There are some words which can make learning about wine seem very confusing. We've put together a list of most of them and done our best to explain them as clearly and simply as possible. Some of them will be useful and relevant whilst some others are for curiosity value only. It's entirely up to you.
This is a component of all wine; too much acidity will make the wine unbalanced and sharp or sour. However, if the wine has well balanced acidity, it helps to keep the wine fresh, zesty and clean. Wines with good acidity (balanced) will be crisp, lemony and pleasant. Use words like "refreshing", "zesty", "fresh" and "crisp" to describe wines with good acidity.
This can be a very confusing topic, largely because people often get age and maturity confused. The age of a wine is simply how old it is and doesn't necessarily have anything to do with its condition or quality. An old/aged wine might be excellent or awful, depending upon the individual qualities of the wine.
Helps to enhance the flavour and the feel of a wine; bigger full-bodied wines will be much higher in alcohol (14%) than light, crisp whites (11.5%). This might be worth remembering when serving customers at lunchtime!
A place name identifying a specific geographic area where grapes are grown and/or where wine is produced. You'll see this on wines fromFrance. Wines fromItalyandSpainhave a similar system but use different terms.
A common word that you will see in tasting notes. An aromatic wine will have a distinct, pleasant smell e.g. Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier.
This refers to wine where the elements of fruit, tannin and acidity are in harmony. Wine that's unbalanced will have one element that is unpleasantly dominant.
A huge topic but many quality wines are fermented and/or aged in barrels. These are made of oak. The most common size is 225 Litres. There are two common types of oak used to make barrels, French and American. French oak gives more subtle, toasty flavours while American oak gives much stronger vanilla oak flavours. Brand new barrels will give more oak flavour than a one- or two year old barrel.
Most wines are fermented in tanks which don't affect the flavour of the wine, .e.g. stainless steel. However, some wines are fermented in oak barrels. This is an expensive way of making wines and the end result is usually a wine with greater depth and complexity, sometimes with oaky, vanilla flavours and aromas.
This refers to the weight and the feel of the wine in your mouth. A light bodied wine will have the kind of weight that water has; light and fairly insubstantial. At the opposite end of the scale a full bodied wine will have the kind of weight that milk has; heavier, richer and fuller. Generally white wines are lighter bodied and reds fuller bodied. To some extent this is because red wine has tannin in it. Knowing about the body of the wine is especially important when it comes to matching food and wine.
The aromas and flavours of a wine.
Many top white Burgundies and New World Chardonnays are described as being buttery; this is because malolactic fermentation and oak ageing produce these creamy, buttery aromas and flavours.
Used to describe a wine (usually red) which feels really thick and full bodied. In particular, this is a weight and texture which comes from the tannin in the wine.
Simply, a wine that is free of faults, fresh tasting and pleasant although it can sometimes refer to a wine that is technically correct but not overly exciting.
Wine that is unsubtle and rough tasting is coarse - a bit too tannic, too acidic. You might also hear this kind of wine being called "unbalanced" and sometime "rustic". Although in some wines, the rustic nature of them is part of their distinctive character.
This refers to a very good quality wine, which has a myriad aromas and flavours. Often you will experience complexity as successive layers of interesting and complementary flavours creating a fascinating whole.
Wine where there is a lot of flavour packed into the bottle. This can be just one or two flavours and doesn't have to be complex, i.e. with layers of flavour. Often found in wines made from low yields or old vines.
Used to describe noticeable acidity and is usually a complementary description, indicating pleasant freshness.
Decanting is really something that shouldn't bother most wine drinkers. It's really only a needed for fine and rare wines. The main reason for decanting these is to remove sediment out of an aged bottle of wine. It can also be useful for young wines with aggressive tannins. By decanting the wine you expose it to oxygen which helps soften the wine and make it a pleasanter drink. The old fashioned idea of pening the wine to "allow it to breathe" is ineffectual as so little of the wine is exposed to the air that it has virtually no effect.
This can be a very positive way to describe the aromas and flavours of a wine. Earthy aromas and flavours are reminiscent of a forest floor or of freshly turned soil. There are a number of wines which are often described as being "earthy", for example, some Italian reds, some wines made from the Pinot Noir grape variety and often older red wines. Generally, it is a sign of an older (red) wine.
Wines which have a smell which reminds one of flowers. Often the scent is of meadow flowers or wild flowers, rather than hothouse blooms.
Smelling and tasting strongly of fruit. This is just a generic term and doesn't indicate which kind of fruit. White wines will tend to smell and taste of green, yellow and orange fruit, e.g apples, lemons, limes, pineapple, papaya, peaches, bananas, whilst red wines will tend to remind you of red and black fruit, e.g. strawberries, raspberries, plums, blackberries, black currants. Some grape varieties have distinctive fruit aromas associated with them, e.g. Gewurztraminer and lychees, Cabernet Sauvignon and blackcurrants. A lot of wines, especially blends, just smell broadly of 'red fruits' or 'citrus fruits'
Similar territory to the earthy range of smells. Sometimes older red wines will develop a meaty smell, more reminiscent of raw, bloody meat than cooked meats. These are unusual and add to the complexity of the wine.
