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Wine Terms



A.O.C. - An abbreviation for Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée, the French government agency that controls wine production there.

A.V.A. - An abbreviation for American Viticultural Area.

Acetic - Vinegary taste or smell that develops when a wine is overexposed to air.

Acid - One of the four tastes of wine. It is sometimes described as sour, acidic, or tart and can be found on the sides of the tongue and mouth.

Acidity - Acids occur naturally during the growing of grapes. In the proper proportion, acids are a desirable trait and give the wine character, much as a dash of vinegar or lemon juice heightens the flavor of many foods.

Aftertaste - The flavor impression the wine leaves after it is swallowed. Also referred to as the finish of a wine.

Alcohol - Alcoholic strength is the ethanol (the main product of fermentation) in wine. Alcohol affects the taste, texture and structure of the wine itself.

Amarone (Ah-ma-ROH-nay) - A type of Veronese wine made by a special process in which grapes are harvested late and allowed to shrivel, thus producing a higher alcohol percentage in the wine and sometimes a sweet taste.

Aroma - The smell of the grapes in a wine.

Aromatized Wine - Usually a fortified wine that is flavored by as few as one or as many as fifty aromatic or botanical compounds such as flowers, herbs, or fruits. Vermouth is a good example.

Astringent - The puckerish quality of high tannin content, which has the effect of drying out the mouth. Many young red wines are astringent because of tannins.

Auslese - A sweet, white, German wine made from selected bunches of late-picked grapes.

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Balance - Harmony of the basic structural and characteristic elements, such as acid, alcohol, and fruit flavors.

Barrel Fermentation - The process of fermenting wines in small barrels instead of large vats or stainless steel tanks.

Barrel-Fermented - A method of fermentation done in barrels, usually oak.

Beerenauslese - A full-bodied, sweet, white, German wine made from rich, ripe grapes affected by botrytis.

Big - Powerful in aroma and flavor; full-bodied.

Bio-Dynamic - From grapes grown without the aid of chemical or synthetic sprays or fertilizers and vinified with natural yeasts and the minimum use of filtration, sulphur dioxide and chaptalization.

Bitter - Bitterness in wine can be due to tannins, chemical salts, oxidized polyphenols, bacteria, and even some grapes, such as Gewürztraminer, which have a bitter note in the flavor. Even though a slight bitterness can contribute balance to a sweet wine, over-bitter flavor is considered a flaw.

Blanc de Blancs - A white wine made from white grapes.

Blanc de Noirs - A white wine made from red grapes.

Body - The weight of the wine in the mouth.

Bordeaux - An A.O.C. in the southwest of France. Bordeaux is the biggest red wine area in the world. 25% of all A.O.C. wines come from Bordeaux.

Botrytis Cinerea - A mold that forms on the grapes, also known as noble rot, which is necessary to make Sauternes and the rich German wines Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenauslese.

Bottle-Fermented - Reference to the second fermentation that occurs in the bottle during the production of sparkling wine via the méthode champenoise.

Bouquet - The complex blending of aromas that develops with age in fine wines. Young wines have aroma, not bouquet.

Brut - The driest style of Champagne.

Buttery - Descriptor for rich flavor and smoothness of texture, somewhat akin to the oiliness and flavor of butter. More often refers to oak-aged white wines than reds; many Chardonnays and white Burgundies are said to have buttery aromas and flavors.

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Cava - Spanish name for sparkling wine.

Chablis - The northernmost region in Burgundy, or a wine that comes from Chardonnay grapes grown anywhere in the Chablis district.

Champagne - The region in France that produces the only sparkling wine that can be authentically called Champagne.

Chaptalization - The addition of sugar to the grape juice before and/or during fermentation. This process is not intended to make the wine sweeter, but rather to provide more sugar for the yeast to ferment into alcohol.

Charmat Method - Still wine is produced and left in the tanks. Carbon dioxide is added to create the sparkle. The finished sparkling wine is filtered. The dosage is added to determine the style and the wine is bottled under pressure to maintain the artificial sparkle.

Chewy - Wines with unusual thickness of texture or tannins that one almost chews before swallowing.

Chianti - A D.O.C.G. red wine from the Tuscany region of Italy.

Chianti Classico - One step above Chianti in terms of quality, this wine is from an inner district of Chianti.

Chianti Classico Riserva - The best quality level of Italian Chianti, which requires more aging than Chianti and Chianti Classico.

Château - French legal term for a house attached to a vineyard having a specific number of acres with winemaking and storage facilities on the property.

Classified Château - Belonging to the châteaus in the Bordeaux region of France that are known to produce the best wine.

Clean - Fresh, with no discernible defects; refers to aroma, appearance and flavor.

