Wine glossary: our quick dictionary of essential words for every wine lover

by Aug 3, 2020News0 comments

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Dear reader, wine lover and fine wine investor,

How good it is to hear from our subscribers that the recent tips we have been giving on wine investment, tasting and pairings were helpful.

From the best serving choices to what to know to invest in fine and rare wines, our articles spread throughout this text will help you too!

Wine is a fantastic world to explore, but many times we stumble upon terms we don’t exactly know. So that’s why, after some quick but heavy studying, I decided to give you this glossary of essential wine terms.

Think of it as a cheat sheet or dictionary for tasting notes, curiosities and regional traits – and maybe more you wanted to know but were too afraid to ask.

Without further ado, enjoy this ABC of wine.


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Wine names and concepts you need to know

Acidity

The natural liveliness / crispness that activates salivary glands, and a leading determinant of balance of a wine.

Aeration

The deliberate addition of oxygen to soften a wine, help its aromas become more noticeable. More on aeration on our recent article.

Aftertaste

Basically the same as length, finish or end note. The duration and tasting of a wine spent in your mouth once you’ve finished tasting it.

Age-worthy

A wine of great quality that is proven to withstand in quality as time goes by or only becomes better and more complete in terms of flavors, aromas and texture as you cellar it. This is the kind of wine we offer for investors at Alti Wine Exchange.

Aging

Holding wine in barrels, tanks or bottles to advance them to a more mature and desirable state.

Alcohol

The product of fermentation of sugars by yeast, that varies in concentration with different wines.

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Appellation

A French expression for a geographical location used to legally identify where (and how) grapes are grown and made into wine. More on our Bordeaux and Burgundy series by Julien Miquel.

Aroma

The smell (or smells) of wine (see “bouquet” for more).

Astringent

A tasting term noting the bitter and mouth-drying sensations caused by high levels of tannin that numb salivary proteins. Found in some stronger, full-bodied wines such as syrah or cabernet sauvignon.

Balance

A definition for when the elements of wine – acids, sugars, tannins, and alcohol – come together in a harmonious way.

Barrel

The oak container used for fermenting and aging wine. Its classic aging process, rather than in stainless steel tanks, provides richer, oakier styles of wine.

Berry

Another term for grape used in tasting notes.

Biodynamic

A farming method that uses natural composts and work for harvesting and winemaking, with for example homeopathic techniques and celestial cycles.

Bitter

The taste sensed on the back of the tongue and caused by tannins, especially in bolder red wines.

Blend

When more than one grape variety is used to produce a wine.

Blind tasting

The key tasting for an unbiased review of a wine, in which its identity is hidden from the taster. In theory, this allows for an unbiased evaluation of the wine. Single blind: type of wine is known to the taster, but not the specific wine. Double blind: taster has no information on the wine beforehand.

Body

A tactile description for the weight and feel of a wine. Wines can be light, medium or full-bodied. The more body they have, the more alcoholic and strong in flavors they tend to be.

Bold

A description of a red wine with dark color and high alcohol, concentration and intensity, leaning to full body.

Bouquet

The myriad of complex aromas in aged, more mature wines, that carry more secondary characteristics, other than primary fruit scents.

Breathe

An informal term for exposing wine to oxygen to improve its aromas and flavors, as “aeration”.

Brut

French term used to describe the driest Champagnes and sparklings in general.

Cellaring

Storing under cellar conditions to ensure the maximum aging qualities of a wine. See more on our recent article.

Château

French word for castle, often used with the name of an estate winery.

Closed

A description for underdeveloped and young wines whose flavors are not exhibiting well at their tasting.

Complex

A wine that exhibits multiple odors, nuances, and flavors.

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Cooked

When a bottle of wine has been exposed to excessive heat, provoking unwanted changes to the palate and the loss of fresher flavors.

Corked

A wine flawed by inappropriate conditions of its cork.

Crisp

A definition for bright wine or flavors, with personality and usually high in acidity.

Cru

“Growth”, in French. A vineyard or group of vineyards recognized for great terroir and quality, usually determined by appellation rules such as premier cru or grand cru in France.

Cuvée

A definition, in Champagne, for a blended batch of wine.

Decanting

Pouring wine from a bottle into a larger container for removing sediment from older wines or to aerate a younger wine and let in grow by breathing. More here.

Dessert wine

Wines high in alcohol ranging from 14% to 24% ABV. Even though the term is commonly associated with sweeter, fortified wines, even riper and bolder reds can be treated as such.

Dry

A taste sensation often attributed to tannins that causes puckering sensations in the mouth-feel; opposite of sweet.

Earthy

Aromas or flavors reminiscent of damp soil, smelling of mushrooms, forest floor or truffles. Older Bordeaux are frequently described as such.

En primeur

Method of purchasing wines when they are still in the barrel, usually considerably cheaper than at their upcoming launch.

Fermentation

The process of conversion of grape sugars to alcohol by yeast.

Fine wine

Exceptional wines that are classified on the basis of age and terroir, rarity, proven quality and high aging potential. The exclusive kind of wine we offer at our exchange. Here’s all you need to know.

 


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Finish

The impression of textures and flavors that linger in the mouth after swallowing wine. Aftertaste. 

Flavors

The odors perceived in the mouth.

Fortified

A wine that’s stabilized by the addition of spirits during winemaking – usually neutral, clear grape brandy. Port, sherry, madeira, moscatel, marsala and others are considered fortified.

Fruity

Tasting term for wines with strong aromas and flavors of fresh fruit.

