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How to Sound Like a Wine Expert

How to Sound Like a Wine Expert

 

Wine Glossary

The great thing about wine is that you don’t have to be an expert to enjoy a bottle — or several. Even if your knowledge starts and ends with “refrigerate white, keep red at room temp,” or you don’t know tannins from en Tirage, you can still find your way to a satisfying sip. But just because you’re not a sommelier (we’re getting to it) doesn’t mean you should be terrified of terroir. Getting comfy with the terms used in growing, making, and describing wine will make your next journey into the wine world taste even sweeter (or more acidic, aromatic, tart…you get the idea). Plus, you'll sound super smart.

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z


A

Abboccato
In terms of sweetness, this type of wine is Goldilocks' dream: not too dry, not too sweet. It's juuuust right.

Acescence
This vinegary anomaly occurs when wine is exposed to bacteria or oxygen, turning alcohol into acetic acid. While winemakers can prevent it by monitoring sulphites, hygiene, and oxidization, some use it to give their bottles more flavor. (See: acescent, acetic, acetic bacteria.)

Acetaldehyde
Also known by its chemical name, CH3CHO, this temperamental compound, resulting from the activity of yeast and acetic acid bacteria (AAB), is behind your favorite wines' aldehyde content. You know those grassy, nutty, apple-y flavors you love? That's acetaldehyde.

Acidification
We love ripe grapes, but when things get a little too ripe, the resulting wines can end up low-acid and high-pH. In this process, winemakers add tartaric and malic acid to give their wines a much-needed tart kick.

Acidity
A good wine is as complex as a Dostoevsky novel. Wine-tasting is all about balance, so "acidity" compares that fresh tartness to sweetness, bitterness, and so on. Most wine grapes boast tartaric, malic, and/or citrus acids.

Aeration
Think of this as popping the cork and introducing your wine to the outside world: specifically, some much-needed oxygen. Since they're packed with tannins, reds benefit from aerating and decanting, which helps create a balanced taste.

Aging
Like cheese, stocks, and teenagers, some wines need extra time to mature. When you "age" a wine, you're leaving it in the bottle so it can find its flavor and become its best self.

Alcohol By Volume (Abv)
Usually a percent, alcohol by volume (aka alc/vol or ABV) gauges the amount of ethanol in 100 units of a liquid.

Amabile
A little sweet but not too showy about it.

Amino Acids
These essential compounds of nitrogen, carbon, oxygen, etc. are called the "building blocks of proteins" because they come together to (you guessed it) build proteins. Red wine, in particular, is an amino-acid superstar, with 300–1300 mg/L.

Appellation
A specific geo-political location with rules about where and how its wine is made—from planting to harvesting to bottling.

Aroma
This is the smell that makes a grape special. Some varietal examples include the lychee aromas in Gewürztraminer and the black currant aromas in Cabernet Sauvignon.

Astringent
That pucker-up sensation that leaves your mouth and tongue feeling dry after a satisfying sip. Caused by tannins attaching themselves to salivary proteins and taking them on a joy ride.

AVA (American Viticultural Area)
By law, these U.S. regions are devoted specifically to grape-growing. (See: Santa Maria, Mississippi Delta.)


B

Balance
Think of this like a group project where no one's doing all (or none) of the work. In a "balanced" wine, alcohol content, acidity, tannins, sweetness, and fruitiness come together perfectly to get the job done.

Balthazar
This monster-sized bottle holds 12 liters of wine (that's the same as 16 standard-sized bottles!).

Barrel
Also known as a cask, this oblong, hollow container stores wine in its adorably rotund belly. Usually made of French common oak, a 60-gallon barrel stores the same amount as 300 bottles.

Bâtonnage
As a part of the process, winemakers filter out dead yeast, grape seeds, and other sediments known as "lees." In this process, those lees are added back into the wine to enhance taste, texture, and aroma.

Baume
Checking the sugar level and ripeness of grape juice as a way of gauging alcohol content, this measurement system is often used by French and Australian winemakers. (See also Oechsle and Brix.)

Beerenauslese (Ba)
Beerenauslese (BA, for short) are a type of late-harvest wines made with rotting or decaying grapes. Don't worry, though—we're talking the sought-after "noble rot" (or Botrytis cinerea), which gives wines a uniquely flavorful sweetness.

Biologique
The makers of this kind of bottle stick to strict standards when it comes to artificial chemical fertilizers, pesticides, etc. so you can be sure your wine is certified organic.

Bitter
A beginner-level wine-tasting note, usually resulting from tannins. Young red wines have the most tannins, so they're generally the most bitter.

