty processing of the cork) has caused a chemical called trichloranisole to form, imparting a dirty aroma and flavour to the wine.
This term is most often used to describe a special blend, barrel or bottling of a specific wine.
French term for the small amount of top-up liquid added to champagne just before bottling, sweetened to desired level.
German term (Ice wine in English). Grapes are left on the vine until they freeze. Temperatures of -7C are required. The water content is removed as ice, and the resulting wine is sweet, concentrated and luscious.
French term for buying wine as “futures”: paying for wine before it is released onto the market in order to secure wines that are in short supply, or at an advantageous price. Not for the faint-hearted.
The substances, mostly derived from grape skins and just under the skin’s surface, that contribute tannin, colour, glycerol and flavour to a wine. Some wines can be “over-extracted” meaning too much of these elements have been extracted making the wine inky and bitter.
Synonymous with “length”: the amount of time a flavour lingers on the palate after the wine is swallowed. More is good.
A processed used to clarify wine. Some claim it can also strip flavour so many producers filter very lightly or not at all.
Another clarifying process where some gelatinous agent (for example, whisked egg whites) is added to the barrel and sinks through the wine trapping even minute solids.
Protective yeast that is encouraged to grow on certain maturing wines, particularly Sherry. Stops oxidisation and adds flavour.
Globetrotting winemaker/consultant who has no set winery but operates in many, usually employing the latest technology and practices.
Tasting term indicating a young wine that is maturing quickly or is made to be drunk young.
The high quality juice that runs from the fermentation tank without pressing.
Any vine crossing where one or both “parents” is not from the wine vine, Vitris vinifera.
Designation appearing on bottles (in French, Vendange Tardive) where grapes were allowed to hang on the vine beyond physiological maturity. This over-ripens grapes, usually producing wines that are high in ALCOHOL and off-dry to sweet.
Describes the long-term storage of wine in the belief that it will improve with age. Not many wines are suitable for laying down.
The solids left behind after fermentation is complete: dead yeast cells and grape matter. White wines matured in contact with the lees (in French, Sur Lie) can develop creamy, nutty flavours.
Synonymous with “finish”: the amount of time a flavour lingers on the palate after the wine is swallowed. More is good.
A fault whereby the wine has oxidised and over-heated giving it a brown colour and burnt, stale taste. Not a fault in Madeira wine, which deliberately goes through a heating process to caramelise the wine.
A secondary fermentation that is biological, in which harsh malic acid is converted into softer lactic acid.
The traditional and best way of making a sparkling wine. EU has banned the term from bottles not made in Champagne, so look out for “Methode Traditionelle” or “Fermented in this Bottle” instead.
Tasting term. Wine is assessed by taste (the palate) but also by smell (the nose).
The science of winemaking. Spelled Enology in the USA.
What happens to the surface of a cut apple when exposed to air. Grapes and grape juice oxidise if not handled carefully. Bottled wine will also oxidise if the seal is not airtight.
Tasting term. Wine is assessed by smell (the nose) and by taste (the palate). The palate confirms flavours detected on the nose, but adds body, acidity, tannins, finish, etc. to the picture.
Compounds found in wine, mostly coming from grape skins. These include tannin and flavour compounds. Also important in making wine beneficial to health: lowering blood pressure and risk of heart disease.
The louse that eats vine roots. Devastated Europe in the late nineteenth century until it was discovered that American rootstock was resistant. Since then, most European vines are grafted onto American rootstock. Ironically, the Californian industry was badly damaged by Phylloxera in the 1980’s and 90’s after planting on low-resistance rootstock.
Portuguese term for an estate or vine farm. “Single Quinta” Port comes from a single vintage and farm.
Labour intensive process of siphoning wine from one barrel to another in order to leave some sediment behind and gradually clarify the wine.
Italian wine made for grapes that have been dried on mats after harvest. This raisins the grapes, making them very sweet. Amarone is made from Recioto grapes, but fermented out fully to be dry and concentrated.
French term for the process by which the dead yeast cells in maturing champagne and other quality sparkling wines are gradually moved into the neck of the bottle before being removed. Traditionally done by hand, more often nowadays by machine.
Residual Sugar (RS)
The amount of sugar remaining in a wine that has not been converted into alcohol when fermentation stops. Less than 2g/l is imperceptible. Some sweet wines will have upwards of 25g/l.
A system of fractional blending that gives Sherry its character. A complex process by which several vintages are blended together over many years in a building known as a Solera, before bottling.
Tasting term. To describe a wine as “well-structured” is very complimentary. It means it has an “architecture” of fruit, acidity, alcohol and tannins, that should allow it to age and stop it from being bland or wishy-washy.
An important and age-old additive in winemaking. Sulphur is an antiseptic and antioxidant. If used correctly it should be imperceptible.
Ground breaking Italian wines that deliberately ignored local wine laws to make premium wines using outlawed “international” grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
A naturally occurring chemical that helps to preserve red wine and adds a savoury edge to the flavour. Tannins are present in grape stems, pips and skins. Tannin also comes from oak ageing of wine. As the grape ripens on the vine so do tannins, making them less astringent. Bottle age also lessens tannins, which will eventually precipitate as sediment.
Wine that has been bottled without filtration. Fashionable in quality wines, it avoids a process which many believe strips wine of some flavour and complexity.
The practice of naming the grape or grapes on the label – still uncommon in classic European regions, adopted widely elsewhere over the past 20 years.
The wine vine. Almost all important wines are made from this species.
Volatile Acidity (VA)
Tasting terms that wine bores often trot out to impress. A real fault however, ranging from a vaguely sharp smell, to a horrible vinegar aroma and taste. Caused by bacterial infection, especially of acetobacter (acetic acid).
Other than grapes, the essential element in fermentation. Yeast is a single-cell organism that is naturally present on the surface of grapes, but in commercial winemaking is more likely to be laboratory-grown. It devours grape sugar, converting it into Ethanol (alcohol).