A

Acetic Acid — The acid responsible for the sour taste of vinegar and sour beer. Acetic acid in noticeable quantities in wine is usually considered a flaw.

Acidity — In the general sense of the word, it means sourness, although it’s better to describe a wine as “crisp,” “refreshing,” or “lively” than sour. Acidity is usually considered a good thing as it enhances flavors, balances other structural elements (tannin, sugar, alcohol), and makes the wine food friendly. Acid is detected on the sides of the mouth when it causes the mouth to water.

Aeration — The process of exposing the wine to oxygen through opening or decanting. Wine exposed to oxygen will often have more pronounced aromas and fruit flavors as well as softened tannins.

Aftertaste — The impression of textures and flavors lingering in the mouth after drinking a wine (i.e. finish).

Aging — Holding wine in barrels, tanks, and/or bottles. Wines are usually not at their best when first bottled and need some aging to become drinkable. Most wines can age from one to five years before quality starts to diminish. Some wines can age for much longer.  

Alcohol — Ethanol (ethyl alcohol) is the product of fermentation of sugars by yeast. If a wine has too much alcohol it can be referred to as being “hot”. Alcohol is perceived by the brain as sweetness, it also adds body to the wine, so high alcohol wines will often taste full bodied and fruity. Higher alcohol wines usually come from warm to hot climates. The “tears” or "legs" on the side of a glass of wine are almost all alcohol.

Anosmia — The loss of smell.

Appellation — A specific wine producing region or designation. For example, “Napa” in California.

Aroma — The smell resulting from the grapes used to make the wine. For example: Pinot Noir has a different aroma from Chardonnay. This is different from bouquet which refers to smells resulting from the winemaking process like oak.

Astringent — You do not want to experience this in a wine. Harsh, bitter, and drying sensations in the mouth caused by high levels of tannin or underripe grapes.

B

Balance — The relationship of the structural elements to one another: sugar, alcohol, tannin, and acidity. Ideally all of them will be perceptible but none will overpower the others (except in white wines which will not have tannins). Wines can be either well-balanced or out of balance. Good balance is one of the most important qualities that help to define “good” wine.

Blend —  A wine made from more than one grape varietal.

Blind Tasting — The process of tasting wine without knowing what it is or where it’s from in an effort to learn more about wine and hone one’s powers of perception.

Body —  The weight and fullness of wine in the mouth.  A wine can be light bodied (think skim milk),  medium bodied (2% milk), or full bodied (whole milk). Fuller body often results from higher alcohol, sugar, or tannins.

Bouquet — A term that refers to the smells resulting from the winemaking process. For example: oak smell from aging in an oak barrel. See Aroma to note the difference.

Breathing — Exposing wine to oxygen to improve its flavors. Another term for Aeration.  

C

Chewy — A word referring to wine with noticeable but not excessive tannin.

Citric Acid — One of the three predominate acids in wine. The other two being Malic and Tartaric.

Claret — The name the English use when referring to the red wines of Bordeaux.

Closed — Not smelling strongly. Sometimes a wine described as closed is decanted in order to “open” it up.

Concentrated — High intensity of flavor.

Corked — A term that denotes a wine that has suffered cork taint (not wine with cork particles floating about). The term is usually associated with bad aromas and flavors like wet cardboard or moldy basements. Cork taint is primarily caused by 2,4,6-trichloroanisole or (TCA) which is in the corks at the time of manufacture. Bottles cannot develop or spread cork taint.

Crisp — Tart or acidic.

Cuvée — A blend. The term is commonly used in Champagne. It can refer to a blend of different vintages, grapes, or fruit from multiple vineyard sites.

D

Demi-sec — French term meaning “half-dry” used to describe a sweet sparkling wine.

Diurnal Range — The difference in temperature between daytime and nighttime.

Dried Out — Wine lacking in fresh fruit character. Usually referring to a wine that’s too old.

Dry —  A term for the absence of sweetness. Example: bottled water is (ironically…) dry because it does not have sugar. Dryness is not related to tannin, alcohol, any other structural element, or flavor.

E

Earthy — An odor or flavor of dirt. Common “earthy” taste descriptors include, “forest floor” and “garden soil”.

Enology — The science of wine and winemaking.

Esters* — Compounds formed by acids and alcohols either during fermentation or aging, often intensely aromatic (nail polish remover smells strongly esterified).

Extract* — Important dimension of a wine, the sum of its solids, including phenolics, sugars, minerals and glycerol, i.e. what would be left after boiling.

F

Fermentation — The conversion of sugars into alcohol and CO2 by yeast.

Finish — The impression of textures and flavors lingering in the mouth after drinking a wine.

Firm — A wine with strong tannins.

Flabby — Out of balance due to low acidity.

Fresh* — Attractively acidic.

Fruit* — Is the youthful combination of flavour (aroma) and body that derives from the grapes rather than the wine-making or aging process.

Fruity* — Used either to describe wines with good fruit or, often as white wine marketing speak, as a euphemism for slightly sweet.

Full-bodied — A term describing a wine that is thick and viscous in the mouth, often described as “big”. Full-body is usually related to high alcohol.

G

Green — Wine that’s made from grapes that were not fully ripe. Often, wine described as green is overly tannic, acidic, and has flavors like green bell pepper.

H

Hard* Too tannic.

Hollow* — Lacking fruit.

Horizontal tasting* — A comparative tasting of different but related representatives of the same vintage.

