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Wine Terms

Timeless Wines Glossary Of Wine Terms

Below is a list of terms that you might find on our website, in our wine descriptions, email offerings, and generally used in the wine industry. While everyone uses their own words to describe what they are tasting or looking for in a wine, (I once had a customer ask me for a wine that would provide a “solid kick to the tongue”.) this list provides some of the more common phrases and descriptions linked to wine tasting.

Approachable: An easy to drink wine, no need for aging. Not high in tannin or acidity.

Acidic: Wines high in acid. Usually means the grapes were harvested early or grown in a cool climate. This can cause the wine to have a sharp bit or tart taste.

Aeration: When the juice hits the air this process has begun. It can be speed up by swirling the wine in the glass or decanting. Aeration can smooth over rough wines, open tight wines or even soften tannic wines.

Aftertaste: Same as the wines finish. This refers to flavors that remain on the palate after the juice is swallowed or spit. Also, refers to the length of time these flavors hand around.

Aggressive: Refers to an abrasive texture due to high acidity, alcohol, or tannin.

Alcoholic: Wine with too much alcohol. Some heavy wines are able to mask the alcohol while other thinner wines are not which causes the taste to become unpleasant.

American Oak: A cheaper alternative to French Oak. American oak imparts more dill and cedar notes onto the wine.

American Viticultural Area (AVA): A geographical area that has been given appellation status. An example is Napa or Lodi.

Ampelography: Science of study grape varieties.

Appellation: Mainly used in Europe to denote geographically destinations where certain rules and restrictions will apply to the winemakers and the vineyards.

Aroma: a.k.a. the wine’s nose. Found by sniffing the glass and breaking down the flavors that are smelled. The wine gets its flavors from the grapes, the soil, formation process, oaking, and many other aspects of wine making.

Astringent: A harshness that is due to high acidity or tannin. It can also mean a lacking of body.

Austere: Mostly will refer to younger wines that have little body. Also refers to wines showing high acidity.

Barrel Fermented: Wines that have been fermented in small oak barrels. This process imparts silky tannin and a rounded lushness to the wine.

Backbone: Refers to the acidity of the wine. A wine with good fruit and sugar, needs a strong backbone to support these qualities, that backbone is the acidity.

Balanced: All aspects of the wine are in perfect harmony. Not too acidic, not too tannic, and not a fruit bomb….it’s just right.

Barnyard: Undesirable flavors that can be caused by bacteria or just poor wine making.

Bite: Usually found on the finish of a wine and normally in white wines. It refers to a touch of acidity that gives the wine a zesty tang.

Bitter: Can come from tannins, stems or faulty wine making. However, in some sweet or dessert style wines the bitterness can complement the flavors.

Blanc de Blancs "White of whites," refers to white wines made from white grapes, usually refers to Champagne.

Blanc de Noirs: "White of blacks," white wine made from red grapes. The juice is quickly separated from the skins to stop pigmentation. Wines made from blanc de noirs usually have a pale pink color.

Body: Overall mouth-feel of the wine on the palate. The body is made up of sugar, alcohol, and the density of the juice itself. Body is normally referred to as full-bodied or medium-bodied.

Botrytis Cinerea: Also referred to as the "Noble Rot." It is a fungus that grows on grape skins. It opens wounds on the skin which caused water to leak out leaving behind a more concentrated juice. Usually used only for dessert wines

Bottle Shock: This is a short-term issue with the juice that causes it to become reductive. Usually happens soon after bottling of the juice. Sometimes occurs when the wine has been shipped from overseas, due to shock and vibration. Exposure to heat and cold can cause this as well. Laying the bottle down for a few days of rest will usually reverse bottle shock.

Bouquet: Overall smell of the wine. Usually refers to mature wines that have further developed flavors than what is found in young wines.

Bright: Young wines that are lively on the palate, ripe, and zesty. It can also refer to the hue of a white wine.

Brilliant: Very clean and filtered wines, depending on the wine type this can be a positive or a negative.

Brix: A way of measuring sugar content of wine or the grape itself. This is used by winemakers to choose the optimal harvest times.

