acetaldehyde: Caused by the oxidation of ethyl alcohol it results in a bruised apple character in table wines. It is an important positive aroma/flavour component of some sherries.
acetic acid: One of the substances responsible for the volatile acidity fault in wines. It results in a vinegar aroma. Caused by the action of the bacteria Acetobacter aceti and Acetobacter pasteuranus.
accessible: Easy to drink early on. Normally used to describe a red wine expected to need time to age.
acidity: A tart like taste component of wine caused by the presence of tartaric and malic acid (felt on the tongue mid palate). Wines low in acidity taste flat, while those with high acidity taste excessively tart and unbalanced. Wines high in acid generally age more slowly.
acrid: A pungent, almost burning sensation in the nostrils or back of the throat, due to excessive sulphur dioxide.
aftertaste: The residual flavors left in the mouth after a wine has been tasted. Referred to as the finish.
aggressive: A harshness of taste or texture, often due to excess of tannin, acid, or alcohol.
alcohol: Ethyl alcohol is the natural result produced by the fermentation of grape sugars and yeast. Alcohol marginally adds to the fullness of wine and when in excess results in a warm or hot finish.
alcoholic: Term used to describe a wine that finishes with an unpleasant hotness due to excessive alcohol.
American Oak: Oak from the American White Oak tree (Quercus alba). Most American oak is sourced from the mid western states of the USA, particularly Missouri. Imparts vanillin and coconut characters, and is favored for use in making full bodied red wines.
ampelography: The study and classification of the grape vine family Vitis.
anthocyanin: The scientific name for the group of pigmented substances extracted from black grape skins that give red wine its color.
aperitif: A beverage served before a meal intended to stimulate the appetite. They include dry sherry and vermouth, and lighter bodied sparkling and botrytised wines. The opposite of a digestif.
appellation: a geographical name (as of a region, village, or vineyard) under which a winegrower is authorized to identify and market wine; also : the area designated by such a name. In the U.S. we designate AVA’s, or American Viticultural Areas. Generally, the more narrow the AVA name (i.e. Napa County is less narrow than Oakville or Rutherford, which are AVA’s located within the larger area of Napa County) the more grape is required to be sourced from that area. If Napa appears on the label then 85% of the grapes in that wine must come from within Napa AVA but if the label says Rutherford then 85% of the grapes must come from a more specific area within Napa.
Appellation d’Origine Controllee (AOC): The French naming convention established in 1865. AOC rules proscribe allowable grape varietals, winemaking methods, minimum alcohol levels, yields and vine density limits. Many other countries have emulated this system.
aroma: Traditionally refers to any scent in the wine that emanates from the grape. The more modern interpretation is any wine scent(s) regardless of where they are from the grape, oak, winemaking or maturation.
aromatic: Refers to floral and/or citrus characters or varieties which typically produced those characters. Examples of aromatic varieties are Riesling, Gewurztraminer and the Muscat family.
ascorbic acid: A common antioxidant related to Vitamin C which is added to wines during their making. Additive 300 on some wine labels.
astringency: The drying, roughing or puckering in-mouth sensations produced after tasting most red wines. It is caused by tannins which are extracted from the skins and seeds of red grapes during fermentation, or by the addition of commercial tannins by the winemaker. The red wine tannins react with the lubricating proteins in our saliva or in the pellicle that covers the mouth surfaces. We perceive the resultant loss of lubrication as a drying roughing sensation in the mouth known as astringency.
austere: Term used for wines that have low levels of ripe fruit flavors and high acidity and/or tannins. The term usually describes lighter bodied, acidic white wines with subtle flavors. The term usually suggests a red wine with insufficient flavor and high acidity.
autolysis: The decomposition of yeast cells remaining after fermentation. Yeast autolysis may occur in barrel after barrel fermentation resulting in richer, more complex white wines with a creamier texture. Autolysis is also the process which results in the yeasty characters in bottle fermented sparkling wines.
backward: A wine that is developing in bottle at a slower than expected rate, and as a result are usually predicted to age slowly.
balance: In a balanced wine, no single component (acid, alcohol, fruit, and tannin) is either too dominant or lacking in intensity.
barrel maturation: Storing wine in oak barrels after fermentation to impart complex oak flavors and aromas, and to soften the astringency of red wines.
barrel fermention: The technique of fermenting grape juice (whites) or partially fermented wine (reds) in oak barrels rather than in stainless steel tanks. Imparts complex, integrated oak flavors, and in the case of whites also contributes to the creamy texture and complex buttery flavors.
barrique: A small oak barrel of 225 litre capacity favored for the production of high quality wines.
bâtonnage: A winemaking process of stirring the lees back into the wine following barrel fermentation of white wines. Imparts buttery complexity and a creamy texture.
