Confused about wine-related terms? Read our glossary to be in the know!
Click on the word to read the definition.
Click on the word to read the definition.
Acidity: Acid is present in all grapes, and therefore all wines. It is extremely important (particularly in white wines) in determining structure, shape and lifespan. Good acid levels can make a wine crisp and refreshing, supporting the aftertaste. Acidity also helps preserve a wine, for longer aging. Wines low in acidity are often described as tasting flabby.
Appellation: A viticultural area. In the United States, an appellation is defined strictly by a geographic area. If a wine label cites an appellation (e.g. Russian River Valley), 85% of the grapes must be grown in that appellation.
Aroma: Refers to fragrances in the wine that are characteristic of the grapes. For instance, Chardonnay might be described as citrusy. Those aromas of lemon, lime or grapefruit come from the grapes, they are not added. Also see Bouquet or Nose.
Balance: An integration of the major components of wine—fruit, acidity, tannins, alcohol, oak—so none outweighs the other. Acid balances the fruit; fruit balances the oak and tannin; alcohol balances acidity and flavors. A balanced wine fills the mouth with flavors. Wine not in balance may taste flat, harsh or acidic, etc.
Balthazar: An extra-large bottle holding 12 liters, or the equivalent of 16 regular 750ml bottles.
Barrel Fermented: Wine is fermented in, typically, 55-gallon oak barrels rather than neutral containers such as stainless steel. Barrel fermentation requires careful cellar attention but can contribute to increased complexity and flavor by adding suggestions of spice and vanilla from the interaction of wine and the wood. Most often used in the fermentation of Chardonnay.
Body: The feeling of a wine's weight in the mouth, such as full-bodied, medium-bodied or light-bodied.
Botrytis Cinerea: A fungus or mold that causes grapes to shrivel and become very concentrated. Also called the "Noble Rot," it is a desirable condition and causes ripe grapes to shrivel, resulting in the remaining juice becoming very concentrated. Such nobly rotted grapes yield the honeyed richness of many classic dessert wines. Conditions are right for the formation of Botrytis only in certain vintages and the wines cannot be produced every year.
Bottle Sickness: Also known as bottle shock. A temporary condition, often caused when wine is bottled or when bottles or shaken or shipped, that interferes with a wine’s flavors. It is “cured” with a few days of rest if shaken or shipped, or within a few weeks after bottling.
Bouquet: The fragrances in the wine that are introduced by the winemaking process, the smell of the oak (vanilla) or the yeast in the wine.
Brix: A measurement of sugar content in grapes, indicating their degree of ripeness. Vineyard managers and winemakers look for a certain level of Brix before harvesting. The conversion rate for brix to alcohol is .54. For example, if grapes were picked at 24 degrees brix the finished alcohol would be 13.5%.
Chewy: Describes full-bodied, sometimes tannic wines—rich enough to chew on.
Clone: The offspring of grape vines that contains the genetic material of the parent.
Complexity: When a wine is at once rich and deep, yet balanced and showing finesse.
Corked: Corked wine will smell moldy and off-putting, which is the result of a bad cork that has been tainted with a natural compound called TCA (trichloroanisole).
Cuvée: “of the barrel” Wines blended from different vineyards, or even different varieties.
Dry: A wine with no perceptible sweetness.
Earthy: Wine that has the smell or slight taste of fresh earth. Pinot Noirs are often described as earthy.
Enology: The science of winemaking, also spelled oenology.
Estate Bottled: Term used to show the winery owns or controls the grapes that produced the wine in the bottle, such as a long-term contract for the grapes.
Fermentation: The process in which yeast converts sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide, which turns grape juice into wine.
Field Blend: A common practice among the early grape growers in Sonoma County, where complementary grape varieties were interplanted in a vineyard. These grapes were harvested and fermented together, creating a field-blend wine.