Browning: Refers to wines that have aged past their peak. This refers to the color around the edge of the wine when in the glass. The color will slowly turn brown or rust colored as the wine moves further past its peak.

Brut: A term that normally applies to Champagnes, referring to a very dry wine.

Burnt: Can refer to the over ripening of grapes or wines that have a smoky nose or taste to them.

Buttery: Normally used when referring to Chardonnay. Can mean the wine has a creamy texture or can actually refer to hints of butter flavors on the nose or palate.

Cassis: A type of liqueur in France made from black currants. Used as a wine characteristic when flavors of black currant are found in wine.

Cedar: Used to describe a wine with a nose of cedar wood. Usually this is imparted in the wine from aging in French or American oak barrels. American oak has a stronger cedar aroma than that of French.

Chewy: Refers to a big heavy, usually full-bodied wine.

Cigar Box: Same as Cedar.

Clean: Wines that are free from obvious defects. It can also refer to wines that are fresh and simple.

Clone: The replication of one grape vine into many. Cuttings are taken from a mother vine and then are grafted onto root stock creating a whole new vine.

Closed: Normally refers to the nose of the wine that lacks any aroma. It can be temporary due to bottle shock or it could just be how that particular wine is. Can also refer to the flavors on the palate that are there, but not pronounced. Some aeration can usually solve this problem.

Cloudy: Refers to unfiltered wines with bits of grape flesh suspended in the juice.

Coarse: Concerns the texture of the juice on the palate. This can be caused by tannin or oaking.

Complexity: A positive wine characteristic. This refers to a wine that has many layers of flavors, all of which are well balanced.

Corked: This is a flaw in the wine. Most wines become corked due to a chemical called TCA that gets imparted to the wine from wooden barrels, storage conditions, or the cork. The smell and taste that are associated with corked wine has nothing to do with the smell of cork itself. Corked wine often has an odor of wet cardboard, wet dog, dampness, or mold. Oftentimes, corked wine is not necessarily and odor, but slightly tasted. Some palates are very sensitive to corked wine while others cannot taste it at all. On the palate, corked wine may taste a bit like paint thinner, or it could present as a thin wine lacking body. The only real danger from corked wine is that the consumer may believe the wine is just not very good when in fact only that particular bottle they are drinking is corked.

Creamy: A smooth silky characteristic normally associated with wines that have gone through malolactic fermentation. The secondary bacteria fermentation will give the wine a smooth feeling on the finish.

Crisp: A refreshing acidic finish.

Cuvee: A blend of two or more different varietals.

Decanting: Is a way of aerating the wine before drinking it. Usually this is done by pouring the wine into a larger open air container allowing more oxygen to contact the juice. This will open up the wine and bring out all of its flavors.

Delicate: Soft and light wines. This is often used to describe wines produced from thin skinned grapes such as Pinot Noir.

Demi-Sec: Refers to Champagne, means half-dry. It usually refers to a semi-sweet sparkling wine.

Dense: Can refer to wine that is extremely concentrated.

Depth: Refers to the above average wine in that it has complexity and is extracted.

Dry: Concerns wines that are high in acidic and low in sugar.

Dried Up: This often refers to a wine that has been aged past its prime drinking age.

Early Harvest: Wines that are made from grapes that were harvested early. These wines usually have low alcohol and sugar and can have high acidity.

Easy: A simple and approachable wine that is not very complex, but still enjoyable.

Earthy: A wine term used to describe wine that has flavors such as mineral, grassy, or even flinty.

Estate Bottled: When seen on a bottle, it means the estate that produced the wine also owns the vineyards that the grapes come from.

Elegant: Refers to wines that are well balanced, not overly fruit forward or tannic. A silky or velvety texture is often associated with elegant wines.

Enology: Study of winemaking.

Expressive: A well-focused wine with good nose and mouth-feel.

Extracted: Usually refers to a dense, concentrated wine. The winemaker obtains this concentration from prolonged skin contact during the wine making process. These wines are normally capable of taking on some age as well.

Feminine: A delicate wine with a silky mouth-feel. Usually contains subtle hints of fruit and is not overly extracted.

Fermentation: Converting sugar into alcohol using yeast.

