Acetic - A term with a negative connotation in wine referring to a sharp vinegary taste and smell. This occurs as a result of the presence of acetobacter, a bacteria that naturally converts wine to vinegar in the presence of oxygen.
Acetic Acid - The chief volatile acid in wine. The flavor of wine is improved by small amounts but vinegary flavors are the result of larger quantities.
Acidification - A process practiced in warm areas whereby a winemaker adds acid to grape must before fermentation to counteract naturally low acid levels.
Albariza - A white-surfaced chalky-looking soil found in the Sherry-producing region in southern Spain. Contains large amounts of limestone mixed with clay and sand.
Alcohol - A colorless, volatile, flammable liquid that is the intoxicating constituent of wine, beer, spirits, and other drinks. Alcohol is also used as an industrial solvent and as fuel.
Amarone - The most famous dried grape wine in Italy that is produced from the same grape varieties and in the same zones as Valpolicella. High quality grape bunches are dried, or raisined, often allowing Botrytis to form on the grapes. The grapes are then pressed and fermented to dryness, resulting in an intense, highly alcoholic wine with somewhat oxidative qualities that vary depending on the presence of noble rot.
Amelioration - A term literally meaning improvement, it is a euphemism for chemical intervention in winemaking. This refers to techniques used in areas where nature is deficient. This includes chaptalization, the addition of sugar for the purpose of raising the alcohol level, and acidification.
American Viticultural Area (AVA) - The American Viticultural Area is the American controlled appellation system. Defined as a specified grape-growing region, distinguished by geographical features, the boundaries of which have been recognized and defined by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB). For example, Napa Valley, Sonoma Valley, and Santa Ynez Valley are all AVAs.
Anbaugebiet - The term for appellation or wine region in Germany. Each anbaugebiet is divided into Bereiche, or districts. Bereiche are then broken up into Grosslagen.
Appellation - An official geographically-based designation for a wine.
Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) - The French appellation system that controls and designates wines, spirits, cheeses, and other foods of distinct geographic regions in France.
Aroma - A broad term describing the smell of a wine, or the smell that is derived from grapes.
Aromatized Wine - A wine that has been flavored by one or more aromatic substances such as anise, strawberries, orange peel, elderflowers, wormwood, quinine, and pine resin. These wines are usually fortified. Vermouth, Retsina, and Lillet are examples.
Assemblage - The blending of base wines to create a final cuveé, or blend. This is a crucial part of the Champagne vinification process.
Astringency - A sensation of puckering or drying of the mouth’s tissues. Puckering is a tactile response to compounds such as tannins.
Balance - A reference to the harmonious relationship between the acids, alcohol, tannins and other compounds in wine.
Barrique - French word for barrel. Used worldwide to describe any small oak cask.
Bentonite - A type of clay that is used in the process of fining. Clay is mixed into wine to clarify it. As it settles to the bottom, the clay absorbs and carries with it suspended particles.
Bio-Dynamic - A way of farming without the use of chemical or synthetic sprays or fertilizers, vinified with natural yeast, and minimal use of filtration, sulphur, and chaptalization. Bio-dynamic grape growers also base their planting and harvesting schedule by astrological events and cycles. "Feng shui meets organic farming." (Drew Niles)
Blanc de Blancs - A term literally meaning, "white of whites," meaning that the wine is made from white grapes. For example, in Champagne, Chardonnay grapes are used.
Blanc de Noirs - "White of blacks," describing a white wine made from black grapes, usually sparkling and often with a pinkish tint.
Body - The impression of weight or fullness on the palate; usually the result of a combination of glycerin, alcohol and sugar. Commonly expressed as full-bodied, medium-bodied, medium-weight, or light-bodied.
Botrytis (cinerea) - A beneficial form of Botrytis bunch rot. It is a fungus commonly referred to as "noble rot" that is unique in that it produces flavors that harmonize with the grape flavors. One of the most famous examples is the Bordelais sweet wine, Sauternes. Noble rot is also known as Edelfäule in German, muffa in Italian, and pourriture noble in French.
Bottle Sickness - A temporary condition characterized by muted or disjointed fruit flavors that often occurs immediately after bottling or when wines (usually fragile wines) are shaken in travel. Also called bottle shock. (A few days of rest is the cure)
Bouquet - A term used when evaluating the smell of an aged wine. Similar to aroma, but referring to characteristics developed during the aging process.