Closed - Young, undeveloped wines that do not readily reveal their character are said to be closed. Typical of young Bordeaux or Cabernet Sauvignon, as well as other big red wines.

Coarse - Rude or harsh in flavor.

Complete - Mature, with good follow-through on the palate, satisfying mouthfeel and firm aftertaste.

Complexity - Term for multifaceted, multilayered wine that continues to reveal different flavors as you drink it.

Cooked - Heavy, pruney flavor; also said of wines from very hot growing regions or wines that are overripe.

Crisp - Fresh, brisk character that is usually associated with high acidity.

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D.O.C. - An abbreviation for Denominazione di Origine Controllata, the Italian government agency that controls wine production.

D.O.C.G. - An abbreviation for Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita; the Italian government allows the marking to appear only on the finest wines. The G stands for guaranteed.

Decanting - The process of pouring wine from its bottle into a carafe to separate the sediment from the wine.

Demi-Sec - Champagne containing a high level of residual sugar.

Distinctive - Elegant, refined character that sets the wine apart on its own.

Dry - Without sweetness, but does not mean sour. Wine can be fruity and dry at the same time.

Dull - Lacking liveliness and proper acidity; uninteresting.

Dumb - Not revealing flavor or aroma; closed; typical of wines that are too young or too cold.

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Earthy - Smell or flavor reminiscent of earth. A certain earthiness can be appealing; too much makes the wine coarse.

Eiswein (ice wine) - A wine made from harvesting frozen grapes and crushing them to produce a sweet style of wine.

Elegant - Refined character, distinguished quality, stylish, not heavy.

Estate-Bottled - Wine that's entirely made, produced and bottled by a single winery.

Extra Dry - Classification that is dry, but less dry than Brut Champagne.

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Fat - Full body and flavor; fleshy.

Fermentation - The process by which grape juice is made into wine. Caused by the interaction of yeast (natural and added) with the sugars in grape juice.

Filtration - A step used by some winemakers to clarify wine just prior to bottling.

Finesse - Distinctive balance; fineness; elegance and flair.

Finish - The final aftertaste of a wine. Very good wines usually have long finishes.

Firm - Taut balance of elements; tightly knit structure; also distinct flavor.

Flat - Dull, lacking in liveliness; wine without sufficient acid.

Flavored Wines - The process of beginning with a base wine and adding natural or artificial flavoring.

Fleshy - Fatness of fruit; big, ripe.

Flinty - Dry, mineral character that comes from certain soils, mostly limestone, in which the wine was grown; typical of French Chablis and Loire Valley Sauvignon Blancs (Sancerre).

Flor - A type of yeast that develops in some Sherry production.

Flowery - Aroma suggestive of flowers.

Fortified Wine - A wine such as Port and Sherry that has additional grape brandy that raises the alcohol content.

Forward - Developed ahead of its peers; also, when the fruit is prominent, it is said to be forward.

Foxy - The grapey flavors of wines made from native American grapes.

Frizzante - Semi-sparkling or spritz.

Fruit-Based Wines - Wines made from something other than grapes; like pineapple or apples.

Full-bodied - Full proportion of flavor and alcohol; big, fat

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Gran Reserva - Spanish wine that has had extra aging.

Green - A wine made from unripe grapes that are tart and lacking fruit flavor.

Grip - Firmness of flavor and structure.

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Halbtrocken - The German term meaning semi-dry.

Hard - Stiff, with pronounced tannins; undeveloped.

Harmonious - All elements (fruit, acid, tannins) in perfect balance.

Harsh - Rough, biting character from excessive tannins or acid.

Heady - High in alcohol, very full-bodied.

Herbaceous - Aromas reminiscent of fresh grass or hay; grassy, as in certain Sauvignon Blancs; also the green pepper character of some Cabernet Sauvignons.

Herby - Reminiscent of herbs such as mint, sage, thyme or eucalyptus.

Hermitage - A red wine from the Northern Rhône Valley region of France.

Honest - Without flaws, typical and straightforward, simple but not great.

Honeyed - Smell or taste reminiscent of honey; characteristic of late harvest wines affected by noble rot.

Hybrid - A cross between two or more different varieties of grape.

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Joven - A term applied to any DO or D.O.C. wine; typically, the wine sees little or no time in oak and is sold as a fresh and fruity wine.

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Kabinett - A light, semi-dry German wine.

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Late Fortification - The addition of alcohol to a wine after fermentation is complete with any sweetness added afterwards, rendering a wine with up to 15% alcohol by volume.

Late-harvest - Grapes left on the vine after initial harvest to intensify the sugar content.

Lees - Sediment that accumulates at the bottom of a vat during fermentation.