baumé: A measure of the sugar content in unfermented grape juice. Each 1 degree Baume = 18 g/L of sugar, and when fermented will result in approximately 1% alcohol. Similar to brix.
bead: The bubbles found in sparkling wines.
bentonite: A type of fine clay that is sometimes added to white wine during its vinification to remove proteins. This is done as a fining process.
big: Term used to describe full-bodied wines that are flavorful, fruity, high in alcohol, and in the case of red wines, are high in tannin.
bitter: An unpleasant taste usually perceived at the back of the mouth after the wine is swallowed. Bitterness is usually caused by the accidental extraction of small molecular weight tannins from the skins and (particularly) seeds during the maceration stage of red winemaking.
black currant: A smell associated with red wines like cabernet sauvignon, also called cassis.
blend: A combination of wines made from different grape varieties, regions or vintages. The aim of blending is to create a wine with better balance and/or consistency.
blind tasting: A wine tasting where no aspect of the wine including its identity are known to the taster.
blush: A very pale rose or sparkling wine with a light pink appearance.
body: A wine’s weight or fullness in the mouth due to a combination of its flavor, alcohol and in the case of red wines, tannin.
Botrytis cinerea: Scientific name for a type of grape mold that under the right climatic conditions concentrates grape sugars, resulting in sweet white wines with complex flavors and luscious texture. However under damp cold conditions, it produces moldy grapes and moldy, “ashtray” like flavors. Synonyms: noble rot. Most often associated with French Sauternes or German eiswein.
botrytised: affected by the good version of Botrytis cinerea.
bottle fermented: Refers to sparkling wine that has undergone a second fermentation in bottle. Known as Methode Champenoise, as the method was developed in Champagne.
bouquet: Traditionally refers to any wine scent emanating from winemaking practice or bottle maturation. Rarely used today as the distinction between grape derived and non-grape derived characters unnecessarily complicates an already complex task. A classic example of one of those “precious” terms which is used by some wine tasters to indicate that they have some form of superior knowledge. Today the word is commonly interchangeable with aroma.
breathing: The practice of letting red wines stand for a time after opening to open up the aromas prior to consumption.
Brettanomyces: A wild yeast (Dekkera bruxullensis) that imparts aromas and flavors to red wines akin to barnyard, antiseptic, or band-aid. Considered a fault when in excess, but the yeast can impart a restrained complex spicy or earthy character. Synonym: Brett (as Dekkera is often referred to as Brettanomyces)
Brix :A system favored by US winemakers of measuring the amount of sugar present in grape juice. 1 Brix = 10g/L of sugar. Similar to baume.
browning: An undesirable change in the color of white wines from straw or yellow to brown. Caused by the oxidation of white wine phenolics, the products of which absorb light at certain wavelengths resulting in a brownish appearance.
burnt: An undesirable ‘cooked like’ and bitter characters resulting from excessively hot fermentations.
cap: The layer of grape skins that rises to the surface of red wine during its fermentation.
cap management: An important step in red winemaking where the cap is wetted with the fermenting juice during fermentation. This allows colour and tannins to be extracted from the skins into the fermenting wine. It is achieved in various ways including physically punching the skins down into the juice, pumping the juice back over the cap, pushing the cap down into the juice using wooden boards, or mixing the juice and skins by spinning a horizontal tank called a roto-fermenter.
capsule: The tin alloy or plastic covering over the top of a wine bottle. Solely used to improve the aesthetics of the product.
carbonation: The injection of carbon dioxide gas into a wine to make it bubbly. Used in the production of inexpensive and inferior quality sparkling wines.
carbon dioxide: The gas that gives sparkling wines their effervescence. It is also produced by yeast during fermentation.
carbonic maceration: A winemaking technique whereby whole grapes or bunches are placed in an atmosphere rich in carbon dioxide. This results in a yeast free enzymatic fermentation whereby some of the grape acids (yes that’s right, acids) are fermented to alcohol. The method produces fruity wines with a cherry like flavor with low tannins suited for early consumption. Commonly practiced in Beaujolais.
cask: A synonym for a wine barrel or large fermentation vessel made from oak. Also refers to the ‘bag in the box’ style of packaging.