Body
This quality considers grape variety, alcohol content, sweetness, richness, and more to characterize a wine's heaviness. (See Body-ody-ody-ody-ody...)

Bouquet
Though it's a little old-fashioned now, we use this term to compliment the more nose-based notes of a wine: aroma, smell, odor, etc. Usually, it relates to wines that have been aged to showcase "secondary" scents and qualities.

Breathing
A little fresh air works wonders on people, and wine is no different. Temporary exposure to air (oxidization) lets wine "breathe," bringing out its best aromas. Short on time? Try swirling the wine in your glass for a similar effect.

Brettanomyces
Brettanomyces (or Brett) is an unwelcome yeast that can spoil a good red wine. Winemakers use sulfur dioxide to keep it from ruining the party. (Sorry to the Bretts of the world.)

Brix (Symbol °bx)
This measurement method analyzes grapes' sugar content to estimate alcohol level. For example, one grape of sugar equals half a gram of alcohol. Brut French for "dry," we use this term to indicate a mouthwateringly dry sparkling wine.

Bung
A barrel's best friend. This stopper is used to plug up the "bunghole," keeping stored wine inside until it's time to come out. The bung is also removed to allow filling, topping, and tasting.


C

Cantina
Not just a word from the title of our favorite Star Wars tune, "cantina" shares an etymology with "canteen" and comes from the Italian for cellar or vault. It's used today to indicate a cellar-type space for wine storage (in Italy) or a type of bar (in Latin America and Spain).

Carbonic Maceration
This winemaking technique removes oxygen to add in fruity flavors and soften the tannins in light- and medium-bodied red wines. Common resulting flavors are bubble gum, banana, and raspberry.

Cépage
This French term refers to a wine made from one variety of grape.

Chaptalization
Named after French chemist Jean-Antoine-Claude Chaptal, this process uses added sugar to bring up alcohol level post-fermentation. Though it's used all over the world, the specifics depend on the region and the wine.

Citric Acid
This balancing acid is popular in whites and rosés but uncommon in reds. It can do everything from enhance flavor and freshness to reduce cloudiness to add acidity (though that one's less of a surprise).

Clarification
In this process, matter that can't be dissolved is taken out of wine—like panning for gold, if the gold wasn't the good part.

Closed
Muted; not super aromatic or interesting. This isn't usually a compliment.

Cork Taint
An unfortunate contaminant, caused by 2,4,6-trichloroanisole (TCA), that makes bottled wine taste bland—and smell like Grandma's basement.

Corked
This term refers to wine affected by cork taint.

Côtes
This French term refers to wine grown on a hill (usually on the south or southwest side for sun-related reasons).

Cru
French for "growth," this term lets us know that a vineyard or region is super high-quality. You'll often see it following appellation-related adjectives, like "premier" and "grand."

Crush
Most winemakers agree that "crush" is part of the process, but some think of it as the whole shebang while others think of it as the parts where they harvest and—you guessed it—crush the grapes into wine.

Cuvée
From the French "cuve" (vat or tank), this is a fancy word for a tank of wine.


D

Decant
This may sound super sophisticated, but it really just means pouring your wine from one container to another—and doing it slooooowly. In order to keep bottom-of-the-bottle sediment where it is, we move our vino to an easy-pour, glass decanter (get it?).

Diacetyl
If you like your wine like you like your ice cream (creamy) or your popcorn (buttery), you have a compound called diacetyl to thank.

Dosage
This sparkling wine-specific term refers to a part of the process when winemakers add base wine, sugar, preservatives, and alcohol to a batch before the final corking.

Dry Wine
Don't worry—this word doesn't refer to a bottle lacking liquid. Wine-tasters use "dry" to indicate lack of sugar or sweetness, which can be very satisfying.


E

Earthy
High praise for a wine, this compliment has a couple different meanings. Either a sophisticated sip filled with forest-floor or mushroom flavor, or a unique drying sensation caused by a taste called "geosmin."

Eiswein
When you sound it out, this word sounds like "ice wine"—and that's exactly what it is. Winemakers freeze their harvest before picking, resulting in a super-concentrated grape juice.

Élevage
French for "bring up" or "raise," this points to all the nitty-gritty, expert-level processes winemakers go through to make their wine the best it can be. These processes include fermenting, storing, bottling, and more.

Élevé En Fûts De Chêne
A très élégant way of saying "raised in oak barrels."

En Tirage
No, not the HBO show. An aging process in which winemakers don't remove the yeast and other sediment (lees) from sparkling wine for a long time (sometimes years!) to enhance its flavor. Known as "gout de champagne" by the French, the resulting taste is impossible to replicate.