Hot* — Too alcoholic, leaving a burning sensation on the palate.

L

Lean* — Lacking fruit but not acid.

Legs* — The colorless streams left on the inside of a wine glass after a relatively alcoholic wine, more than about 12%, has been swirled. They have nothing to do with glycerol. Another term is 'tears'.

Length* — Persistence of the tasting experience on olfactory area and mouth after swallowing. Such a wine may be called long.

Lift(ed)* — Wine with a perceptible but not excessive level of volatility.

Light or Light-bodied* — Wine with relatively little weight and fullness when tasted.

M

Maderized* —  Harmfully exposed to both oxygen and heat. Good for Madeira (fortified Portuguese wine) but otherwise bad!

Malic Acid — One of the three predominate acids in grapes.  Tart-tasting malic acid occurs naturally in a number of fruits, including, apples, cherries, plums, and tomatoes.

Malolactic Fermentation — A secondary fermentation in which the tartness of malic acid in wine is changed into a smooth, lactic acid.  Wines described as “buttery” or “creamy” have gone through “malo”.

Mature — As a verb, it simply means “age”. Some wines improve with age and a small number of them can age for a long time. Factors that increase the likelihood of a wine aging well include, tannin, acid, sugar, and alcohol.

Mellow* — Sometimes used in red wine marketing speak as a euphemism for sweet.

Middle palate* — Jargon for the overall impact of a wine in the mouth as in 'There's not much fruit on the middle palate'.

Mouthfeel* — The physical impact of a wine on the mouth, its texture. Tannins and body surely play a role here.

N

Negociant — French word describing a wholesale merchant, blender, or shipper of wine.

New World Style  — Wine produced outside the traditional wine-growing areas of Europe and the Middle East, in particular from ArgentinaAustraliaChileNew Zealand, South Africa, and the United States. The phrase implies a distinction between these "New World" wines and those wines produced in "Old World" countries with a long-established history of wine production — most notably, France, Italy, Germany, Spain, and Portugal. New-world style wines are generally fruitier and softer than those from Europe.

Noble Rot — The layman’s term for botrytis, a necrotrophic fungus that affects many plant species, although its most notable hosts may be wine grapes.

Nose —  A tasting term describing how the aromas and bouquets of a wine smell.

O

Oak/Oaky — Tasting term denoting smells and flavors such as vanilla, baking spices, coconut, mocha or dill caused by barrel-aging

Old World Style Wines Refers to the traditional wine growing regions of Europe.

Open — Tasting term signifying a wine that is ready to drink. The purpose of decanting and aeration is to “open” the wine.

Oxidation — Wine exposed to air that has undergone a chemical change.

P

Powerful* — High level of alcohol or extract. Considered good in this competitive day and age.

R

Reductive, Reduced*    Having been stored in the absolute absence of oxygen, which can give the wine a sulphur-like odor or SLO (see below for definition). The aroma might be said to be reductive. This reaction is the opposite of oxidation.

Rich*    With some apparent sweetness; curiously, much more complimentary than 'sweet'.

Round* — Good body and not too much tannin.

S

Sommelier — A wine service specialist (especially in a restaurant); also used to denote a certified wine professional.

Spritz(ig)* —  Slightly gassy. Also known as pétillant.

Spicy — A tasting term used for odors and flavors reminiscent of black pepper, bay leaf, curry powder, baking spices, oregano, rosemary, thyme, saffron, paprika, etc. found in certain wines.

Structure — The elements of structure are: tannin, sugar (or lack of sugar), acidity, alcohol, body, and finish. Taken together, all of these things make up “the structure.”

Supple* — Not too tannic.

Sweet — Wines with perceptible sugar content.

T

Tannic* — Ripeness and management of tannins is just as important as actual total tannin level. All young red wines destined for aging are expected to have some tannins, but these should ideally be counterbalanced by fruit. Tannic, in general, is a term used to describe the level of tannin in the wine.

Tannin — Tannin is a substance that exists naturally in the skins, seeds (or pips), and stems of grapes. Tannins alone can taste bitter, but some tannins in wine are less bitter than others.

Tart* —  Very acid.

Tartaric Acid — The principal acid in grapes, tartaric acid promotes flavor and aging in wine.

Terroir — French for geographical characteristics unique to a given vineyard.

TCA* — Short for the moldy-smelling compound trichloroanisole commonly associated with cork taint (see corked), although it can also be found in some wineries, unrelated to cork problems.

Texture — A tasting term describing how wine feels on the palate.

Tears* — The colourless streams left on the inside of a wine glass after a relatively alcoholic wine, more than about 12%, has been swirled. They have nothing to do with glycerol. Also known as "legs".

V

Vegetal — Tasting term describing characteristics of fresh or cooked vegetables detected on the nose and in the flavors of the wine.  Bell peppers, grass, and asparagus are common “vegetal” descriptors.

Vertical Tasting* — A comparative tasting of different vintages from the same provenance.

Volatile —  A wine with a high level of volatile would not particularly be stable, and have acids that make it smells almost vinegary.

W

Wine — Fermented juice from grapes.

Y

Yeast — A microorganism responsible for fermentation that produces alcohol, CO2, and heat from sugar.

Yield — The productivity of a vineyard.

Young — An immature wine that is usually bottled and sold within a year of its vintage.  Wines meant to be drunk “young” are noted for their fresh and crisp flavors.

 

*Definitions from Jancis Robinson Online.