Filtering: When the winemaker removes particles of grape, skin, and sediment from the wine before bottling. Most wines are filtered right before bottling.

Finesse: An above average wine that is well balanced with good structure.

Fining: This is a way of cleaning the wine using powered clay (bentonite), egg whites, or gelatin. The sediment combines with these fining agent and then falls to the bottom where it can be easily removed.

Finish: It is what is left on the palate after swallowing or spitting the juice. Higher quality wines have longer and more flavor complexity in their finish. A lessor wine will die off quickly and leave the palate empty.

Firm: A wine with strong tannins.

Flabby: A wine without enough acidity to provide structure.

Fleshy: Usually associated with well extracted wines. The juice is large and heavy, almost chewy. Often applies to full bodied wines.

Flinty: A characteristic that is pronounced in some Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire Valley. The wine will have hints of two stones struck together on the nose.

Floral: A wine with a nose of flowers. Usually concerns only white wines.

Fortified: Refers to wine that has brandy or other spirits added to it. This is to increase alcohol levels.

Free-Run Juice: This refers to the juice that leaks from the grape skins after the crush.

French Oak: This refers to wine barrels made from French Oak. These barrels impart a vanilla aroma and slight touch of cedar and butterscotch.

Fresh: A wine characteristic of young zesty wines. They are also fruit forward and cleanly focused.

Fruity: Wine that presents with strong fruit flavors.

Grapey: Usually a negative wine term. This refers to wines that have a simple taste rather than something more profound and complex.

Green: Sometimes this presents as a bell pepper smell. Other times it can be tasted in under ripe Cabernet Sauvignon. The flavor usually comes from stems and under ripened seeds in the grape.

Grip: Firmness on the palate due to strong tannin.

Harmonious: A perfectly balanced wine. All parts work together to present a truly enjoyable wine.

Harsh: Normally used to describe wines that are too high in tannin or alcohol.

Heavy: A wine term used to describe red wines that are full bodied and well endowed.

Herbal: Positive uses refer to wines such as Sauvignon Blanc where a slight herbal aroma is found on the nose. Negative use would be for red wines that are considered green.

Hot: Wines high in alcohol. Some grape types are bold enough to take on high alcohol content; others are too thin to cover the harsh alcohol flavor.

Inky: Refers to the color tone of the wine itself, meaning it is extremely dark.

Jammy: Refers to wine that is very fruit forward. Can also mean the wine is lacking acidity.

Late Harvest: Denotes a wine that was made from grapes harvested later than a normal harvest. This late harvest creates a higher sugar content, normally associated with dessert wines.

Lean: Refers to light bodied wines, can be a positive or negative term.

Lees: This refers to the sediment that is left behind in a barrels or tanks after the fermentation process. Wine is often aged on the lees. In French, “sur lie” aging.

Legs: Seen on the side of the glass after swirling the juice about. The longer these lengths of juice hang on the side of the glass the more likely the wine will be heavy.

Length: The amount of time the flavors from the wine hang around in mouth after swallowing or spitting.

Lively: Bright, fresh, fruit and zesty style wines. Normally refers to young white wines.

Lush: Refers to wines with high sugar content. Also can refer to very fruit forward wines.

Maceration: This takes place during fermentation, the alcohol acts as a solvent to extract the pigmentation from the grape skins, as well tannin and aroma.

Magnum: A large bottle of wine, 1500ml or twice the size of a standard bottle.

Malolactic Fermentation: This is secondary bacteria fermentation, in which malic acid converts to a gentler lactic acid. In white wines this adds a pleasant creamy mouth-feel

Mature: Refers to a wine that has been aged, but is still in a drinkable state.

Meaty: Refers to a wine that is full-bodied and rich, possibly heavily extracted. The wine can almost taste as if it is chewy.

Mellow: A soft easy to drink wine.

Methode Champenoise: The preferred method of creating Champagne, where the secondary fermentation takes place inside the bottle to create the bubbles we all love.

Minerality: A wine that has aroma or taste of flint, limestone, slate, etc. Usually this is used as a positive wine term.

Must: This refers to what is extracted from the grapes along with the skins and stems before fermentation takes place.

Negociant: Normally a French wine buyer who purchases grapes and produces wine and buys bulk juice and blends them.

