Wine terms to know before a wine tasting, from A to Z

Need some help navigating your next wine tasting experience? Picture: Shutterstock
Need some help navigating your next wine tasting experience? Picture: Shutterstock

For centuries the world of wine has had its own dictionary and terminology which seemed designed to make anyone outside of that industry feel inferior.

These days we are all much more wine-savvy and speak with confidence when describing a wine or even wine-making techniques.

If some wine words have slipped out of your vocabulary lately, here's a refresher list.

  • acidity - the liveliness and crispness in wine that activates our salivary glands
  • aging - leaving wine in barrels, tanks, and bottles to advance them to a more desirable state
  • aroma - the smell of wine, especially young wine (different than "bouquet")
  • astringent - tasting term noting the harsh, bitter, and drying sensations in the mouth caused by high levels of tannin or acid
  • balance - a term 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
  • barrique - a 225-litre oak barrel used originally for storing and aging wines
  • bitter - a taste sensation that is sensed on the back and sides as a result of acids and tannins in the wine
  • blend - a wine made from more than one grape varietal
  • body - a tactile sensation describing the weight and fullness of wine in the mouth. A wine can be light, medium, or full-bodied.
  • botrytis - a beneficial mould that pierces the skin of thin-skinned (usually white) grapes and causes the grape to shrivel. This results in natural grape juice that is high in sugar and acid. Botrytis is largely responsible for the world's finest dessert wines. Also called noble rot.
  • bouquet - a term that refers to the complex aromas in aged wines
  • breathing - exposing wine to oxygen to improve its flavours (see "aeration")
  • brut - French term denoting dry champagnes or sparkling wines
  • bung - the plug used to seal a wine barrel
  • chaptalisation - adding sugar to wine before or during fermentation to increase alcohol levels. Chaptalisation is illegal in some parts of the world, and highly controlled in others.
  • citric acid - one of the three predominant acids in wine
  • claret - an archaic term for the red wines of Bordeaux
  • closed - term describing underdeveloped and young wines whose flavours are not exhibiting well
  • complex - a wine exhibiting numerous odours, nuances, and flavours
  • cork taint / corked - undesirable aromas and flavours in wine often associated with wet cardboard or mouldy basements. Caused by a faulty cork that could have bacteria on the lower surface during bottling
  • crush - the term for harvest
  • dry - a taste sensation often attributed to tannins and causing puckering sensations in the mouth; the opposite of sweet
  • earthy - an odour or flavour reminiscent of damp soil
  • fermentation - the conversion of grape sugars to alcohol by yeast
  • fining - the addition of egg whites or gelatin (among other things) to clear the wine of unwanted particles
  • finish - the impression of textures and flavours lingering in the mouth after swallowing wine
  • fruity - a tasting term for wines that exhibit strong smells and flavours of fresh fruit
  • full-bodied - a wine high in alcohol and flavours, often described as "big"
  • herbaceous - a tasting term denoting the smell of fresh herbs (e.g., basil, oregano, rosemary, etc.)
  • hot - a description for wine that is high in alcohol
  • lees - sediment consisting of dead yeast cells, grape pulp, seed, and other grape matter that accumulates during fermentation
  • legs - sometimes referred to as 'tears". When the wine is swirled in a glass it leaves a residue on the inside of the glass. Viscose, full-bodied wines leave a long trail of wine inside that looks like tears. A lighter wine leaves a faint smear.
  • length - the amount of time that flavours persist in the mouth after swallowing wine; a lingering sensation
  • malolactic fermentation - a secondary fermentation in which the tartness of malic acid in wine is changed into a smooth, lactic sensation. Wines described as "buttery" or "creamy" have gone through "malo"
  • mature - ready to drink
  • mouth-feel - how a wine feels on the palate; it can be rough, smooth, velvety, or furry
  • must - unfermented grape juice including seeds, skins, and stems
  • nose - a tasting term describing the aromas and bouquets of a wine
  • oak/oaky - tasting term denoting smells and flavours of vanilla, baking spices, coconut, mocha, chocolate, cigar box or dill caused by barrel-aging
  • oxidation - wine exposed to air that has undergone a chemical change (usually detrimental to its quality)
  • phylloxera - a microscopic insect that kills grapevines by attacking their roots
  • rough - the tactile "coarse" sensation one experiences with very astringent wines
  • sommelier - a certified wine professional or wine butler/waiter who curates a wine list, is proficient across all wines, manages the stock and purchasing of wines and advices on which wine to match with food
  • spicy - a tasting term used for odours and flavours reminiscent of black pepper, bay leaf, curry powder, baking spices, oregano, rosemary, thyme, saffron or paprika found in certain wines
  • structure - an ambiguous tasting term that implies harmony of fruit, alcohol, acidity, and tannins
  • sweet - wines with perceptible sugar content on the nose and in the mouth. Sometimes confused with fruity.
  • tannins - the phenolic compounds in wines that leave a bitter, dry, and puckery feeling in the mouth and gums
  • tartaric acid - the principal acid in grapes, tartaric acid promotes flavour and aging in wine
  • terroir - French for geographical characteristics unique to a given vineyard
  • texture - a tasting term describing how wine feels on the palate
  • typicity - a tasting term that describes how well a wine expresses the characteristics inherent to the variety of grape
  • ullage - the empty space left in bottles and barrels as a wine evaporates
  • vegetal - tasting term describing characteristics of fresh or cooked vegetables detected on the nose and in the flavours of the wine. Bell peppers, grass, and asparagus are common "vegetal" descriptors.
  • vitis vinifera - the species of wine grape that is used to produce 99 percent of the world's wine
  • vintage - the year the grapes are picked. Sometimes used to describe the annual harvest.
  • weight - similar to "body", the sensation when a wine feels thick or rich on the palate
  • yeast - a microorganism endemic to vineyards and produced commercially that converts grape sugars into alcohol
  • yield - the amount of grapes that were picked off a vine/block of vines/vineyard each year

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This story Learn to speak wine, from A to Z first appeared on The Canberra Times.