Legs - A tear-like coating that is left on the inside of the glass after a wine is swirled.

Length - Lingering aftertaste.

Light - Refers to wines light in alcohol but also to texture and weight (how the wine feels in the mouth). Lightness is appropriate in some wines, a defect in others.

Lively - Crisp, fresh, having vitality.

Long - Fine wines should have a long finish or aftertaste.

Luscious - Rich, opulent and smooth; most often said of sweet wines, but also intensely fruity ones.

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Maceration - The period of time that grape juice spends in contact with the skins and seeds.

Macroclimate - Describes the average, overall weather conditions in a large wine-growing region such as Bordeaux, France or Napa Valley, California.

Maderized - Flat, oxidized smell; passed its prime, usually from poor storage or heat, and may have a brownish tint.

Mature - Fully developed, ready to drink.

Meaty - A wine with chewy, fleshy fruit flavor; sturdy and firm in structure.

Mechanical harvester - A machine used on flat vineyards that shakes the vines to harvest the grapes.

Mellow - Smooth and soft with no harshness.

Meritage - A proprietary designation for an American Bordeaux-style blend made up of two or more grape varieties. Approved varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot.

Mesoclimate - Describes the climate of a small area, typically an individual vineyard or hillside.

Microclimate - Describes the climate immediately around the vine. It is influenced by canopy management.

Moldy - Wines with the smell of mold or rot, usually from grapes affected by rot or from old moldy casks used for aging.

Must - Grape juice before fermentation.

Musty - Stale, dusty or rank aromas.

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Noble - Great; of perfect balance and harmonious expression. The so-called noble grapes are those that produce the finest wines in the world.

Noble Rot - See Botrytis Cinerea.

Non-vintage - A blend of grapes from two or more years.

Nose - A general term referring to the olfactory sense of wine.

Nutty - A term used for some wines, such as Sherry or Tawny Port, that have a crisp, nutty characteristic.

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Off-Flavors - Not quite right; flavors or odors that are not correct for a particular type of wine.

Open - Revealing full character.

Organic Wines - A generic term for wines produced using the minimum amount of sulphur dioxide. From grapes grown without the aid of chemical fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides.

Oxidized - A term used to describe wine that has been exposed to oxygen, which breaks down the wine and results in a loss of color, flavor and aroma. This process is actually controlled in the production of certain wines like Madeira.

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Passito - Winemaking technique using raisins or semi-dried grapes.

Petrol/Petroleum - Sensory term used to describe the faint smell of petroleum found in some wines, specifically Riesling.

Phylloxera - A root louse that kills grape vines.

Pips - Small seeds of a fruit.

Pomace - Solid remains of grapes after pressing containing the skins, seeds, and stems.

Proprietary Wine - A wine that is given a brand name and is marketed by that name.

Punt - Dimple at the bottom of the bottle.

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Qualitätswein bestimmter Anbaugebiete (QbA) - Quality wine from a specified region in Germany.

Qualitätswein mit Prädikat (QmP) - The highest quality category of wine defined by the German wine laws adapted in 1971.

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Racking - The process of siphoning the wine off the lees and into barrels. Racking allows for clarification and stabilization.

Reserva/Riserva - A term that means a wine has extra aging; it is often found on Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian wine labels.

Reserve - A term sometimes found on American wine labels, usually indicating a better quality wine, but with no legal significance.

Residual Sugar - Amount of sugar remaining in the wine after fermentation is complete.

Ripe - Mature, fully developed fruit.

Robust - Full-bodied, powerful, heady.

Rough - Harsh edges, biting, unpleasant.

Round - Smooth and well developed flavor without angularity or rough edges.

Ruby Port - A dark, sweet, fortified wine blended from non-vintage wines.

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Sake - Often called Japanese rice wine. Considered by some to be a beer because it is made from a grain.

Sec - Dry.

Sediment - Small particles, mostly of pigments, that fall out of suspension during a wine's aging. Not recognized as a flaw.

Sekt - German name for sparkling wine.

Sharp - Biting acid or tannins.

Short - Refers to a wine's finish or aftertaste, not desirable.

Silky - Smooth, sinuous texture and finish.

Simple - Opposite of complex, straightforward.

Skin Contact - The maceration of skin in the fermenting juice can extract varying degrees of color, tannins, and various aromatic compounds.

Smoky - Aroma and flavor sometimes associated with oak aging.

Soft - May refer to soft, gentle fruit in delicate wines or to a lack of acidity in wines without proper structure; used on occasion to indicate low alcohol.

Spumante - Italian term meaning fully sparkling.

Spätlese - A white, German wine made from grapes picked later than the normal harvest.

Stainless-Steel Tank - A container used to ferment and age some wines. Preferred due to its capability for temperature control.