Cava: (Spanish) A Spanish sparkling wine produced using the Methode Champenoise method. Traditionally produced using the varieties, Macabeo, Xarello and Parellada, it is now increasingly made using Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
chaptalisation: The winemaking act of adding sugar to the juice either prior to or during fermentation. It is done to increase the alcohol level of the finished wine when grapes are deficient in natural sugar. Chaptalization is a common technique in many regions.
charmat method: An inexpensive method of producing sparkling wines of reasonable quality. The secondary fermentation is carried in a pressurized tank and the yeast is filtered out prior to bottling. Also called the tank method.
chateau: (French) Generally refers to an estate that produces wine from vines grown on the property.
chewy: A wine described as chewy usually refers to noticeable tannins that almost have a mouth feel as though you could chew the wine.
claret: The traditional English term for red Bordeaux wine. Generically it refers to a full bodied dry red blended wine.
clean: A wine devoid of any faults.
closed: A wine lacking aroma, also called tight.
cloying: Describes a wine that has insufficient acid to support its level of sweetness. In practical terms, it refers to a wine which is ‘sickly sweet’, unpalatable after the first glass or two.
coarse: Used to describe a wine that has rough feeling tannins and/or an unpleasant bitter aftertaste.
complex: A descriptive term that refers to the many flavors, depth, aroma, and in-mouth texture found in a single wine.
cork: A stopper consisting of a cylindrical piece of bark cut from the tree Quercus suber. The elasticity and springiness of this wood enables it to hold the wine inside the bottle without leaking.
corked: Affected by cork taint. A term used to describe a wine that has been tainted by being in contact with a cork. The introduced taint has a moldy/musty smell and flavor. The potent smelling compound responsible for the taint is called 2,4,6 Trichloroanisole, or TCA. Cork taint has absolutely nothing to do with the physical nature or condition of the cork. Therefore visual inspection of the cork cannot indicate the existence or otherwise of cork taint.
Cosecha: (Spanish) Vintage.
cream: A very sweet, dark style of sherry.
crisp: High acidity in wine giving the impression of freshness and vitality.
crop thinning: TAlso known as yield cropping. The viticultural practice of removing immature bunches of grapes in attempt to improve the flavor, color and tannin of the remaining fruit. Usually done with varieties which are sensitive to over-cropping (i.e. when excessive yield results in significant reductions in wine quality) such as Pinot Noir and Sangiovese.
crust: A naturally occurring red colored sediment which occurs in older red wines and vintage ports. It comprises tannins that have combined with color molecules and polysaccharides over time.
Cuvee: (French) The blend of base wines that eventually undergo a secondary fermentation to create a sparkling wine. The blend may be or wines derived from different vineyards, grape varieties or vintages.
decanting: The process of pouring an older wine from its bottle into another container in an attempt to separate the wine from its sediment and/or to aerate it.
demi-sec: (French) Medium sweet.
depth: Refers to a wine’s intensity or presence of flavor or color.
disgorgement: (French) A step in sparkling wine production whereby the yeast that conducts the secondary fermentation in the bottle is removed.
dolce: (Italian), doux (French) dulce (Spanish) Sweet.
dosage: (French) The addition to sparkling wines of a solution of sugar syrup mixed with wine to sweeten them. The amount of dosage determines the wines final sweetness. Rated from extra brut (being the driest), brut, sec, demi-sec and doux (being the sweetest).
dry: An absence of sweetness in wine.
elegant: Refined flavors, harmonious balance, absence of coarseness.
elevage: (French) All stages of wine production that occur between fermentation and bottling.
en primeur: (French) Refers to wine sold before bottling. A discount is usually applied as delivery can be some time after payment, and the wine is in effect purchased ‘sight unseen’.
esters: Naturally occurring fruity smelling compounds in wine. Many are created by yeast during fermentation and decrease as the wine ages.
estate bottled – according the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), the government agency responsible for regulations regarding labels on wine bottles Estate Bottled means that 100% of the grapes for that wine were grown on land owned or controlled by the winery and located in the Viticultural area. The winery must crush and ferment and finish, age, and bottle the wine in a continuous process on their premises. That’s some serious requirements in order to be able to say Estate Bottled on a wine label.
ethanol: The primary alcohol found in wine. Also called ethyl alcohol.
extract: Refers collectively to the non-evaporating substances present in a wine such as tannins, sugars, polysaccharides and alcohols which give it its richness and body. Therefore the term ‘high in extract’ is roughly synonymous with ‘full bodied’ or ‘rich’ wine. Undesolved solids that remain in the wine.
extracted: A negative term used to describe a red wine with excessive amounts of bitter hard tannins. This usually occurs when excessively hot or long fermentations are conducted in an attempt to extract deep colour from the skins.
fat: Describes a full bodied with high alcohol and ripe fruit flavors.
fermentation: The metabolization of grape sugars by yeast into ethyl alcohol and carbon dioxide.
filtration: The removal of suspended solid matter from the wine. Some believe that fining reduces the aromas and flavors of wine.
fine: General term to describe a wine of high quality.
finesse: An highly subjective and abstract term relating to a wine of delicacy and complexity.
fining: The addition of various natural and synthetic agents to wine in order to remove unwanted dissolved substances, which if not removed could lead to hazes forming in the bottle. Fining agents included bentonite (which is a form of fine clay), egg white, skim mild, gelatin and the dried swim bladder of a fish known as isinglass.