Filtering: The process of removing solid particles (such as yeast cells) from the wine after fermentation. Some winemakers feel that not filtering gives wine more complexity.
Fining: Removing suspended elements from the wine. The fining agent (often egg whites are used) falls to the bottom of the tank or barrel, taking the suspended elements with it. The elements and fining agent are then removed. Considered a less intrusive process than filtering for clarifying wine.
Finish: The taste that remains in the mouth after the wine is swallowed. A long, lingering finish is considered desirable in a wine.
Fruit Bomb: An informal term often applied to wines produced from very ripe grapes that emphasize lush fruit flavors combined with soft, low acid structures.
Fortified: Wine with a higher alcohol content due to the addition of brandy or spirits. Port, Sherry and Madeira are three examples of fortified wines.
Futures:Futures refers to wine purchased prior to being released by the winery. Some wineries offer futures on wine in the barrel, or in the bottle but not yet released, or even before the grapes are harvested. Usually, but not always, futures can be purchased for less than the retail price of the wine when released.
Grassy: An aroma or taste of grass or newly mown hay. Usually attributed to Sauvignon Blanc.
Half Bottle: Term used to describe 375ml bottles. This size wine bottle is increasing in popularity and is often found on restaurant lists and in wine shops.
Herbaceous: Tasting or smelling of herbs; frequently a component of Cabernets and Sauvignon Blancs.
Imperial: An extra-large format bottle (6.0 liters) that holds the equivalent of eight regular 750ml bottles. Referred to as a Methusaleh if in a Champagne or Burgundy style bottle.
Jéroboam: The term Jéroboam is actually used to describe two different sizes of large format bottles. A Bordeaux wine bottle is called a Jéroboam if it holds the equivalent of six regular 750ml bottles, or 4.5 liters. If the wine bottle is a Burgundy or Champagne style bottle, a Jéroboam holds the equivalent of four regular 750ml bottles, or 3.0 liters, and a Rehoboam holds the equivalent of six regular 750ml bottles, or 4.5 liters. A 3.0 liter Bordeaux style bottle is called a double-magnum.
Late Harvest: Wines made from grapes picked later than normal (and therefore with higher sugar content), usually dessert wines. Most late harvest wines contain some residual sugar.
Lees: Sediment and yeast found in a barrel or tank during and after fermentation. Increasingly, winemakers are using the old technique of aging the wine on the lees to increase complexities in the aromas and flavors. "Sur Lie" is the French term for a wine left on the lees.
Legs: The drops of wine that slide down the sides of the glass when it is swirled. Generally indicates the alcohol content in the wine.
Length: The amount of time a wine's taste and aroma are evident after it has been swallowed.
Maceration: The steeping of the grape skins and solids in the wine during the fermentation process. Alcohol acts as a solvent to assist in the extraction of color, tannin and aromas from the skins.
Made and Bottled By:
Made and Bottled By: The legal phase used if a winery crushed, fermented and bottled at the same location at least 10% of the wine in the bottle.
Magnum: A bottle that holds 1.5 liters, the equivalent of two standard size wine bottles.
Malolactic: A secondary fermentation used to convert malic acid into a softer lactic acid. Used in most fermentation of reds and some whites (predominantly Chardonnay), it adds complexity and softness to reds and imparts a buttery quality to whites.
Marie-Jeanne: A large bottle that holds 2.25 liters, or the equivalent of three regular 750ml bottles.
Meritage: A trademark name developed by the Meritage Association to identify blends made from specific Bordeaux varietals. Wineries must be member of the Meritage Association in order to call their Bordeaux varietal blend a Meritage. A red wine must be produced from a blend of two or more of the following varieties to be called a Meritage: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot, St. Macaire, Gros Verdot, and Carmenere. No single variety can be more than 90% of the blend. For a white wine Meritage, the wine must have two or more of the following varieties and no single variety can be more than 90% of the blend: Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, and Sauvignon Vert.
Methuselah: See Imperial.