Steely - Firmly structured; taut balance tending toward high acidity.

Stiff - Unyielding and closed; dumb.

Strong - Robust, powerful, big.

Structure - The way a wine is built; composition and proportion.

Stuffing - Big, flavorful, full-bodied, robust.

Sturdy - Bold, vigorous flavor; full-bodied, robust.

Sulfur Dioxide - A substance used in winemaking and grape growing as a preservative, antioxidant and sterilizing agent.

Super Tuscan - A term coined in the 1980s for the blended Italian wines not legal to be called D.O.C. or D.O.C.G., but generally of very high quality.

Süssreserve - The practice of adding unfermented grape juice into fermented wine to increase sweetness.

Sweet - Generally applies to the sense of taste, but can also apply to smell.

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T.B.A. - An abbreviation for the German wine Trockenbeerenauslese.

Tafelwein - A German table wine.

Tannin - A natural compound and preservative that comes from the skins, stems, and pips of the grapes and also from the wood in which wine is aged.

Tart - Sharp; acceptable if not too acidic.

Tartrates and Tartrate Crystals - Tartaric acid crystals that precipitate out of a wine when exposed to low temperatures but which do not affect the taste or quality of the wine.

Tawny Port - A Port that is lighter, softer, and aged in wood longer than Ruby Port.

Thick - Dense and heavy in texture.

Thin - Lacking body and flavor.

Tough - Past its peak of flavor development; old.

Transfer Method - Sparkling wine production method where wine is transferred from bottle to tank after secondary fermentation for filtering and flavor adjustment prior to being bottled again for sale.

Trockenbeerenauslese - The richest and sweetest wine made in Germany from the most mature grapes.

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Ullage - Refers to any amount by which a barrel is unfilled. Also applied to the unfilled air space at the top of a bottle of wine, which is essential to allow for expansion due to temperature changes.

Unfiltered - A wine that has not been filtered before bottling and contains dead yeast cells and other sediments.

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Vanilla - A scent imparted by aging in oak.

Varietal Wine - A wine that is labeled with the predominant grape used to produce the wine.

Velvety - Smooth and rich in texture.

Vendange Tardive - French for late harvest.

Verdejo - A variety of wine grape that has long been grown in the Rueda region of Spain. Verdejo was generally used to make a strongly oxidized, Sherry-like wine.

Veronese Wines - The wines from Veneto, Italy: Valpolicella, Bardolino, Soave, and Amarone.

Vigorous - Firm, lively fruit, strong body; assertive flavor.

Village Wine - A wine that comes from a particular village in Burgundy, France.

Vinegary - Having the smell of vinegar; see also Acetic.

Vinification - Describes the entire process of making wine from the moment the grapes are picked to the point that it is bottled.

Vino Nobile di Montepulciano - A D.O.C.G. red wine from the Tuscany region of Italy.

Vintage - Denotes that the grapes for a wine were grown and vinified in the year on the label. 85% in the E.U. and 95% in U.S. must come from the vintage on the label.

Vintage Port - A port produced in one vintage during exceptional years and bottled after only two years in wood. Generally only 3 in 10 years are declared vintages in Portugal.

Viticulture - The cultivation of grapevines or the study or science of grapes and their culture.

Vitis Vinifera - The European grape species used to make European and Californian wines.

Vitis Labrusca - A native grape species in America.

Viura - A grape used to make mildly acidic and young white wines, typically suitable for early consumption or blending; often the main grape of white Rioja.

Volatile - Smells of acetic acid and/or ethyl acetate; quite disagreeable when excessive though a tiny amount may enhance aromas.

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Watery - Thin, lacking in flavor.

Weak - Lacking grip typical for the wine; without character.

Weighty - Strong, powerful, full-bodied, forceful.

Whole Berry Fermentation - A variation on the normal red wine fermentation process in which the winemaker keeps some of the whole grapes separate while the bulk is crushed, pressed and then fermented. The whole grapes are added during fermentation, extending the fermentation process and reducing the tannin level of the wine and adding more of a berry flavor.

Wine Thief - A syringe-like instrument used to remove a sample of wine from a cask, tank, or barrel.

Woody - Excessive aromas of wood, common to wines aged overlong in cask or barrel.

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Yeast - Unicelluar microorganisms that bring about fermentation by eating the sugars in the grape juice and giving off alcohol and carbon dioxide.

Yeasty - A wine-tasting term used to describe the yeasty, fresh bread bouquet found in certain wines that have been aged sur lie.

Yield - A term used in grape growing and winemaking circles to express the productivity of a set amount of vineyard land.

Young - In simple wines, signifies youthful freshness; in finer wines, refers to immaturity.

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