finish: The amount and type of flavor remaining in the mouth after the wine has been swallowed. Synonyms: aftertaste and length.
firm: A wine with strong tannins.
flabby: A wine that lacks acidity and therefore has a dull and lifeless taste.
flat: A wine that lacks acidity.
fleshy: A wine of full body and rich mouth-filling flavor.
flinty: A flavor not unlike struck match and flint stone that can be found in some white wines, notably Chablis, indicating high sulfur dioxide levels.
fortified wine: Wines that have had alcohol added to them at some time during their making. The alcohol addition increases the wine’s alcohol content to between 15 and 23%. Fortified wines include the sherries, ports, madiera and liqueur styles.
foxy: A term used to describe the distinctive flavor found in wines produced from the American grape variety Vitis lubrusca. The flavor is often described as grapey and not considered desirable in a wine.
free-run juice: The first juice that is drained from crushed white grapes following crushing. That is, without pressing the skins. Free run juice generally produces delicate wines that contain lower levels of phenolics.
free-run wine: The red wine that is drained from the skins and seeds following fermentation. That is, without pressing. Free run wine is lower in color and tannin than pressing wines, but typically they have more finesse and less bitterness. Most red wines are blends of free run and pressings wine.
fresh: A term relating to the youthfulness and vibrancy of wine.
fructose: One of the two primary fermentable sugars in grapes. The other is glucose.
fruit: A general term used to describe the presence of flavors derived from the grape that are reminiscent of other fruits.
full: A wine that is substantive and generous on the palate. Usually associated with high alcohol, body, and flavor.
generic: Label terms that indicate that the wine has some vague resemblance in style to those arising from well-known and established European wine regions. For example, the generic term “Chablis” suggests that the wine labeled as such is light bodied and high in acidity. Generic labeling is either being phased out or is illegal in many countries.
glucose: One of the two major fermentable sugars in grapes. The other is fructose.
glycerol: A naturally occurring chemical that is produced by yeast during fermentation. It provides a slight increase in sweetness and body to the wine. However, its effect on wine body is weak at best.
gravelly: A certain earthiness associated with clarets from Medoc and Graves.
grafting: The vegetative joining of the shoot of a European grape variety (Vitis vinifera) onto the rootstock of an American species of vine (e.g. Vitis berlandieri, V. champini, V. rupestris). This affords the European vine protection against root born pests such as Phylloxera and nematodes. Vines may also be grafted onto rootstocks that are better suited to specific soil types i.e sandy, acidic or saline.
grand cru: (French) Superior Burgundian vineyard classification. The classification is based on the historical quality performance of the wines made from these vineyards. It may or may not be a good indicator of quality of any particular wine.
hard: A wine that has strong tannins that have an unpleasant bitter edge.
herbaceous: The name given to the class of aromas and flavors that are herbal or green vegetable like. These are characteristic of some grape varieties such as Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon.
hollow: A wine with good aroma but lacking depth of flavor on the palate.
hot: A wine that leaves the mouth feeling warm and peppery after swallowing. Hotness is caused by excessive alcohol, particularly in weakly flavored wines.
hybrid: A grape variety that has been bred by crossing the European grape variety Vitis vinifera with an American variety Vitis labrusca. Hybrids are typically bred to impart fungal resistance, and as such, hybrid vines are usually planted in warm climates with summer dominant rainfall.
ice wine: (German eiswein) A dessert wine made from ripe grapes grown in very cold climates that have been left on the vine and allowed to freeze. The grapes are pressed so as to leave the frozen water behind concentrating the sugars, acidity and flavor.
isinglass: A high quality fining agent that comprises proteins extracted from the swim bladders of certain fish. It is used to clarify white wines.
jammy: Describes a wine with concentrated overripe fruit character and high alcohol.
lactic acid: A mildly acidic wine acid. Lactic acid is produced when malic acid from grapes is metabolized by lactic acid bacteria. This conversion is known as malolactic fermentation.
late harvest: Refers to wine made from grapes left on the vines until late in the autumn when the grapes become very rich in sugars. Found commonly on California wine labels.
lees: The residue that forms in wine during fermentation. It is comprised mainly of dead yeast cells and grape pulp. It is usually separated from the wine by pumping the wine off, leaving the residue behind – a process known as racking. Some wines (notably Chardonnay) are deliberately left in contact with the lees while in barrel in an attempt to impart more complexity and palate creaminess.
length: The persistence of flavor after the wine has been swallowed.
linalool: An important naturally occurring compound in aromatic varieties such as Riesling and Gerwurztraminer. It has an aroma of citrus with floral notes.
lively: Describes a wine that is fresh, youthful, and with good fruit and acidity.
maceration : The red winemaking practice of allowing the grape juice/wine to remain in contact with the skins and seeds. This allows the color and tannin which reside in the skins and seeds to be extracted into the wine. Short periods of maceration are used to produce rose wines while long periods are used when making full bodied reds.
