Wine Term Glossary
Acidity: Acidity in a wine can preserve the wine’s freshness and keep the wine lively, making it enjoyable to drink. Often recognized as the tart taste in wine. Wines from hot years tend to be lower in acidity, whereas wines from cool, rainy years tend to be high in acidity. Too much acidity can make a wine taste sour.
Appellation: Put simply, an appellation is where the grapes are grown. Appellations can be quite broad (for example “Washington”, which means anywhere within the entire state). Appellations might refer to a large area of the state (“Western Washington “, or the area west of the Cascade Mountain Range). Getting smaller, an appellation might be specific to a single county or micro-area (“Chelan”). Wineries cannot use an appellation unless it has been approved by the federal government’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms.
AVA (American Viticultural Area): American Viticultural Areas are geographical winegrowing regions defined by the U.S. Government. Often seen on a wine label as the place where the grapes (used in the wine) came from, such as “Columbia Valley”. An AVA is supposed to have geographic and climatic features which distinguish it from the surrounding areas.
Balance: Wine is all about balance. It is primarily a balance between the three main components of wine: fruit, tannin and acidity. A wine is said to be balanced when no single component is overwhelming the wine, and the overall impression is pleasing.
Barrel: The standard aging container in a winery. Usually a barrel holds about 60 gallons (225 liters / 25 cases). New or slightly used (three or less vintages) Oak barrels impart flavor and tannins to the wine, which adds to its overall complexity and aging ability. Older barrels that have been used for more than three vintages, or those not made of oak, are considered inert and are mostly used for storage.
Blending: While there are many steps to the winemaking process, blending is often one of the most important in determining the right taste/outcome for the wine. Winemakers use blending to mix different barrels, varietals, or even grapes from different vineyards in order to create the best wine possible. Mixing different grape varieties allows the character of each grape to add its own component to the wine while complementing and/or balancing the others. Even wines of a single variety (75% or more) are often blended with other grapes.
Blush Wine (or Rosé Wine): A wine pink in color that is made in a white wine style from red grapes. The juice is only allowed to be in contact with the skins for a short time during fermentation, in order to add subtle flavor and color. Blush is actually a registered trademark.
Botrytis (or Noble Rot): A special mold that helps create some of the most well known dessert wines. Botrytis Cinerea creates micro lesions in the skin of the grape, which causes most of the water to be removed from inside. The result is a shriveled grape with a much higher ratio of sugar, which is necessary for creating sweet wines. The mold can also be harmful to a vineyard, at which point it is called Gray Rot.
Bottle: Standard wine bottles hold .75 liters, or 750 ml. Glass has been used for hundreds of years to store wine but it wasn’t until the advent of the cork closure and experiments on shape and size in the 19th century that standardized today’s wine bottle. A single bottle is good for serving two or three people.
Bottle Fatigue: Also known as bottle shock, its when a wine becomes fatigued from shaking or jostling, usually caused when shipped. The further the wine traveled, or the more severe the trip, the longer it takes to recover. Bottle fatigue is a temporary condition which a month of sitting still should fix.
Breathing: Allowing wine to come in contact with the air intentionally (ex. swirling or decanting) or unintentionally (ex. letting it sit). It is believed that the practice of letting a wine breathe improves a newly opened bottle allowing the flavors to open-up while softening its tannins. This is very subjective however and depends greatly on the specific wine and an individual’s pallet.
Brix: The measurement of sugar content, or ripeness, of the grapes, which also determines potential wine alcohol levels (Brix x .55 = alc%). The higher degrees Brix, the higher the sugar content of grapes, which in turn means higher alcohol levels in the wine.
Calories: In dry wine the calories come from the alcohol. There are approximately 90 – 135 calories per glass of wine (4 – 6 oz).
Champagne: A region in France famous for its sparkling wines and the method in which they are made. Champagne literally means a white chalky plane (in French).
Claret (clare-eht): A term used generically to designate red wines blended using classic Bordeaux varietals, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cab Franc. In some parts of the world it can refer to a light red wine.
