The ABC of Wine Terms


School is in!

Think of this page as a Wine Dictionary for all the important wine terms.

‘Wine Speak’ can seem like a language of it’s own but once you get the hang of it and find a few words that work for you, we can all have better conversations about wine 🙂

So let’s get to class and start learning some of these wine terms that will help you understand why you like a certain wine or not. Plus, you will also become better at remembering the wines and styles of wine you prefer to taste, drink and buy.

Acidic: All wine has a certain amount of acidic which makes a wine feel fresh and gives it a lift. Too much acidic makes a wine taste sour and feel sharp and not enough will make a wine flat.

Acidity:  The main acids found in wine include citric, tartaric, malic, and lactic.  Wine from hot climates tend to be lower in acidity whereas wines from cooler climates are higher in acidity.

Aeration:  The process of adding air to wine resulting in the scent being more noticeable.

Aftertaste:  The length of time the flavour lingers after tasting it. Aftertaste means the same thing as length, finish or endnote.  A longer aftertaste is a good characteristic. 

Age:  Aged wines are bottles that have been cellared for a period of time (years).  The quality of the wine improves over time.

Aggressive: An aggressive wine is too high in acidity. The term can also be used to describe wines with hard tannins.

Alcohol: Ethyl alcohol, or ethanol is the by product of the fermentation process.

Angular:  Angular wines are lean – the opposite of fat, round or fleshy. (See these terms below)

Anthocyannins:  Pigments that give red wine its colour.

Aroma:  Aroma is used to describe how the wine smells.

Astringent:  Astringent wines taste hard or sharp. This happens because the tannins in a wine did not ripen.

Backward:  Backward is used to define a wine that is tight, closed or reserved. This means the qualities in the wine are not available to the taster. This is common in young wines.

Balance: Balance is one of the key traits of a quality wine. The term is used to empathise the relationship between all the elements that make up the wine.

Barnyard: An aroma best described as earthy with animal scents. In small doses it can be a positive trait but in large amounts it is off-putting.

Barrel:  A vessel to age wine which is usually made from oak.

Barrel Fermented: Wines vinified in a barrel. White wines are more often vinified in a barrel but some producers barrel ferment red wine as well. This is known as micro-vinification.

Barrel Tasting: Tasting a wine direct from the barrel before it has been bottled.

Berry: Another term for grape.

Berry scented:  Wines are made from grapes but the scent of wine is much more like berries (blackberries, strawberries, cherries, raspberries, or even cranberry or mulberry).

Big:  A big wine is full with ripe, normally alcoholic fruit. If the wine is balanced this is not a problem but it is not so good for the taster if the wine is not balanced.

Blend: When more than one grape variety is used to produce the wine.

Blind Tasting: The identity of the wine is hidden from the taster.

Body: The weight and feel of wine. Full bodied wines are higher in alcohol.

Bold:  Red wine with dark colour, high alcohol, with strong concentration and intensity.

Bouquet:  The term used to describe the floral, non grape or berry aromas that a mature wine displays.

Brawny (or Beefy): A big, masculine and muscular styled wine.

Breathe:  The process of allowing a wine to breathe by giving it air. This improves the aroma and texture of the wine.

Bricking (or Browning):  As red wines mature they lighten in colour and move from purple, to dark red to ruby and finally to the colour of brick.

Bright: Used to describe acidic red fruits.

Brix:  The measurement of sugar content of a wine.

Brooding:  Wines that are brooding offer dark colours with intense concentration of flavour.

Bud Burst (or Bud Break): Term for when the vines begin to produce their first new shoots for the grape growing season. This takes place in the spring.

Buttery: A term used for wine that has a butter or buttered popcorn character. Butter characteristics are found in richer styles of Chardonnay usually aged in a barrel.

Chaptalization:  The addition of sugar to the juice prior to or during fermentation. This aids in the fermentation process and produces sweeter, fatter wines.

Chardonnay: The world’s most popular white wine grape.

Chewy: Chewy wines are dense or meaty, with a lot of texture, concentration and tannins.

Closed:  When a wine is closed, it does not allow the taster to experience the aromas or flavours. The opposite of open.

Cloying:  Wines that are cloying are too sweet, without ample acidity, making them flabby.

Cluster: A bunch of grapes.

Coarse:  Wines that are course are rough and rustic in texture.

Cold Maceration: The process before alcoholic fermentation where the temperature of the fermenting must remains low to achieve the highest degree of extraction. This results in stronger colour and aromas.

Complex: Complex is an important quality in a great wine. Normally associated with aromatics, the term is used when a myriad of scents or fragrances are found in a wines perfume.

Concentrated:  Concentrated wines display a wealth of fruit, richness and depth of flavour as well as raw materials.

Concentrator:  A machine that removes excess water from grapes to help concentrate the wine.

Cooked:  A wine that suffered heat damage during storage.

Corked:  Corked wines are flawed. They can smell like a wet dog or mouldy newspaper.

Creamy:  When a wine has the rich texture of cream.