Nonvintage: Wines blended from more than one vintage. Normally refers to Champagnes and sparkling wines.

Nose: This refers to the aromas coming from the juice while in the glass.

Oaky: Used to describe wines that have a strong wood characteristic. This is imparted on the juice through oak barrel aging. It is very possible to over oak a wine. Some winemakers will also use oak to try and improve a subpar wine or to cover up mistakes made in the winery or vineyard. Oak aging a wine will also speed up the wines aging process to give it a slightly matured taste as if they have been bottle aged for a few years. French oak will impart vanilla and nutty flavors to the wine and American oak will impart more wood and cedar like flavors. Either type of oak can be charred with fire when the barrel is built. This will impart a toasty nose and taste to the juice.

Oxidized: Refers to wine that has been over exposed to oxygen, usually during the winemaking process. My have a raisin like smell. .

Oxidative: Refers to wine that has taken on too much exposure to oxygen while in the bottle. Usually present as a nutty or biscuity flavor.

Peak: The amount of aging required for a wine to taste its very best. This is almost impossible to predict.

Perfumed: Refers to a strong floral bouquet normally on white wines.

Phylloxera: Very small insects that kill grape vines by attacking their roots. The disease nearly wiped out all vine in Europe in the 19th century. Most all European grape vines have now been grafted onto American root stock which is resistant to the disease.

Polished: Refers to a well-balanced wine that presents without any noticeable flaw.

Press Wine: This refers to the juice that is pulled from the grapes by applying pressure.

Pruny: Concerns wines with overripe flavors, almost raisin like. A good example would be tawny ports.

Racking: In French Soutirage traditionnel, this is when the winemaker moves the wine from one tank to another or one barrel to another via hose in order to clarify the wine by leaving the sediment behind.

Racy: A wine characteristic that presents with strong acidity that gives the mouth-feel a bit of zest.

Rich: Used to describe wines that are well rounded and supple.

Reductive: Happens when the nose is flat on a wine. A wine’s nose may present with a sulfur odor.

Residual Sugar: Sugar that was not used during the fermentation process.

Round: Refers to the mouth-feel of the wine. Meaning the wine is smooth, but firm with good structure and not tannic.

Rustic: Can refer to an old style of winemaking, but usually means the wine is coarse and rough, not overly refined and usually not filtered.

Smoky: Can be imparted on the wine through oak aging. Also, adds a bit of complexity to the wine.

Soft: Characteristic of wines with low acidity, lacking structure or balance.

Spicy: A common wine description refers to the presence of spice flavors on the palate or the nose.

Structure: The combination of acidity, sugar, fruit and how it impacts the mouth-feel of the wine. A wine with low acidity will be flabby or lacking structure a wine with high acidity will be lacking fruit flavors and become harsh.

Sulfites: This comes naturally from the yeast during fermentation. They also act as a natural preservative.

Supple: Refers mainly to red wines. Means they have good body.

Sweet: Refers to wine with high sugar levels

Tannic: Tannin is imparted on the wine from contact with grape skins, stems, seeds and oak barrels. Tannin can cause the wine to have a dry mouth-feel and can also directly influence ageing potential.

Tart: This normally comes from a wine with low sugar and high acid. This refers to harsh tasting wines.

Tartrates: Crystals of potassium bitartrate that sometimes form on the bottom of the cork.

Thin: A wine missing good body or fruit flavors.

Tight: Refers to a wine that may need to open up, the flavors are there just not presenting themselves. This can be achieved through decanting or aeration.

Toasty: A flavor that is imparted on the wine from toasted oak barrels.

Vanilla: A flavor imparted on the wine from mainly French oak barrels.

Vegetal: A characteristic smell on the nose that is common with under ripened grapes.

Velvety: A descriptor referring to the mouth-feel of the juice, meaning it is creamy, silky, and no noticeable coarseness or rough tannin.

Viniculture: Study of grape production and winemaking.

Vintage: Indicates the year that the grapes were harvested. In the USA, 95 percent of the juice most be from one vintage to show the vintage date on the label.

Viticulture: The study of grapes.

Vintner: Refers to a winemaker or winery owner.

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