Esters
During the fermentation process, yeasts gobble up grapes' natural sugars, creating carbon dioxide, alcohol content, and these organic acids, known as esters.


F

Fermentation
Another beginner-level winemaking term. This is that miraculous process in which grape juice transforms into alcohol—with a bunch of science-y stuff involving yeasts, sugars, and carbon dioxide, of course!

Fining
We all love a fine wine, but "fining" wine is a little different. In this process, winemakers filter out undesirable components before bringing their batches up from the cellar. Note that some—especially "natural wine" makers—skip this step.

Fortified Wine
Somewhere between a typical bottle and a cocktail, this type of wine pairs up with a distilled alcohol like brandy for a flavor combo all its own. (See: port, sherry, Marsala, vermouth.)

Frizzante
Like a tastefully subtle diamond, this type of wine is only semi-sparkling (in contrast to "spumante," which has quite a bit of fizz to it).


G

Garrigue
The family of wild, aromatic herbs that blanket the rolling hills of the Mediterranean coast, including thyme, juniper, rosemary, and lavender.

Glycerol
Also known as glycerin, this type of alcohol comes from fermented glucose. It gives wine a "fuller" texture and softens things up on the palate.

Grape Must
A total "must" in winemaking, this super-fresh fruit juice hangs on to its natural skins, seeds, and stems (known as "pomace"). From the Latin for "young wine," this is the very first step winemakers take on their journey to a finished bottle.


H


I

Imperial
This super-sized bottle has room for six liters or eight standard bottles.

In Good Taste
Your go-to wine destination for tasting the world, one eight-bottle tasting flight at a time.


J


K


L


M

Malolactic Fermentation (Mlf)
Also known as malo or MLF, this process turns bitter malic acid into lactic acid (think: milk), making a wine's flavor notes soft, ripe, and creamy.

Methode Champenoise / Traditionelle
Translating to "the traditional method," this is the process behind sparkling wine in France, Cava in Spain, Espumante in Portugal, Franciacorta in Italy, and Champagne in Champagne.

Minerality
Move over, spice, herb, and fruity flavors—this unique quality of wine comes from its terroir (soil, climate, rocky terrain).

Mouthfeel
There's more to a wine than its taste. This sensory term refers to the physical experience of drinking (i.e., how a wine feels in your mouth) as a part of its total flavor.


N

Natural Wine
Not as strict as organic or biologique, this movement sticks to traditional winemaking processes to cut out pesticides, herbicides, and other additives.

Nebuchadnezzar
Part of an age-old tradition of giving Godzilla-sized wine bottles biblical names, this is the King Kong of storage, capable of packing 520 ounces or 20 standard-sized bottles.

Noble Rot
Unlike its harmful sibling "grey rot," the sought-after, moisture-loving fungus known as Botrytis cinerea cozies up to ripe grapes and shrivels them, resulting in a unique, golden sweetness.

Nose
This one's easy to remember. A wine's nose indicates its aroma and other scents.


O

Oak Aging
Oak imparts additional tastes, colors, and textures to wine, so "oak aging" refers to the process of fermenting batches in oak barrels or adding oak chips during aging for a spicy or vanilla flavor.

Off-dry
Unlike your average "dry" wine, which is totally free from sugary flavor, off-dry (aka semi-dry) bottles are just a little bit sweet.

Orange Wine
If it's not made from oranges or the color of a Cheeto, what is orange wine? Also known as skin-contact white wine, skin-fermented white wine, and amber wine, this out-of-the-ordinary treat borrows its flavor and color from an unusual process in which it's aged with its skin on.

Organic Wine
When a wine's labelled "organic," its makers have carefully followed their region's organic farming laws, often cutting out fertilizers, fungicides, and other chemicals.

Oxidation / Oxidized
Opening up a new bottle isn't just fun—it's also an important part of the chemical process, allowing wine to interact with air (oxidization), which changes ethanol into grassy, nutty acetaldehyde. Porous corks make this process happen gradually.


P

Ph
Remember this one from high school science? In wine terms, pH measures ripeness in comparison to acidity, using the formula pH = -log10[H+].

Phenols
The compound behind red wine's, well, redness, phenols are naturally occurring in plants' and animals' defense mechanisms.

Phylloxera
One of the many enemies of healthy, high-quality wine, this teeny-tiny aphids' favorite food is roots—specifically, roots of grape plants. They can hitch rides into vineyards on employees' shoes or even gate-crash from nearby farms.