Clone: Refers to grape vines grown by graphing or cutting clippings from another so that it retains the identical genetic characteristics of the original. Each grape variety has many different subvarieties, or clones, suited for specific growing conditions such as weather or resistance to disease.
Cork: The stopper used in most wine bottles. It can be made from the bark of a cork tree (traditional), plastic or a composite of each. No matter what it’s made out of a wine’s cork must be flexible, durable and have the ability to create an air tight seal in the neck of the bottle.
Corked: The most common fault in wine and the reason for tasting first at a restaurant. A corked wine is the result of an unclean or faulty cork, where bacteria reacts with a cork after the bleaching process. The resulting reaction causes the wine to lose flavor/fruit and to smell like moldy, wet cardboard. Synthetic corks, such as rubber, composite or glass, and screw tops are free from this defect.
Corkage: The fee charged by a restaurant for the privilege of being allowed to bring in your own bottle of wine – usually $10-$25 depending on the restaurant. Basically, this fee pays for the loss of potential profits from the sell of the restaurant’s own wine and acts as a deterrent for customers abusing the BYOW policy. This is a great way to save some money and enjoy your own bottle of wine while eating out. Just be sure that the restaurant doesn’t already carry the bottle of wine you plan on bringing.
Cuvée: Sometimes used on wine labels to signify that the wine came from a special batch, it is most often used to designate a blended red wine.
Decant: The act of transferring red wine from a bottle into a glass (or crystal) container, or decanter. With older red wines this is done to remove the sediment that has developed over time. By carefully transferring the wine into another container the sediment can be left in the original bottle resulting in a clean fresh tasting wine. Young red wines can also be decanted, not to remove sediment, but to soften harsh tannins.
Dessert Wine: Refers to fortified red wines such as Port and Sherry, or late harvest whites. These wines are often intended to be enjoyed after a meal.
Dry Wine: Denotes a wine that has no residual sugar. Most wines are dry.
Enology (or Oenology): The science of wine production.
Enophile (or Oenophile): A wine lover.
Estate Bottled: Wine that was bottled by the owner/winery of the vineyard from which the grapes came. This designation assures customers that the winery has had control over the grapes from beginning to end in the hopes of producing a higher quality wine, as opposed to having been purchased from an unknown producer.
Extra Dry: A sparkling wine that is slightly sweet. This can be confusing since dry usually refers to wines that are not sweet, but in sparkling wines this means slightly sweet.
Fermentation: The process of turning grape juice into wine. More specifically it is the metabolization of sugars, by yeast, into alcohol.
Filtering: A winemaking technique used to ensure clarity and sterility in wine. Winemakers use filtering pads and agents to remove specific substances based on their size. Some winemakers choose not to filter their wine due to the belief that it reduces the quality of the wine.
Fining: A method used for removing particles, or clarifying wine. Specifically, a substance is added to the wine, usually a protein such as egg whites or gelatin, that the cloudy particles stick to and fall to the bottom of the container. The clear wine is then removed from the top.
Finish: The final lingering flavors that you taste in a wine just as you are swallowing. Tannins are one of the most noticeable.
Fortified Wine: Wine that has been made sweet by adding a neutral distilled spirit to the fermentation process. The added spirit kills the yeast before it has finished converting all of the sugar to alcohol. Port and Sherry are both examples of fortified wine.
Free Run: The highest quality juice for winemaking, which is present after crushing and before pressing.
Fruit: Wine has three main components, which include fruit, acidity and tannin. The fruit encompasses the various tastes and smells besides sour (acidity) and bitterness (tannins). Every grape variety and style of wine exudes different fruit characteristics.
Ice Wine: Dessert wine made from extremely ripe grapes (without Botrytis) that are picked during winter while frozen on the vine. The frozen water is then removed, which leaves a very ripe must (the crushed grape juice that will be made into wine).
Late Harvest Wine: A sweet dessert wine made from grapes that are purposely harvested later when they are riper and sweeter. These wines can range from lightly sweet to very sweet.