maceration (post fermentation): The practice of leaving the skins and seeds in contact with the finished wine following the completion of fermentation. This is thought to increase the tannin level of the wine.
maceration (pre-fermentation): A practice of soaking the skins and seeds of red grapes in their juice for a period of time prior to the start of fermentation. Some winemakers believe that this method allows different tannins to be extracted giving improved texture to the wine. To avoid fermentation commencing the juice/seed/skin mixture must be kept cold. Hence this method is also called cold soaking.
madeira: A long lived fortified wine originating from the island of Madeira. Its four styles are named after the principal grape variety from which the wine is made. These also correspond to different styles. The wines in order of increasing sweetness and color are Sercial, Verdelho, Bual and Malvasia. Madeira is a wine in that it is intentionally subjected to heat which gives it its unique character.
madeirised: A negative ‘cooked like’ character in wine resulting from accidental exposure to heat. The oxidative character which results is reminiscent to that of Madeira – hence the name.
magnum: A 1.5 litre bottle.
malic acid : One of the two primary acids found naturally in grapes. Malic acid levels are higher in grapes grown in cool climates or under dense shaded grapevine canopies. As malic acid has a strong acid taste which tends to be metallic like when in excess, winemakers encourage malolactic fermentation in order to reduce its effect.
malolactic fermentation (MLF): A weak fermentation carried out by certain naturally occurring bacteria, notably Oenococcus oeni. The lactic acid bacteria convert the stronger malic acid into the softer lactic acid, in effect naturally de-acidifying the wine. These bacteria also produce flavor substances such as diacetyl which give wine a complexing buttery, dairy like flavor. As MLF usually occurs after primary yeast fermentation it is sometimes called secondary fermentation. Nearly all red wines undergo MLF. Some white wines such as Rieslings on the other hand do not undergo MLF. This is because the winemaker is trying to maintain the naturally high acidity and fresh aromatic characters which define this type of wine.
marc: Also known as pomace. It is the residual skins and seeds left after winemaking.
meaty: Refers either to a wine which has substantial flavor and extract, chewy, or to the flavor that is found in some older wines notably those made from Pinot noir.
mellow: A term used to describe mature wine that has soft tannins and good balance.
mercaptans : A class of unpleasant smelling chemical substances containing sulfur. They have aromas of cabbage, dirty socks, rubber and the like, and when found in wine are considered a major fault. The term ‘reductive’ is used to describe when such aromas are detected in wine.
mesoclimate: The climatic conditions experienced by a vineyard site. The aspect of a vineyard (i.e. the way the vineyard faces in relation to the sun) is a major determinant of mesoclimate.
methode champenoise (French): The process of making sparkling wine whereby still (base) wines are blended and then placed in a bottle and dosed with yeast and sugar and stoppered. The yeast undergo a secondary fermentation in the bottle which creates carbon dioxide resulting in a wine with effervescence. The yeast are then left in contact with the wine (typically for 1-5 years). In this time the yeast break down releasing complex yeasty flavors. The yeast are then removed from the bottle, and the wine sweetened a little before being released for sale. This method is expensive and time consuming but when done well produces complex wines with a delicacy that cannot be attained using any other method developed to date.
microclimate: The climatic condition experienced in the immediate vicinity of the grape bunch. The microclimate is primarily a function of the amount of shading provided by the grape vine canopy as this affects the temperature, light intensity and humidity experienced by the bunch.
middle palate: That part of the tasting experience between when the wine first enters your mouth and its aftertaste.
minerally: Suggestions to both the nose and palate of stones,: slate, granite, chalk, schist, etc. Associated with French wines from the Rhone, Bordeaux, and Burgundy regions. A component of what they consider uniquely their terroir.
mousse: (French) The foam produced by sparkling wine.
mouth feel: The texture of the wine. Best illustrated: full-bodied wine feels like cream (maybe half and half) in your mouth; medium-bodied wine feels like whole milk in your mouth; light-bodied wine feels like 2% milk in your mouth.
must : The mixture of grape skins, seeds and juice as it awaits or undergoes fermentation.
musty : An unpleasant ‘mildew’ or ‘moldy’ aroma. While it may arise in some wines due to the impact of mold on the grapes, most musty characters experienced by winetasters are a result of taint from the cork.
muzzle: (French) The wire basket that holds sparkling wine corks in place.
negociant: (French) A wine merchant who purchases parcels of wine from various sources before blending them and bottling them to sell under their own label.
noble rot: A name given to the grape mold Botrytis cinerea which under certain climatic conditions can result in grapes suited to making high quality late harvest wines.
nose: The smell of a wine.
nouveau : (French) A fresh fruity and youthful red wine ready for consumption soon after harvest/production.