Q


R

Reduction
Oxidization isn't always the way to go. Some of our favorite wines (Syrah, for example) benefit from this alternative process, defined by an absence—rather than the addition—of oxygen.

Region
This term doesn't just refer to location—it also indicates year, varietal, style, and even specific laws under which the wine was made.

Reserve
This adjective, used to describe better-than-average wine and/or wine that's been aged, comes from winemakers setting apart a small portion of their best wine (i.e., reserving it).

Residual Sugar (Rs)
Any sugar still remaining after fermentation.


S

Salmanazar
A hulking bottle that can pour nine liters (or about 72 glasses) of wine, these bad boys are typically associated with Champagne.

Sans Soufre
While this preservative gets a bad wrap, it's not necessarily a no-no when it comes to ingredient lists. That being said, this is the French way of saying ixnay on the sulfur.

Secco
Unlike its sister sekt (German for sparkling wine), secco is only semi-sparkling. This cheerful wine is mixed with its own carbon dioxide for a delightful bubbliness.

Sommelier
Basically the best job ever. A sommelier—sa-muhl-yay—is a steward (essentially an expert) in all things wine. In the U.S., we use "master sommelier" to refer to someone who's progressed past the fourth level of their certification exam, per the Court of Master Sommeliers.

Standard Bottle
A standard-sized bottle holds 750 ml of wine.

Stave
You've heard of barrel, bung, and bunghole, but staves are what make them all up: These skinny, curved strips of wood compose the shape of the barrel. (Also of note is the term "Thin Stave," which is a stave cut specifically to aid in oxidization.)

Sulfites
Also known as sulfur dioxide or SO2, these compounds help preserve wine pre- or post-fermentation. While a few are fine (winemakers don't even have to mention them until their wines have over 10 ppm), the U.S. limit is 350 ppm.

Sulfur Compounds
We all know sulfur smells like rotten eggs, and too many sulfur compounds in a wine can lend it odors of garlic, cabbage, or those hardboiled Easter eggs you took too long to find. Get the balance right, though, and your wine might take on tropical or mineral characters.

Superiore
An Italian descriptor, added to labels to indicate a region with high-quality production standards.

Sur Lie
French for "on the lees," this white wine aging technique involves keeping wine in contact with its yeast particles and sediment (lees) to enhance flavor and mouthfeel. (See: Bâttonage.)

Sweet Wine
Scientifically speaking, a wine with over 30 grams of residual sugar per liter is "sweet" (as opposed to "dry" or "off-dry").


T

Table Wine
In the U.S., we use this term to indicate your regular, run-of-the-mill bottle: not fortified, sparkling, or pricey—just plain, old wine.

Tannins
Arising from skins, seeds, stems, and storage, these organic compounds are responsible for the "drying" feeling that comes with drinking a tart wine.

Tartaric Acid
Responsible for imparting flavor and helping wine age, this is the majority of acid in grapes.

Terroir
Pronounced "tear-woh," this French term refers to the climate, soils, terrain, and traditions specific to a vineyard.

Typicity / Typicality
When it comes to wine, being "typical" isn't always a bad thing. This term compares a bottle to the standards and signatures of its style, region, or grape.


U

Ullage
Like most liquids, over time, wine evaporates—and there's an actual word for the elbow room it leaves behind. That word? Ullage.


V

Vanillin
An important part of vanilla beans, this aromatic compound also pops up in oak barrels.

Varietal
Varietals are made from and labelled with a single type of grape, like cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, or merlot.

Vinification
Another, more scientific name for the process of winemaking, from vine to bottle. (Fun fact: You call a winemaker a "vintner.")

Vinous
A fun adjective that has to do with the more alcoholic bits of a wine's flavor, especially as they relate to richness and warmth.

Vintage
"Thanks, it's vintage." In the wine world, this is the term used to indicate when a wine was made. You can find a vintage (the year the grapes came off the wine) on the label.

Volatile Acidity (Va)
An indicator of how vinegary a wine's flavor or aroma is as a result of its acids.


W

Wine Flight
We're not sure who coined the term "flight" as it relates to wine. But we know from experience that pairing up a group of like bottles for exploration, education, and enjoyment is like spreading our wings and hitting the sky. (We're partial to by-the-glass flights ourselves.)

WSET
The world's premiere wine educator, the London-based Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) has been offering classes and tests on wine and other alcohols for over 50 years.


X


Y

Yield
This term gauges the size of a vineyard against the amount of grapes or wine it puts out. Types of measurement include mass of grapes per vineyard surface and volume of wine per vineyard surface.


Z

 

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