Brix (baume, oechsle) - A measurement of the sugar content in grapes, must or wine. The level of brix indicates the degree of the grapes' ripeness (sugar level) at harvest. Most table-wine grapes are harvested at between 21 and 25 Brix. In general, to convert brix into the level of alcohol, multiply the stated Brix by .55.
Brut - A general term used to designate a relatively dry (low sugar content) Champagne or sparkling wine.
Carbonic maceration - A type of fermentation in which whole bunches of uncrushed grapes are placed in a closed tank. The weight of the grapes on top crushes those on bottom, releasing juice that ferments naturally. The juice in the uncrushed grapes ferments within the grape. The result is an extremely fresh and juicy style of wine. This process is used extensively in Beaujolais.
Champagne - The northernmost wine appellation in France which produces several styles of wine, both still and sparkling. In order to carry the Champagne AOC on a wine label however, the wine must be sparkling and the grapes must be grown within the boundaries of the Champagne region. There are three well-known towns in Champagne: Riems, Ay, and Épernay. Wine from Champagne may be made from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, or a blend of these grapes. All Champagne must also be made using the strict "traditional method" or "classic method" (méthode traditionnelle, méthode classique). What makes Champagne "bubbly" is that the wine undergoes a secondary fermentation within the bottle. The term "Champagne" is also used in parts of the Cognac region where the soils are quite similar to those in the Champagne region. There are several other methods of making wine "sparkle," and sparkling wines are made in many regions, but none can carry the Champagne name unless they meet the above criteria. Other sparkling wines of the world include the Spanish Cava, Prosecco in Italy, and a variety of wines labeled as "crémant." Crémant d’Alsace and Crémant de Bourgogne are sparkling wines made in the méthode traditionnelle.
Chaptalization - The addition of sugar to juice before and/or during fermentation, used to boost alcohol levels in wines made from under-ripe grapes. Adding sugar prior to fermentation doesn’t necessarily make the wine sweet. Common in northern European countries where the cold climates may keep grapes from ripening but forbidden in southern Europe (including southern France and all of Italy) and California.
Charmat Method - An inexpensive, quick method of making sparkling wine. Yeast and sugar are added to bulk base wines which are held in a pressurized tank; this addition triggers a second fermentation that is halted by cooling the tank. Once the secondary fermentation is finished, the wine is filtered and a dosage is added prior to bottling.
Clone - A group of vines originating from a single, individual plant. Clones are selected for the unique qualities of the grapes and wines they yield such as flavor, productivity, and adaptability to growing conditions.
Cold Stabilization - A clarification technique in which a wine's temperature is lowered to 32° F, causing the tartrates and other insoluble solids to precipitate.
Colloids - Microscopic particles including solids, liquids and gases. Colloids most often refer to large organic molecules, but sometimes refer to smaller molecules such as phenolics, pigmented tannins, and tannins. Colloids contribute to a wine’s viscosity. Some colloids are stripped from wine during fining for the purposes of clarification and stability. However, the more colloids remaining after fining, the more body a wine will have, the more astringency it will have as a young wine, and the more complex it will taste after aging.
Corked/Corky - Describes a wine with a musty or moldy odor and taste. Usually caused by a chemical called Trichloroanisole, or TCA which may be formed by the interaction of chlorine to corks, especially in warm, moist conditions.
Cuveé - A blend or special lot of wine.
Decant - A term for the pouring of wine out of its bottle into a vessel (or decanter), usually made of glass or crystal, for the purpose of aeration and removal of sediment.
Decanter - A vessel, usually glass or crystal, into which wine is poured. The most obvious reason for decanting is to remove sediment that has formed in a bottle. Another main reason for decanting is to promote aeration and encourage the development of the wine’s bouquet. Decanters come in many different shapes and sizes.
Demi-Sec - A term relating to sweetness. In the language of Champagne, it can be misleading; although demi-sec means half-dry, demi-sec sparkling wines are usually slightly sweet to medium sweet.
Denominação de Origem Controlada (DOC) - Portugal’s controlled appellation systems.
Denominación de Origen (DO) - Spain’s controlled appellation system, established in 1926.
Denominación de Origen Calificada (DOCa) - The highest rank in Spanish wine categorization. An extension of the DO system, designating regions that maintain high standards of production and above average grape prices.
Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) - Italy’s controlled appellation system.
Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) - An expansion on Italy’s DOC laws. This category was created to recognize the finest wines in the country - similar to the DOCa in Spain.
Developed - A broad term referring to aged wine or the aroma of wine that has been aged. Developed aromas differ from primary fruit aromas in that they tend to consist of savory, earthy notes rather than young fruity notes.
Disgorging (dégorgement) - The process of removing yeasty sediment after the second fermentation. Disgorging, which involves the freezing and ejection of yeasty sediment that has settled gradually into the neck of a bottle, is part of the traditional method used in all Champagne production.
Dosage - In bottle-fermented sparkling wines, a small amount of wine (usually sweet) that is added back to the bottle once the yeast sediment that collects in the neck of the bottle is removed. Also applies to sparkling wines made in the tank, or Charmat method.
Dry - Having little or no perceptible taste of sugar. Most wine tasters begin to perceive sugar at levels of 0.5 percent to 0.7 percent.
Dumb - Describes a phase young wines undergo when their flavors and aromas are muted and undeveloped.
Eiswein - The fifth level of the German QmP rating system, Eiswein differs from the other wines of these designations as Eiswein grapes get their concentrated sweetness from the process of freezing on the vine rather than the effects of Botrytis.
Enology - The science and study of winemaking. Also called viniculture or oenology.
Ethyl Acetate - A sweet, vinegary smell that often accompanies acetic acid. It exists to some extent in all wines and in small doses can be a plus. When it is strong and smells like nail polish, it's a defect.
Extract - Richness and depth of concentration of fruit in a wine. Usually a positive quality, although high extract wine can also be highly tannic and can be undesirable in certain styles of wine.
Fermentation - In winemaking, the process of converting sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide effected by the oxygen free metabolism of yeast.Field Blend - When a vineyard is planted to several different varieties and the grapes are harvested together to produce a single wine, the wine is called a field blend.
Filtration - The winemaking process of straining out solid particles in wine with various types of filters. It is an alternative to natural settling and speeds up the winemaking process allowing for better control. It is argued, however, that filtration strips a fine wine of some of its complexity and capacity for aging.
Fining - (also collage, or sticking in French) The process of adding a clarifying agent to coagulate or absorb and quickly precipitate the colloids in a wine for efficient precipitation. This process results in clarification and stabilization. Commonly used fining agents include egg whites, fish bladders (isinglass), and bentonite.
Fortified - Denotes a wine whose alcohol content has been increased by the addition of brandy or other neutral spirits.
Gemischter Satz - Some vineyards in Austria cultivate a variety of different grapes, which are gathered, crushed, processed, and bottled together to create a field blend. The term gemischter Satz refers to both this style of vineyard and the wines produced therein.
Green Harvest - The trimming of unripe grapes to decrease crop yields, thereby increasing the concentration of flavors in the remaining bunches.
Halbtrocken - means "half dry" in German and in wine.
Harmonious - Well balanced, with no component obtrusive or lacking.
Hot - High alcohol, unbalanced wines that tend to burn with "heat" on the finish are called hot. Usually acceptable in Port-style wines.
Isinglass - A gelatinous material from the air bladders of sturgeons and other fish used in fining.
Jeroboam - An oversized bottle holding the equivalent of six bottles. In Champagne, a jeroboam holds four bottles.
Late Harvest - On labels, indicates that a wine was made from grapes picked later than normal and at a higher sugar level than normal. Often associated with botrytized and dessert-style wines.
Lees - Spent yeasty sediment remaining in a barrel or tank during and after fermentation.
Legs - The viscous droplets that form and ease down the sides of the glass when the wine is swirled. A common misconception is that the formation of legs is due to its viscosity, when in fact it has more to do with a wine’s alcohol and sugar content.
Length - The amount of time the sensations of taste and aroma persist after swallowing. In general, the longer the better.
Liqueur d’expédition - Following disgorging in the production of Champagne, this liquid is added to top of the wine in the bottle. It is a mixture of wine and a small amount of sugar to balance out high levels of acidity.
Loam - Soil type consisting of sand, silt, and clay.
Marl - A sedimentary rock or soil consisting of clay and lime, formerly used typically as fertilizer.