Legs (or Tears): The streams of wine that appear on the inside of a glass after it is swirled. It was once believed that the presence of solid legs in a wine indicated high quality, but this is no longer the case. Instead it is just a result of alcohol in the wine, which has no relation to quality.
Microclimate: Referring to the different conditions in a given area (on a small scale), such as the geography, geology and weather of a particular vineyard. While individual vineyards can be quite small, many have taste characteristic that are noticeably different from their neighbors.
Oxidized: A term indicating the affect of oxygen on wine. Colors begin to brown, in both red and white wines, from exposure to oxygen over time, just as an apple with a bite taken out of it.
pH: pH is the measure of how strong the acid is in wine. The lower the number, the stronger the acid is. Dry table wines range around 3.1 – 3.6. Some winemakers prefer to make wines with higher pH levels, believing that it makes wines that are more enjoyable to drink now. These wines are not usually meant to age.
Phylloxera (fil-lox’-er-ra): A small insect that lives off the roots of grape vines, causing the plant to die. In the late 19th century the Phylloxera louse was responsible for the most devastating plague in wine history, nearly wiping out the entire European winemaking industry. It was only by grafting native North American root stock, which is resistant to the bug, to European grape vines that the infestation was stopped. This technique is used worldwide today.
Punt: The indentation in the bottom of a wine bottle. Originally added to strengthen Champagne bottles (from the internal pressure), it not only increases strength but also makes it easier for wine bottles to stack on end.
Racking: The process of transferring young wine that has thrown sediment from one barrel to another, enabling the leftover sediment to be removed. This not only helps to clarify the wine but it also it to mature by momentarily coming in contact with the air. A certain amount oxygen is necessary at this point, assisting in the wine’s development. Heavy red wines may be racked three or four times, while lighter reds may only be racked once or twice.
Reserve: This often implies that a wine was made from a better selection of grapes or barrels, but legally there are no requirements. This results in many cheap wines using it on their label as a way to increase sales.
Rosé Wine: The French word for pink, representing wines of that color. Made using red grapes, the juice is only allowed to be in contact with the skins for a short time during fermentation. This provides subtle flavor and color, while keeping the more delicate nature found in a white wine.
Sangria: Traditionally a red wine and fresh fruit mixture served over ice, Sangria can also be made using white wine.
Sediment: In the wine making process, sediment is the tiny particles that drop and gather at the bottom of the barrel or tank before being removed during racking. In a wine that has been bottled, sediment is made up of tannins and the wine’s coloring agents (phenolic compounds) that combine and precipitating out of the solution. These particles gather at the bottom of the bottle over time causing the wine to become lighter in color and less tannic with age. A commonly used expression is that a wine has “thrown sediment”, which means that sediment has accumulated in the bottle.
Table Wine: A generic legal term that includes all wines containing between 7% and 14% alcohol. This term is most commonly used to designate a wine of lower quality or distinction, as well as price.
Tannins: A group of organic compounds, which can be found primarily in the stem, skin and seeds of grapes. Tannins are especially evident in red wines, due to their extensive contact with the skins during fermentation, and make the wine more astringent (bitter) or mouth puckering. You can tell when a red wine has a lot of tannins if it dries out your tongue and mouth. Because white wines have almost no contact with these parts of the grape they usually have little to no tannins. Aging in oak barrels can also add tannins to wine. Tannins are generally required in order for the wine to age well.
Terroir: Pronounced “tair-wahr”, it literally means soil or earth in French, but can also be used to indicate the surrounding weather patterns or microclimate. Wines produced from grapes grown in certain soils/environments are said to have flavors that are uniquely characteristic of those soils/environments. So, the term can also mean how typical the wine is of the region, as the “expression of terroir.” The French call this qoût de terroir, or “taste of the soil”.
Thief: A glass or metal tube used to extract wine from a barrel.
Varietal Wine: Any wine that takes its name from the predominant grape variety. In the US there must be 75% of that grape for the wine to be designated as a particular variety.
Vintage: The vintage often appears on a wine’s label, referring to the year during which the grapes (used in the wine) were harvested. Wines that are a blend of years are considered non-vintage wines and offer no date.