There are 1000s of different grape varieties which can be used to make wine. Each variety has distinct characteristics which range from how thick the skin is to the colour, size and when it ripens which contribute to the final flavours and aromas in the finished wine.
This is a tasting term which is used to describe a leafy or grassy aroma of crushed green leaves or freshly cut grass. It is often used to describe the nose of a Sauvignon Blanc and in this instance is a positive description. However, the term herbaceous can also be used in a negative sense to describes wine where the grapes used were under-ripe - for example red wines grown in very cool climates may be herbaceous.
The dead yeast cells that fall to the bottom of the tank, barrel or vat of fermenting wine. Also refers to the dead yeast cells that fall to the bottom of a bottle of sparkling wine after its second fermentation. Often a wine is left to mature on the lees for a time to gain extra flavour and complexity. The words "sur lie" indicate that the wine has been left on its lees.
Legs or Tears
This refers to how the wine runs down the inside of the glass after it has been swirled. Where the wine forms clear streams it is indicative of wine with higher alcohol.
A wine that has a long finish is one whose flavours seem to go on and on for ages, right down the back of your throat. The opposite, obviously, is a wine with a short finish, which is not as enjoyable.
An induced second fermentation in barrel or tank where the malic acid (acidity in green apples) is transformed into lactic acid (the softer acid found in milk) by bacteria. Malolactic fermentation softens the wine and gives it creamy, buttery, diary characteristics.
Used to describe wine which is aged to its full potential. How long this is really depends upon the wine. Some wines will require 10 to 15 years before they are mature, others will require only 6 months before they are mature.
The frothiness found in sparkling wine. A good sparkling wine should have mousse that remains in the glass for the duration of the drink and the strings of bubbles that form the mousse (called the beads) should be as small as possible.
The range of wine producing countries not in Europe. So called because compared toEuropethey have not been making wine for very long.
Noble Grape Varieties
There are a small group of grape varieties which are called "noble" because of their ability to make truly great wines. The best known of these are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Syrah for red wines and Chardonnay, Sauvignon and Riesling for white wines.
This refers to the smell of the wine and can be used to describe the smell, e.g. the nose of this wine is rich and oaky, and to describe the action of smelling the wine
This catch-all term that covers all sorts of descriptions from the vanilla-like smell which new oak barrels impart to a wine to the cedar wood smell of old Cabernet Sauvignon. This can also include some of the toasty and spicy smells which oaked wines acquire.
Occasionally white wines like Viognier or Marsanne, aged Riesling or Semillon can have a slippery, oily texture to them that adds to the wine drinker's enjoyment of the wine.
The range of wine producing countries in Europe. They are so called because they have been producing wine for a very long time and as a result have sometimes developed traditions and practices which are unique to particular areas and regions. In fact, they are the source of most wine making tradition.
Strictly speaking, this refers to wines reserved from previous vintages (years) that are used as important blending components to give extra character and complexity to the new wine, for example in the production of non-vintage sparkling wine. Reserve is also used in manyNew Worldcountries as a general indication of better-than-average quality (e.g. Show Reserve, Special Reserve) as well as a term to indicate an extended maturation or ageing (Rioja Reserva).
Like smoky aromas, spicy characters can come from the grape varieties (such as the pepperiness ofShiraz) or from the barrel; the clove and aniseed aromas of French oak. This can refer to the aromas and flavours of a wide range of spices, e.g. cinnamon, pepper, nutmeg, aniseed, cloves, Chinese spice, to name a few.
Gives a distinctive texture and makes your gums feel dry. Found in red wine, it is a natural preservative substance that comes from grape skins, pips and oak barrels. Tannin gives the wine backbone and good aging potential. Tannins will generally soften over time.
Terroir is a French word which is used to describe how the unique combination of soil, vineyard site, climate, grape variety and winemaking culture affects the taste of the resulting wine. For the French, the idea of terroir is sacrosanct.New Worldwinemakers are coming to terms with the concept, planting varieties that suit the particular soil and climate of a vineyard site.
Two words that are often confused. A grape variety is a type of grape. A varietal wine is made from one or two named grape varieties. Varietal is also used as a tasting term to describe a wine that smells and tastes varietally correct, e.g. blackcurrant for Cabernet or pepper forShiraz.
Vintage (and Non-Vintage)
The year in which grapes are picked that a vintage-designated wine is made from (non-vintage made from grapes picked over various years).
Term used to describe dusty smells and smells of dirty, old barrels in a wine.
The miracle workers of the biological world! Without yeast, wine wouldn't be nearly as much fun. Yeast is the key that unlocks the intoxicating secret of the sugar in grape juice. It's the yeast cells, already in the air or introduced by the winemaker that feed upon the sugar in the grape juice, the by-products of which are alcohol and carbon dioxide.