nutty : A negative character indicating oxidation in white wines or an extended or stuck fermentation. However it is a desirable character in some wines such as fino sherry or in Chardonnay wines with extended “lees” contact.
oak: Wood from the tree Quercus sessilis (European oak) or Quercus alba (American oak) used to make wine barrels.
oak alternatives: Include oak chips, shavings, cubes, powder, inner staves and planks. These products are used to impart oak flavors and aromas to the wine. While the quality of oak character arising from their use in rarely of the standard produced by barrel maturation, their cost effectiveness makes them necessary alternatives in the production of low cost commercial wines.
oak barrel: Can be used to hold wines either after or during fermentation. Barrels impart oak flavors and by doing so contribute additional characters to the wine. Oak maturation also facilitates the slow chemical reactions necessary for the wine to soften and for the fruit, oak and malolactic fermentation derived characters to integrate.
oenology: Pronounced eenology. It is the science of wine and wine-making. A practitioner is called an oenologist.
oily : A wine with a viscous texture. Some varieties of grape such as Gewürztraminer and Pinot Gris often produce wines with this texture.
open: A wine that readily releases its aroma and flavor.
open fermentation: A fermentation conducted in vessels which are open to the air. Many feel that these fermentations produce the highest quality red wines as the exposure to air allows the fermenting wines tannins and color to react, softening and filling out the wine.
oxidation : The chemical reaction between wine components and oxygen. In white table wines oxidation is rarely beneficial resulting in brown colored wines lacking fresh fruit character. In other wine types including red table wines and (notably) fortified wines the introduction of oxygen during winemaking is necessary for their maturation. The exact role of oxygen in winemaking and bottle maturation is still a hotly debated topic.
oxidized : A negative term indicating that a wine that has suffered oxidation. Such wines are brown in colour, lack overall freshness and be harsh on the palate.
palate: The overall impression of flavor, tastes and textures produced by the wine in the mouth.
peppery: Either the aroma of black pepper as found in cool climate Shiraz wines or the hot tingling sensation experienced in wines with very high levels of alcohol.
pH: While technically a measure of acidity the acidic taste of a wine is not strongly related to its pH. Wines at the lower end of the pH scale display better colour, are more microbiologically stable and are more resistant to browning. Therefore lower pH wines have better aging potential than high pH wines.
phenolic: A negative wine tasting term which refers to coarseness and bitterness in white wine.
phenolics: A diverse group of naturally occurring chemical compounds derived from the skins and seeds of grapes and to a lesser extent from oak wood. Some members of this family contribute to wine color (anthocyanins), others to astringency (the tannins) and others to wine flavor and aroma (the volatile phenols). Other phenolic substances are also thought to contribute to harshness and bitterness in both white and red wines.
Phylloxera: A devastating root-born pest of the grape vine, Vitis vinifera. Due to strict quarantine procedures, Phylloxera has been effectively controlled in Australia. In contrast, it is widely distributed throughout European vineyards. Vines are often planted on American rootstocks as they are largely resistant to damage caused by the pest.
polyphenols: Pigmented components (anthocyanins and tannins) in the skin of red grapes.
pomace: Synonym marc. The skins seeds and stems remaining after winemaking.
port: A fortified wine originating from the Douro Valley in northern Portugal. Other countries such as Australia have a long history of producing wines of a similar style. Three major styles of port exist – ruby, tawny and vintage. Ruby ports have a youthful color, vibrant fruity flavors and are best consumed young. Tawny ports are aged in old oak barrels for long periods and as a result they are characterized by complex rancio characters. They also do not improve after being bottled and released for sale. Vintage ports are best thought of as fortified sweet full bodied red wines. When young, they are powerful alcoholic fruity wines with strong tannins. With age they mellow, increasing in complexity and with softening tannins. Good vintage ports improve with bottle age.
powdery mildew: A fungal disease that attacks both the leaves and fruit of vines significantly affecting both grape yield and wine quality.
pressing: The act of mechanically extracting juice from the skins of white grapes following crushing, or mechanically extracting the remaining wine from the skins of red grapes following fermentation.
pressings wine: The red wine pressed off skins following fermentation. Compared with free run wine, pressings wine has deeper color, more flavor and tannin, but often is more bitter. Various fining agents are used to reduce the bitterness so that the wine can be used to increase the volume, color and astringency of the final blend.
punt: The indentation in the bottom of most wine bottles. Deeper punts provide extra strength to the bottle.
rancio: A unique character found in fortified wines which have spent a significant time in old oak barrels. The character is best described as a lifted blend of butterscotch and old wood aromas.
ratafia: A sweet wine made from fermented dried grapes and added marc.
remuage: Synonym riddling. A sparkling winemaking process undertaken after secondary fermentation whereby the bottles are twisted and gradually inverted. Remuage is done so as to move the yeast lees produced during secondary fermentation into the neck of the bottle so that it can be removed.