Meritage - An invented term used by California wineries for Bordeaux-style red and white blended wines. Combines "merit" with "heritage" and rhymes with the latter. The term arose out of the need to name wines that didn't meet the minimum requirements for varietal labeling (i.e., 75 percent of the named grape variety). For reds, the grapes allowed are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petite Verdot and Malbec; for whites, Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon. Joseph Phelps Insignia and Flora Springs Trilogy are examples of wines whose blends vary each year, with no one grape dominating.
Methuselah - An extra-large bottle holding 6 liters; the equivalent of eight standard bottles.
Mis en Bouteille au Domaine - A phrase simply meaning that the wine was bottled at the domaine or winery rather than by a négociant.
Mouthfeel - The tasting term used particularly for red wines to describe the texture of a wine within the mouth. This relates to attributes such as smoothness, or grittiness. Among the factors that influence a wine’s mouthfeel are tannin, acidity, body, and bitterness.
Must - The unfermented juice of grapes extracted by crushing or pressing; grape juice in the cask or vat before it is converted into wine.
Nebuchadnezzar - A giant wine bottle holding 15 liters; the equivalent of 20 standard bottles.
Négociant - French term for merchant, refers to one who purchases grapes, must, or wine from a number of growers within an appellation, then blends the different lots and bottles the wine under their own label. This practice is especially important in Burgundy, where many growers own plots of land too small to support individual labels.
Nouveau - A style of light, fruity, youthful red wine bottled and sold as soon as possible. Applies mostly to Beaujolais.Non-vintage - Blended from more than one vintage. This allows the vintner to maintain a house style from year to year. Many Champagnes and sparkling wines, ports and sherries are non-vintage.
Oidium - A fungal disease affecting vines, caused by a powdery mildew. The fungus is Uncinula Necator.
Oxidized - Describes wine that has been exposed too long to oxygen and taken on a brownish color, losing its freshness and perhaps beginning to smell and taste like Sherry or old apples. Oxidized wines are also called maderized or sherrified.
Phenolics/ Phenols - Chemical compounds derived from skins, seeds, and stems. Phenols include tannin, color, and flavor compounds.
Phylloxera - Tiny aphids (root lice) that attack Vitis vinifera roots. The disease was widespread in both Europe and California during the late 19th century, and returned to California in the 1980s. There is no known cure at this time. Vinifera vines are instead grafted onto native American rootstocks.
QbA or Qualitätswein bestimmter Anbaugebiete - The largest category of German wine that basically includes the lower quality wines that meet Qualitätswein standards. These wines must come from one of Germany’s 13 wine regions and should also reach a minimum level of ripeness. QbA wines may be enriched with added sugar.
QmP or Qualitätswein mit Prädikat - Literally, a quality wine with distinction. Germany’s category of superior wines. A designation of wines based on the level of ripeness of the grapes used in the wine. The grapes must also be picked as specified by law and the wines cannot have any sugar added to them. The six levels of QmP wines, beginning with the earliest harvest time, and ending with the latest, are Kabinett, Spätlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese, Eiswein, and Trockenbeerenauslese.
Qualitätswein - German for "quality wine." A broad category encompassing the majority of German wine. It includes QmP and QbA wines. In Austria, it is the category between Landwein and Prädikatswein.
Racking - The practice of moving wine by hose from one container to another, leaving sediment behind. For aeration or clarification.
Remuage - In sparkling wine production, a tedious process where each individual bottle is rotated and tilted very slightly over time so that the yeast is loosened and settles into the neck of the bottle. Machines with computerized pallets have been designed to perform in days what takes around 8 weeks to do by hand in the traditional manner.
Rias Baixas - Wine-producing region in Galicia, in northwestern Spain. The language of Galicia is Gallego. Rias refers to the inlets made by the Atlantic into the coastline and Baixas (Bi-shas) is among the rias.
Ripasso ("re-passed") - In northeast Italy’s Veneto region, a traditional method of winemaking where fresh, young Valpolicella wine is placed in contact with the used lees and unpressed skins of Amarone wines after their fermentation. This process activates a second fermentation, imparting some of the sweet, raisiny character into the young wine and adds alcohol content as well. *see also: Amarone.
Rustic - Describes wines made by old-fashioned methods, or tasting like wines made in an earlier era. Can be a positive quality in distinctive wines that require aging. Can also be a negative quality when used to describe a young, earthy wine that should be fresh and fruity.
