All The Wine Terms You Need To Know From A-Z

Words: Katrina Rose Wind

If you’re a wine aficionado or simply just love wine, you should know some basic wine terms. It sometimes seems like wine experts are speaking their own language when it comes to wine, but worry not, some of these terms are easier than they seem. So next time you’re at a dinner party (real or virtual) you can impress everybody with your new found wine knowledge.

wine term

A

ABV

Alcohol by volume, listed on a wine label to tell you, well, alcohol by volume.

Acidity

It’s what gives the wine tartness, it’s also the level of perceived sharpness; making a wine seem ‘crisp’ or ‘smooth’. Acidity is an important element to a wine’s longevity.

Aeration

You’ve probably heard people saying they need to let the wine ‘breathe’ after opening a bottle. That’s exactly what aeration is – the deliberate addition of oxygen to round out and soften the flavour of a wine.

Aftertaste

A tasting term for the taste left on the palate after wine has been consumed.

Ageing

Holding wine in barrels, often made of oak to age a wine. Sometimes wine is aged in bottles or tanks to advance them to a more preferable state.

Alcohol

An easy wine term. It’s the ethanol (ethyl alcohol), which is the product of fermentation of sugars by yeast.

Appellation of Origin

If you’re one of those folks who likes to read a wine label, then you might have seen this phrase. This refers to the place where most of the grapes that were used in the wine were grown. It can be the name of a geographic region or country. Fun fact: federal regulations require that at least 75 percent of the grapes must be grown in the named appellation of origin.

Aperitif

It’s normally a dry wine that is served before a meal to stimulate the appetite. It can be served with antipasti as well.

Aroma

This wine term refers to the smell or ‘nose’ of a wine. Aroma is generally applied to younger wines, while the term Bouquet is reserved for more aged wines. It is dependent on the wine making process, the grapes that were used, and the storage conditions. Aromas can be floral, earthy, fruity, citrusy, or any number of familiar scents.

Astringency

This wine term is simple referring to how bitter or harsh a wine is. This is caused by the amount of tannins a wine has absorbed from the skins and seeds of the grapes, usually a high level of tannins.


B

Balance

A wine term for when the elements of wine – sugar, tannins, acids and alcohol come together in a harmonious way and no element dominates the other.

Balthazar

If you’ve gone to any old school Italian or French restaurant, you’ve definitely seen those enormous bottles of wine on display- that is called a balthazar. It contains 12 litres, the equivalent of 16 regular wine bottles.

Barrique

So you know that a barrel is used to ferment and age the wine, a barrique does the same thing. The only difference is that it’s 225-litre and it originated in Bordeaux, France.

Blanc, Bianco Blanco, Branco

French/Italian/Spanish/Portuguese terms for a white wine or grape.

Bitter

This wine term refers to the taste that is sensed on the back of the tongue and caused by tannins in a wine.

Blend

A fancy way of saying the wine is made from more than one grape varietal.

Body

It sounds funny but it’s the way to describe how thin or thick wine feels in your mouth, which is basically just describing the weight and fullness of wine in the mouth. A wine can be light, medium, or full bodied.

Bouquet

This wine term refers to the complex aromas in aged wines.

Brilliant

This refers to a tasting note for wines that is very clear and contains no sediment. This does not have to do with the wine varietal itself but rather how it was made and bottled.

Brut

A French term that refers to sparkling wines and dry champagnes. It essentially means that it’s dry.


C

Cabernet Sauvignon

The world’s most widely recognised red wine grape variety and is perceived to be a dry wine. Read more about Cabernet Sauvignon here.

Canopy

Maybe not the most need-to-know wine term but this refers to the parts of the grape vine above ground, in particular the shoots and leaves.

Chaptalisation

This is the process of adding sugar to wine before or during fermentation in order to increase the alcohol content. This process is highly controlled in parts of the world and illegal in others.

Chardonnay

A type of wine, one of the “noble” white varietals. Get to know Chardonnay here.

Chenin Blanc

A white grape common in the Loire Valley of France and South Africa. Read more about Chenin Blanc here.

Citric Acid

Citric acid is one of the three predominant acids in wine and is often added to wines to increase acidity, complementing a specific flavour. It can also be added to finished wines to increase acidity for a fresher flavour.