Riserva: (Spanish) A quality standard. Riserva wines are derived from excellent vintages and are aged longer (both in oak and bottle) before release.
reserve – this word means something in certain parts of the world. For example in Tuscany Reserva refers to the aging process (often required) of the wine. In the United States it is completely a marketing choice of the winery. Reserve is meant to imply that it is the best wine, or a higher quality, or it comes from the best plots in the vineyard, or the best of the harvest, etc. but there is no requirement behind its use in U.S. wines. It could be a special wine from that vineyard or it could be just their house blend.
residual sugar: The sugar that is left in the wine after the completion of fermentation. Residual sugar may comprise both fermentable and non-fermentable sugars. Dry wines have less than 7 grams per litre of residual sugar.
rootstock: The roots of another species of vine (usually an American grape vine) to which a European vine (Vitis vinifera) can be grafted. This is done either to increase grape yield and/or to afford protection from attack from root borne pests such as Phylloxera.
Rose’: A pale and light bodied red(ish) wine made by allowing only a short fermentation on skins. Made for immediate consumption, these wines are generally fruity, high in acidity, and with light to moderate sweetness and light astringency.
saigne’:(French) Meaning literally “to bleed”, this is a winemaking technique whereby a portion of free run juice is drained from the skins prior to fermentation. This technique is usually used in Pinot Noir in an attempt to concentrate the color, flavor and tannin in the finished wine.
sec (French secco (Italian): Seco (Spanish) Dry.
secondary fermentation: A fermentation that takes place in bottle so as to produce effervescence. The term my also refer to malolactic fermentation as this weak fermentation usually occurs after the primary yeast fermentation.
Sekt: (German) Usually a simple sweet sparkling wine made using the transfer method.
Selection de Grains Nobles: (French) Late harvest sweet botrytised white wines from Alsace.
Sercial: A grape variety used in the production of Maderia. Also refers to a particular style of Maderia made from that variety.
sherry: Fortified white wines of different styles made in the Jerez region of southern Spain. Other countries produce wines of a similar style. They vary from being light bodied delicate wines with flor character to deep rich complex wines dominated by rancio character.
short: A wine that lacks persistent flavor following swallowing.
single vineyard – In the U.S. if the name of vineyard appears on the label at least 95% of the grapes must come from that vineyard.
solera: A system employed in the production of fortified wines whereby wines of different ages are blended to achieve consistency of style.
sommelier: An adviser to restaurant owners and patrons regarding appropriate food and wine matches.
sparkling wine: An effervescent wine made using various methods.
spatlese: (German) A late harvest wine which usually has a perceptible level of sweetness.
spritzig: A wine with a perceptible level of dissolved carbon dioxide. These wines have a light ‘fizzy’ taste.
spumante: (Italian) Italian sparkling wine, usually white, and ranging from dry to very sweet. The most famous is Asti Spumante from the Piedmont region in northwest Italy which is produced from the Moscato grape variety.
stalky: A herbaceous character which may derive from fermentation in the presence of grape stalks as is sometimes done with Pinot Noir.
still wine: Any wine that is not effervescent.
structure: A highly subjective wine tasting term which refers to the balance between flavor intensity, acidity, tannin (in reds) and alcohol. A poorly structured wine will either be lacking in, or be dominated by one or more of these attributes.
stuck ferment: A ferment which ceases prematurely, leaving insufficient alcohol and excessive residual sugar in the wine. Due to remaining sugar, the wine will be prone to further fermentation while in bottle. Therefore, winemakers will always attempt to restart stuck ferments by either warming the wine and/or by adding more yeast. Depending on the time taken to restart the ferment the resultant wine may have yeasty and nutty flavors and lack overall freshness.
sulphur dioxide: Synonyms SO2 and sulfites. An indispensable additive used in winemaking (although yeast naturally produce small quantities during fermentation). It is added to inhibit the growth of undesirable bacteria and yeast, and to prevent premature oxidation. It is referred to on wine labels as preservative 220.
supple: Yet another subjective wine tasting term referring to a wine which has good fruit, and a soft pleasing astringency.
sur lie: (French) Refers to the practice of leaving white wine in contact with yeast lees following fermentation. The practice which usually occurs in barrel, results in greater flavor complexity and a soft creamy mouth-feel.
table wine: Any wine that would normally be consumed with a meal. This includes dry red and white wines.
tank method: An inexpensive method used to make sparkling wine whereby the secondary fermentation occurs in a pressurized tank. Also known as the charmat method.
tannic: Describes a red wine that is strongly astringent due to the presence of tannins.
tannins: A diverse group of naturally occurring substances found in the skins and sees of grapes and oak wood, and which are extracted during fermentation and barrel aging. Tannins produce astringency in wine, but depending on type can also elicit bitterness and coarseness.
tart: A wine that is high in acidity.
tartaric acid: The primary acid in grapes and wine. It contributes to the acidic taste in wine.
tartrates: Potassium bitartrate is an insoluble by-product of tartaric acid. It can form as a harmless but aesthetically undesirable crystalline deposit in bottle. Winemakers usually induce the crystals to form in the wine tank prior to bottling ensuring that they do not form in bottle.
tawny port: A style of port that is aged for long periods of time in old oak to enable them to build complexity in the form of rancio character.