Hot

Wine that is high in alcohol.

Length

The perception of time that flavors persist in the mouth after swallowing wine, lingering.

Maceration

The process when grapes, seeds, skins, pulp and stems have their materials extracted, adding color, flavor, tannins and raw material to the wine.

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Magnum

A 1.5 L wine bottle, equivalent to 2 standard bottles.

Mature

Wine that has aged to the point that all its elements come together, with the most balanced possible terms of aromas and flavors that include tannins, fruit and acidity.

Microclimate

Climate conditions in small, localized areas, as a single vineyard within a larger region or appellation.

Minerality

Flavors that resemble rocks or organic matter in the taste, actually referring to sulfur compounds derived from fermentation.

Mouth-feel

Textural sensation of how a wine feels on the palate. Smooth, rough, velvety, or furry

Must

The unfermented freshly pressed grape juice including seeds, skins and eventually stems.

New world

Wines made outside of Europe and the Mediterranean basin (which in turn are known as Old World) and that tend to be more grape and technique-oriented. More here.

Noble rot

A wine world term for botrytis, a beneficial fungus that attacks the skin of grapes and causes dehydration, resulting in natural grape juice exceptionally high in sugar. Some of the world’s finest sweet and dessert wines are affected by this mold, such as this highly appreciated Sauternes-Barsac by Château Coutet and this Beerenauslese Riesling.

Nose

Tasting term that describes the aromas and bouquets of a wine.


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Oak/oaky

Tasting term for aromas and flavors of vanilla, spices, coconut, mocha or dill caused by barrel-aging. Such wines mostly spent time in French oak barrels.

Oenology

The same as enology. The study and science of wine and winemaking.

Old world

Wines made in Europe and the Mediterranean basin, tending to be more tradition-oriented. More here.

Open

Tasting term for a wine that is ready to drink; opposite of closed.

Organic

Grapes grown and wines produced without the aid of chemical-based fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides.

Oxidation

Process in which wines have been exposed for longer periods to air, having undergone chemical changes.

Pétillant

A French term for lightly sparkling wine. Frizzante, in Italian.

Phenols

The many chemical compounds found in wine (present in grape skins and seeds) that affect the taste, color, and mouthfeel of wine. Tannin is a type of it: a polyphenol.

Phylloxera

Microscopic insect that kills grapevines by attacking their roots. First spread throughout Europe in the 1880s, having devastated the majority of the world’s vineyards and forcing adaptations for new vitis vinifera vines. There is still no cure for it.

Reserva / Riserva

Spanish and Italian terms used to describe wines that have been aged for longer than the standard denomination. Some wineries use the term to describe special quality level wines, while others do it for marketing.

Residual sugar

The unfermented sugar that remains in a finished wine, determining sweetness.

Rich

Wines with ample texture, body and flavor, along with a long finish.

Rough

The tactile sensation experienced with very astringent wines; coarse.

Round

Wines that feel opulent in the mouth. Usually low acid wines and wines produced from fruit, with ripened tannins.

Sec

French word for “dry”. Demi-sec: “half-dry”, describing sweeter sparkling wines.

Secondary aromas

The scent of wine when it matures, developing non-fruit aromatics like truffles, tobacco, cedar and spice, for example.

Sediment

In wine, normally crystals deposited such as tannins, pigments and other materials of a wine that is maturing. Removed by decanting.

Sommelier

Certified, highly trained wine professional specialized in wine tasting. Commonly referred as a wine steward or maître.

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Spicy

Tasting term used for aromas and flavors reminiscent of black pepper, curry powder, spices, oregano, rosemary, saffron or paprika found in some wines.

Structure

Ambiguous tasting term that refers to the harmony of fruit, alcohol, acidity and tannins.

Sulfites

Preservatives that are either added to wine or present before fermentation. Wines must label if they contain more than 10 ppm of sulfites.

Sweet

Wines with perceptible sugar contents on the nose and in the mouth.

Table wine

Degree of measurement for wines that range from 11% to 14% alcohol.

Tannins

Phenolic compounds in wines that leave a bitter, astringent, mouth-drying feel. Extracted from the grape skins and stems, coupled with acidity and alcohol, these are a key component of a red wine.

Tart

Wines produced from unripe fruit, overly acidic.

Terroir

French term, referring to geographical characteristics unique to a given vineyard. Originally used to describe how a particular region’s climate, soils, aspect (terrain), and traditional winemaking practices affect the taste of its wine. Various other elements can come into place to determine terroir.

Texture

Tasting term describing how wine feels on the palate.

Tobacco

Common smell found in mature, oaked wines, especially from Bordeaux. Can range from cigar tobacco to ash or even pipe aromatics.

Ullage

Empty space left in bottles and barrels as a wine evaporates.

Vigneron

French term for winemaker or wine grower.

Vinification

Process of making wine.

Vintage

A particular year in the wine business, or a specific harvest.

Viscous

Thick, rich and concentrated wines on the palate. Normally means quality.

Viticulture

The study and science of grape growing.

Vitis vinifera

The species of grape comprising over 99% of the world’s wine.

Weight

Similar to “body”; when a wine feels thick or rich on the palate.

Yeast

Microorganism endemic to vineyards (or produced commercially) that converts grape sugars into alcohol.

Yield

Productivity of a vineyard. Low yields are pointed as having potential to produce better wine due to increased concentration and selection.

Young

Wine that is immature when bottled. Has high levels of acidity and tannin (for reds) that rarely caress the palate.


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