Claret

This refers to red wine from Bordeaux, It is an English term that is linked to the French term ‘clairet’.

Closed

This wine term is used to describe an underdeveloped wine whose flavours are not exhibiting well on the palate yet.

Complex

This refers to when a wine changes flavours from the moment you taste it to the moment you swallow. A wine exhibiting numerous odours and flavours.

Cork Taint

This occurs when undesirable aromas and flavours are felt in a wine. This happens when there is spoilage that can only be detected after bottling, ageing and opening.

Corked

A term that means a wine has suffered cork taint.

Cuvée

Refers to a particular blend of a wine and typically of more than one grape variety.


D

Débourbage

Referring to the process of settling the freshly pressed white grape “juice” prior to fermentation, this process reduces the need for filtration or fining.

Decant

The transferring of wine from a bottle to another vessel. The purpose is generally to aerate a young wine or to separate an older wine from any sediment.

Demi-sec

This French term means that it is ‘half-dry’. It is used to describe a sweet sparkling wine.

Dry

This refers to wines with zero or very low levels of residual sugar. It is also often attributed to the sensation that is caused by the wine’s tannins.


E

Earthy

This is a term used to describe the flavours and aromas of a wine that may have a soil-like quality.

En Tirage

French for “in pulling”, it refers to that period of time that an already bottled sparkling wine is rested during secondary fermentation. This is part of the Méthode Champenoise process.

Enology

The science of wine and winemaking because let’s not forget winemaking really is a science.


F

Fermentation

This is the conversion of grape sugars to alcohol by yeast; it drives complex chemical reactions that affect the aroma, flavour, and even colour of the finished wine.

Fining

This wine term refers to the process of clearing the wine of unwanted particles. Clearing agents are usually egg whites or gelatin (among other things) fining agents don’t remain in the finished wine.

Finish

The impression of the flavours that linger in the mouth after the wine is consumed.

Flabby

A tasting term that is used to indicate a wine lacking in structure, often caused by low acidity.

Fruity

This tasting term is reserved for wines that smell strongly and exhibit flavours of fruit.

Full-bodied

It’s impossible to have not heard the term ‘full-bodied wine’ before and if you didn’t know what it meant we’re here to help. It simply means a wine high in alcohol and flavours, often described as “big”.

Fumé Blanc

A name created by Robert Mondavi to describe dry Sauvignon Blanc.


G

Granvas

Spanish term for a sparkling wine that has been tank fermented as opposed to going through secondary fermentation in the bottle according to the Traditional Method used for Cava production.

Grapes

The vine produced fruit used in the winemaking process.


H

Herbaceous

A tasting term that is used to refer to a wine that has flavours of fresh herbs.

Haut

A wine term used to describe a wine that is high in alcohol.

Hollow

A term used to describe a wine that does not have depth or body.


I

Inoculation

The process in which yeast is introduced into the must in order to kick-start fermentation.


K

Kosher wine

Wine that is produced under the supervision of a rabbi so as to be ritually pure or clean.


L

Lees

Wine sediment that occurs during and after fermentation, it consists of dead yeast, grape seeds, and other solids. Wine is separated from the lees by racking.

Leesy

A tasting term for the smells and rich aromas that come from a wine resting on its lees (usually 2-3 months).

Length

The lingering sensation that the flavours leave after swallowing wine.


M

Malic acid

One of the three acids (the other one being citric acid above) in grapes.

Malolactic Fermentation

Malolactic fermentation is a winemaking process in which tart-tasting malic acid, naturally present in grape must, is converted to softer tasting lactic acid. A bacteria called Oenoccocus Oeni (along with other Lactobacillus strains) eat the malic acid in wine and lactic acid is a by-product of this process. It gives the wine with a creamy, oil-like texture on the tongue and is probably most notable in a wooded Chardonnay, where the wine is often referred to as ‘buttery’.

Mature

In wine terms, a mature is wine is ready to drink

Merlot

Merlot is a variety of wine grape used to create a popular red wine. Read more about Merlot here.

Mouth-Feel

This refers to how a wine feels on the palate; it can be smooth, rough or velvety.