Salmanazar - An oversized bottle holding 9 liters, the equivalent of 12 regular bottles.
Structure - The interaction of elements such as acid, tannin, glycerin, alcohol and body as it relates to a wine's texture and mouthfeel. Usually preceded by a modifier, as in "firm structure" or "lacking in structure."
Sur Lie - Wines aged sur lie (French for "on the lees") are kept in contact with the dead yeast cells and are not racked or otherwise filtered. This is mainly done for whites, to enrich them (it is a normal part of fermenting red wine, and so is not noted). Originated in Burgundy, with Chardonnay. Popular in Muscadet, Alsace, Germany (Riesling and Pinot Gris) and California. Adds complexity to Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc; can occasionally be overdone and lead to a yeasty flavor that is off-putting.
Tannins - Compounds that contribute to a wine’s structure, mouthfeel, and astringency. Tannins in wine are derived from grape skins, seeds, and stems. The more contact the juice has with these elements, the more tannic the wine will be. Fining and filtration later in the process can reduce the presence of tannin in the finished product.
Tartaric Acid - The principal acid in wine.
Tastevin - In French, it literally means ‘wine taster.’ A tastevin is used by the wine maker and cellarman to monitor the maturation of a wine. The bright, centre dome spreads the wine across the shallow bowl of the tastevin to reveal the color and provide a "core to rim" comparison. This lets the wine maker know how the wine is progressing and maturing.
Terroir - The overall environment within which a given grape variety grows. Derived from the French word for Earth, "terre."
Transfer Method - In sparkling wine production, a method in which riddling and disgorging are not used. Instead, the sparkling wine is transferred to a pressurized tank where it is filtered, removing the yeasty sediment. Like the traditional method, a dosage is added to the wine, which is then bottled again.
Trocken - the German word for "dry" and indicates (surprise) dry wine.
Trockenbeerenauslese -Not to be confused with Trocken, the German word for "dry" that also appears on wine labels, these wines are made from “selected dried berries” that are picked late in the season after they become fully infected with noble rot. The skin has cracked and the water has partially evaporated, leaving behind more concentrated. Wine from these berries is golden and honeyed, high in alcohol and lusciously sweet. The best quality Trockenbeerenauslese is balanced by acidity and thus avoids being cloyingly sweet.
Typicity - A wine tasting term derived from the French word, typicité. The English word is typicality. It is a somewhat subjective idea, but is important to wine judges and professional buyers. Typicity refers to a wine’s quality of being typical to its geographic region, grape variety and vintage year.
Varietal - A varietal is a wine named for the dominant grape variety from which it is made although other grape varieties may be present in the wine. The term varietal is often misused to refer to grape or vine variety. For example, Regusci Cabernet Sauvignon is a varietal label. Cabernet Sauvignon is the dominant grape variety in the wine.
Variety - Refers to a vine’s distinct type within one species of the genus vitis. Different vine varieties produce different and specific grape varieties, and the two are used interchangeably. The word varietal is commonly misused in place of variety. Commonly known grape and vine varieties are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Vinification - The practical art of transforming grapes into wine. It is synonymous with wine making.
Vintner’s Quality Alliance (VQA) - Canada’s controlled appellation system.
Viscosity - The quality of being viscous, the extent to which a solution resists flow or movement. When tasters refer to a wine’s body, they are in part evaluating a wine’s viscosity. Sweet wines are more viscous than dry wines because they have higher sugar content. Alcohol is more viscous than water, and consequently, wines with higher alcohol content are more viscous than those with less alcohol. Viscosity is related to the formation of "legs," or "tears," in a wine glass only so far as it correlates to the alcohol and sugar content of a wine.
Viticulture - The science of growing grapes.
Vitis Vinifera - Classic European wine-making species of grape. Examples include Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. There are many other species of grapes such as Vitis labrusca, a North American grape species such as Concord, used mainly for New York state wines.
Volatile (or volatile acidity) - Describes an excessive and undesirable amount of acidity, which gives a wine a slightly sour, vinegary edge. At very low levels (0.1 percent), it is largely undetectable. At higher levels it is considered a major defect.
Yeast - Micro-organisms that produce the enzymes which convert sugar to alcohol. Yeast is necessary for the fermentation of grape juice into wine.