Crisp:  Fruit that is crisp is usually high in acidity.

Decadent:  Decadent wines are rich, opulent wines with smooth mouth coating textures.

Decanting: Pouring wine from a bottle into a larger container to allow air into young wines for the purpose of allowing them to soften and increase aroma. It also removes sediment from older wines.

Delicate:  Light wines are delicate. This quality is better suited to some white wines and Pinot Noir.

Dense:  Dense wines are filled with high levels of raw material giving the wine concentration. This is positive trait.

Depth:  Wines with depth have layers of flavour and concentration. This is a good quality.

Dry Wine:  Dry wines are red or white wines where all the residual sugar has been fermented.

Drying Out:  When a wine is drying out, it is over the hill and losing its fruit.

Earthy:  Earthy wines have a scent of mushrooms, forest floor or truffles. This is a positive attribute that is experienced in aged wines.

Elegant: Wines with elegance are in balance with soft, refined characteristics and textures. They are never heavy.

Endnote: is the same as after taste or finish. It is the sensation of flavours your palate enjoys after you have already swallowed the wine. The longer the endnote the better the wine (as long as the flavours are pleasant).

Exuberant: This term is used for young wines that are fresh, lively and showy.

Fading: Wines that are fading are drying out and losing their fruit.

Fat: Wines that are fat are concentrated with a lot of round textured flavours. This can be a good quality as long as the wine is not flabby.

Fermentation:  The process of turning sugars into alcohol also known as alcoholic fermentation.

Filtered: Filtering is the process of removing solid particles by passing the wine through a filter.

Fining: Fining is done to remove particles in a wine which make the wine unclear or cloudy.

Finesse: Wines with finesse are elegant.

Finish: The same as endnote or after taste.

Firm: Wines that are firm are tannic and structured.

Flabby:  Flabby wines are low in acidity and lie in your mouth. They are heavy and not fun to taste.

Fleshy:  Fleshy wines are full bodied concentrated with round or opulent textures.

Fortified Wine: Fortified wine is produced by the addition of brandy or other spirits.

Fresh:  Freshness is a good quality. It comes from the acidity in wine.

Fruit Set:  The time of year when the fertilised flowers morph into small grape bunches.

Full-bodied:  Full bodied wines are high in alcohol, glycerin and concentration.

Hard: Wines that are hard have rough tannins and high acidity.

Herbaceous: Herbaceous wines smell of herbs. A little is nice but too much and the wine loses its sense of fruit.

Hollow:  Hollow wines are missing the middle between the first sensation of flavour and the endnote.

Honeyed:  A common trait in sweet white wine which gives a honey character.

Hot: When too much alcohol for the style of wine has been produced heat is noted in the wine. This is not good.

Intensity:  Intensity is ample flavour that will keep the taster focused.

Lactic Acid:  A smooth acid that is the by product of malolactic fermentation. This is the same acid that is also found in milk.

Late Harvest:  Late harvest wines are sweet wines produced from grapes that are allowed to over ripen on the vine.

Lay Down:  Wines that are ‘laid down’ are wines that need time in the cellar to age.

Lean:  Lean wines are not concentrated.

Legs:  The clear, thick tears that run down the side of your glass after swirling your wine. The tears or legs are formed from the glycerin in the wine. This along with colour are the first two things a taster notices in a wine (before even tasting it)

Lift:  A refreshing sensation. Lift comes from acidity as does freshness. Without lift a wine would feel fat and flabby on your palate.

Linear:  Linear wines offer flavours that do not change. For example a dark fruited wine will not change in flavour to red berries.

Lively:  Similar to lift, showing freshness in its character.

Long:  The longer the flavours and aromas remain in your senses the better the wine. This is a positive trait.

Lush:  Lush wines are rich, opulent and glycerin filled. Delicious.

Masculine:  Strong, powerful, concentrated, tannic wines.

Mature:  A mature wine has aged enough that all its elements come together. A matured wine has also taken on secondary aromas and flavours.

Medium Bodied:  Term for wines lacking the same level of concentration found in full bodied wines.

Micro Vinification: This term is used when red wines are vinified in a barrel.

Mid-Palate:  The middle of the wine tasting sensation that takes place after the first taste but before the endnote. This is where the majority of the flavours are released.

Mouth-Feel:  The sensation that takes place in the mouth when drinking wine.

Oenophobia: The fear of wine.

Open:  Open refers to young wines that display their character and flavours early. The opposite of closed.

Optical Sorter:  Fast and effective method of sorting grapes after harvest using optical technology for image analysis. Optical sorting helps remove unripe and over ripe berries as well as unwanted material.

Opulent: Opulent wines offer sensuous textures and richness. This is highly desirable.

Oxidized: Oxidized wines have too much air. They become brown or bricky in colour and taste like Sherry.

Peppery: A peppery wine smells of fresh black or white pepper with a peppery endnote.

Perfume: All wines have perfume. Wines that have been aged develop secondary non fruit aromas.

pH: A measure for acidity in a wine. Wines with high pH have low acidity. Wines with low pH have high acidity.