Must

This wine term refers to unfermented grape juice including seeds, skins, and stems.


N

New World Wine

Wines produced outside of the traditional wine-growing areas of Europe and North Africa.

Nose

A tasting term describing the aromas and bouquets of a wine.

Noble Rot

Sounds bad right but actually this is an often sought after process caused by the fungus Botrytis Cinerea and is how sweet wines are often created. It is a delicate balance to ensure that the grapes are not negatively affected and are picked at the right time. If done correctly the sweet wines produced are some of the best there are (termed Botrytised wines).


O

Oaky

This is a term used to describe ‘oaky’ flavours and aromas in wine.

Oenology

The study of aspects of wine and winemaking.

Open

A wine tasting term that basically means a wine is ready to drink.

Oxidation

A wine term used to describe a wine that has been exposed to air and has undergone a chemical change.


P

pH

It’s the measure of acidity. The lower the pH, the higher the acidity.

Pinot Blanc

A white wine grape used to make a dry French wine

Pinot Gris

Can also be called Pinot Grigio, this is a more grayish than purple grape that yields a white wine.

Pinot Noir

The prime red grape of Burgundy, Champagne, and Oregon. Pinot noir is now used to make red wines around the world, as well as Champagne.

Pinotage

A hybrid between Pinot Noir and Cinsault that is grown almost exclusively in South Africa. Learn more about Pinotage here.

Pip

The seeds of a grape.


Q

Quaffing wine

A term used to describe a simple, everyday drinking wine.


R

Reserve

A term indicating a wine of higher quality.

Rough

The coarse sensation one experiences with very astringent wines.

Riesling

A variety of grape used to make white wine. Riesling grapes are used also for high-quality wines right here in South Africa. This wine is known for its acidity and fruitiness both in the nose and on the palate.


S

Sec

The French word for “dry”.

Sommelier

A certified wine professional, normally working in vineyards and fine restaurants, who specialise in all aspects of wine service including wine and food pairing.

Spicy

A tasting term used for wines that have a bit of a spice aroma or flavour. Think saffron, thyme, baking spices and more. Often noted in wines like Shiraz.

Structure

A tasting term that implies the harmony of all the elements in the wine, the tannins, fruit and alcohol.

Sherry

A fortified wine that has been made from white grapes. The controlled oxidation that is used produces a distinctive flavour.

Shiraz

Shiraz or Syrah is a variety of grape used to make red wine. Learn more about Shiraz.

Sulfites

Compounds that are added to wine to prevent oxidation, microbial spoilage, and further fermentation by the yeast. Sometimes blamed for causing hangover headaches. Some people are allergic to sulfites and will notice a reaction when drinking wine.


T

Tannins

The phenolic compounds in wines that leave a bitter and dry feeling in the mouth.

Tartaric acid

The principal acid in grapes, and one of the three acids. This acid promotes flavour and ageing in wine.

Texture

A tasting term describing how the wine feels on the palate of the mouth.

Typicity

A tasting term that describes how well a wine expresses the signature characteristics of the grape from which it was produced.


U

Ullage

This wine term refers to the empty space left in bottles and barrels as a wine evaporates.

Unoaked

Refers to wines that have been matured without contact with wood/oak such as in ageing barrels. Also known as unwooded.


V

Varietal

Wines made from a single grape variety.

Vegetal

Tasting term that describes the flavours of vegetables on the nose and in the flavours of the wine.

Vinification

The process of making wine

Vitis Vinifera

The species of wine that comprises over 99% of the world’s wine, yes you read that right.

Vintage

This wine term refers to the year a wine is bottled. Also, the yield of wine from a vineyard during a single season.


W

Weight

Similar to the term ‘body’, it’s the sensation when a wine feels thick or rich on the palate.

Wine-press

A device that is used to extract juice from crushed grapes during winemaking.


Y

Yeast

Yeast is what turns grape juice into alcohol through fermentation.

Yield

This wine term refers to the productivity of a vineyard

Young

A young wine means it’s been bottled and sold within a year of its vintage. They are noted for their fresh and crisp flavours.


Z

Zymology

The science of fermentation in wine.

Love wine? Check out more in our wine section.

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