Must: Unfermented juice extracted by crushing or pressing the grapes. It is only referred to as must until it is fermented into wine.
Nebuchadnezzar: A giant wine bottle holding the equivalent of 20 standard bottles, or 15 liters.
Nose: Refers to how the wine smells, the aroma and bouquet, as in, "This wine has a great nose."
Oaky: Describes the aroma or taste character of a wine that has interacted with the oak of a wood barrel. Most of the world's greatest red wines (and many of the world's greatest whites) are aged in wood before bottling and show some vanilla-spice-toast character contributed by oak.
Oxidized: A loss of freshness from exposure to air (oxygen). If a wine has been open several days, it will become oxidized.
pH: A chemical measurement of the intensity of the acidity in a wine; the lower the pH, the more intense the acid. Low pH wines are better candidates for aging as they are less sensitive to oxidation and have greater resistance to bacteria.
Produced and Bottled By:
Produced and Bottled By: A legal phrase that indicates the winery crushed, fermented and bottled a minimum of 75% of the wine in the bottle.
Racking: A term for the traditional winemaking practice of moving wine from one container to another; it's essentially decanting on a grand scale by moving a wine from barrel to barrel to rid the wine of sediment, by leaving it behind in the first barrel. It requires more labor, but racking is less disturbing to the wine than filtration.
Rehoboam: See Jeroboam.
Residual Sugar: A measurement, usually by weight or volume, of the amount of unfermented grape sugar remaining in a wine. Dessert wine will have a high level of residual sugar, whereas a dry table wine will have little to no residual sugar.
Salmanazar: A large bottle that holds the equivalent of 12 regular bottles, or 9 liters.
Split: The term used for a six-ounce bottle of wine.
Sulfites: A natural bi-product of fermentation, sulfites are naturally found in wine. Sulfites (in small quantities) may be added to wine to guard against spoilage.
Sur Lie: A term used for wines aged on the lees. See Lees for more information.
Table Wine: The legal term for wine that is less than 14% alcohol. Wines under 14% alcohol can be labeled Table Wine and the winery does not have to state the actual alcohol content on the label. Any wine over 14% alcohol must state the alcohol content on the front label and may not use the term “table wine” on the label.
Tannin: Chemicals that occur in the skins of many fruits including grapes and impart astringency. Tannin naturally preserves wine from oxidation and is a primary component in determining the wines structure and aging potential.
Tartrates: Natural and totally harmless crystals that often form in the cask, in the sediment and on the corks of wines. These deposits come from the tartaric acids present in wines; though they look like cut glass, they are totally safe. In fact, they are a positive indication to experienced tasters that a wine has not been overly processed.
Unfiltered: Not filtered, however, the wine could have been clarified using a fining process. Some winemakers believe filtering wine strips aromas and flavors from the wine.
Unfined: The wine was not treated with any fining process; however, the wine could be clarified using filtering. Some winemakers believe fining wine strips essential aromas and flavors from the wine.
Varietal: Term used to describe a wine produced from a particular type (variety) of grape. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc and hundreds of others are examples of varietal wines.
Varietal Character: The aromas and flavors typical for a particular grape variety.
Variety: Term used to describe a type of grape. A wine made from a particular grape variety (e.g., Zinfandel) is referred to as a varietal.
Vintage: Refers to the year the grapes were grown and harvested.
Viticulture: The science of grape growing; when including the production of wine, the proper term is viniculture.
Wine Thief: A sampling tube made of either glass or plastic with a narrow opening at each end. The tube is used to get a sample of wine from a barrel or other container by lowering the tube into the wine. Then by covering the top end of the tube with a thumb and removing it from the container, the sample of wine will remain in the tube. When the tube is placed over a glass or beaker, the top end is exposed and the wine flows out, allowing a sample of the wine to be easily extracted from a barrel.
Yeast: Important microorganisms that cause fermentation by converting sugar to alcohol.