TCA: Shorthand for 2,4,6 trichloroanisole. TCA is the key compound responsible for cork taint in wine. TCA is very potent with many people being able to detect its characteristic moldy, musty dank like aroma at around 5 parts per trillion.
terroir: The interacting factors of climatic, viticulture and winemaking which influence the character of the wine. Perhaps the most clichéd term in the wine vocabulary. Of course if you grow the grape in a certain place and make it in a certain way, then you will produce a wine that has different characteristics from others.
thin: Describes a wine lacking in body, flavor, and alcohol.
triage: (French) One of the steps of the methode champenoise process whereby some fermentable sugar and yeast is added to the base wine in bottle to induce the secondary fermentation.
toasting: Refers to the process of burning the inside of a partially constructed wine barrel with an open flame. The level of toast is achieved by either varying either temperature or length of time of firing. Toasting affects the type of aroma and flavours that the barrel will impart to the wine.
toasty: A smell of fresh toast associated with barrel aged chardonnays and mature champagnes.
Tokay: A botrytised dessert wines from north east Hungary. Australian wines named Tokay are fortified wines made from the Muscadelle variety.
topping up: The winemaking process of adding of wine to a barrel to replace that lost to evaporation. If barrels are not topped up they will oxidize or become volatile.
typicity: A subjective term used to indicate the degree to which a wine typifies the style of wine that it is supposed to represent. Unclear as to who determines what constitutes the typical wine.
ullage: Any airspace above a wine when in tank or barrel. Ullage is avoided by topping up. When used in reference to an old bottle of wine it is regarded as an indicator of cork condition and wine preservation.
varietal: A wine made from a single grape variety.
vegetal: The flavor and aroma of vegetables. Some grape varietals such as cabernet sauvignon and sauvignon blanc can produce wines with a pronounced vegetal characters particularly if they are grown in cool climates and their grape vine canopies are dense and shady.
vendange: (French) vintage vendemmia (Italian) vindemia (Spanish)
vendange tardive: (French) Late harvest.
veraison: A stage in the ripening process of grapes whereby the grape begins to soften and starts to accumulate color, flavor and tannin.
vermouth: A fortified wine flavored with various herbs and primarily used as a cocktail ingredient.
vertical tasting: A structured winetasting involving the tasting of a number of vintages of the same wine.
vigna: (Italian) vineyard vignoble (French) vina (Spanish) Weinberg (German)
vigneron: (French) vine grower.
vin: (French) wine vinho (Portuguese) vino (Italian and Spanish)
vinifera: The species name for the European grape vine, Vitis vinifera.
vinification: The process of making wine.
vin santo: (Italian) A dessert wine made from dried grapes and barrel aged for a significant length of time. In Tuscany where it originated the wine is made from Trebbiano and Malvasia.
vintage: The harvest of grapes and the making of wine, or the year a wine’s grapes were harvested.
vintage port: A style of port. Vintage ports are effectively fortified full bodied sweet red wines. Vintage ports unlike other fortified wines improve with age and are usually cellared before consumption.
vintner: A wine merchant.
viticulture: The science and practice of growing grapes.
Vitis: The botanical name for the grape vine family. Most of the worlds vines are of the species Vitis vinifera. The other variety used for table wine production is the American species Vitis labrusca. Other species of Vitis and their hybrids are used for rootstocks.
volatile acidity: A wine fault caused by microbial spoilage and/or oxidation. It has the characteristic aroma of either vinegar and/or nail polish remover. A low level of volatile acidity is acceptable in some wine styles including full bodied dry red table wines. Synonym volatile.
whole cluster – refers to grapes that are fermented while still attached to their stems. Most grapes are de-stemmed prior to pressing. It is a winemaker preference that, when it works, adds to a wine’s aromatics and when it doesn’t can make a wine taste very green and vegetal.
yeast: A single celled organism that converts sugar into alcohol during fermentation. The yeast also produce aroma and flavor substances which add to wine character. The yeast species that are normally used for wine fermentations are Saccharomyces cerevisiae and Saccharomyces bayanus.
yeasty: A bready like aroma created by yeast usually resulting from the wine having been aged on its lees. For some wine styles such as full bodied Chardonnay wines, a low level of yeastiness is desirable while in others it is considered a taste defect.