Plonk:  An inexpensive, moderate to poor wine without much character.

Plummy:  Wines that taste of plums and are usually round in texture.

Plush: Wines that feel polished, rich, opulent or supple in the mouth. This is a good quality in a wine.

Polished: Wines that are polished are soft, silky, elegant and round, this comes from very ripe and refined tannins.

Pomace:  Pomace remains after the juice is drained from the vat. It is the seeds, skin and stems. This is used to produce press wine.

Ponderous: A big, powerful, very concentrated wine.

Port like:  Dry red wine that is described as Port like, is very thick, rich, concentrated and ripe.

Press Wine:  The second pressing of the pomace (the grape skins, seeds and pulp) after the fermented juice is removed. Press wine provides more tannins, colour and flavours.

Pure: Wine with purity allow the true expression of the fruit to come through. It is like tasting a sweet, ripe berry from the vine. Purity is a positive trait and hard to find.

Racking: The process of moving wine from one barrel to another to add air and to allow for the removal of any sediment.

Ratings: Numbers given to wines to show how a taster ranks them against other wines in a similar peer group.

Residual Sugar:  The unfermented sugar that remains in a finished wine.

Rich:  Wines that are rich display ample texture, body and flavour, along with a long endnote.

Ripe:  A ripe wine is produced when its grapes have reached the optimum level of maturity.

Round:  Round wines feel opulent in your mouth. This trait can come from low acid wines and wines produced from fruit when the tannins are allowed to fully ripen.

Score:  Wine writers and critics often apply numerical scores to denote a wines level of quality against other wines in the same peer group.

Seamless:  When a taster experiences a wine that moves from the first taste, to the mid palate through to the endnote without a break between the sensations and all the elements of the wine are in balance. This trait is hard to find.

Secondary or Tertiary Aromas:  When a wine matures it develops secondary, non fruit aromas like truffles, tobacco, leather, tar, cedar and spice. This is a positive term.

Sediment:  Sediment occurs naturally as a wine ages. Tannins, pigments and other materials bond together to form sediment in the wine. Sediment does no harm but it is bitter to taste. You should remove the sediment by decanting.

Short:  The opposite of long. A wine that is short has no length in the finish. This is a poor attribute.

Silky:  Similar to velvety but perhaps a little lighter. Silky wines feel polished in your mouth.

Simple:  Simple wines lack complexity.

Single Vineyard: Wines produced from grapes grown in one single vineyard, instead of multiple vineyards.

Smoky: Aromas of smoke. This is achieved either because of the char in the barrels, the soil or the grapes.

Smooth: Wines that are smooth, feel soft on your palate. They transition from the beginning to the middle through to the end, with a smooth texture. A positive attribute.

SO2:  Chemical compound for sulfur dioxide, a gas which is used as a preservative agent to help avoid oxidation.

Soft:  Soft wines are round, elegantly textured and can be low in acidity.

Sorting:  Sorting is the final step before fermentation. During sorting, the wine maker removes all the unripe grapes and other unwanted material. Sorting can be done by hand or with optical sorting machines.

Spicy:  Wines often smell like different spices ranging from pepper to cinnamon to 5 spice or cloves.

Structure:  Structure in wine is created by all the components of wine (fruit, acid, tannin, sugar and alcohol).

Sweet Wine:  Sweet wines are red or white wines which have varying degrees of residual sugar remaining.

Tannin:  Tannins are extracted from the grape skins and stems. They are the backbone of a wine and one of the key components to a long life. Tannins need to be ripe for a wine to feel good in your mouth, Unripe tannins can make your mouth feel dry or make the wine seem hard.

Tart:  Tart wines are produced from unripe fruit and or fruit that is overly acidic.

Tartaric Acid:  The small, harmless crystals found at the bottom of a wine bottle. The crystals are harmless, odourless and lack flavour. They occur naturally when wines age.

VA: Abbreviation for volatile acidity.

Vat:  A vessel for fermentation that is most often made of stainless steel, cement or oak.

Velvety:  This term has a similar meaning to silky, lush or plush. Terms to describe wines with opulent texture.

Vibrant:  Wines that are fresh, lively, energetic, with good acidity and also rich with depth. This is a positive trait.

Vigneron: French term for a wine maker or wine grower

Vin: French term for wine.

Vintage: The specific year the grapes were harvested in.

Viscous: Viscous wines are thick, rich and concentrated.

Viticulture:  The study and/or act of grape growing.

Woody:  Woody wines are oaky characterised with strong, overwhelming scents of vanilla, coffee or smoke. They can also feel dry in the mouth. This is a flaw.

Yeast: Yeast helps the process of converting sugar to alcohol during the fermentation process.

Yield:  In viticulture, the yield is a measure of the amount of grapes or wine that is produced per unit surface of vineyard. Two different types of yield measures are commonly used – mass of grapes per vineyard surface – or volume of wine per vineyard surface.