Wine Glossary

Acidity- all grapes have acids, which act as structural components of wine. If the acidity of a wine is too low, it will taste flat and dull, and if it’s too high, it will taste tart and sour.

Age- the process of maturing wine by allowing complex chemical reactions involving a wine’s sugars, acids, and phenolic acids to take place, which alters the taste, aroma, color, and other characteristics to change. Aging is usually done in a tank or barrel (see Bottle Aging for wine that is aged after bottling).

Aftertaste- Also known as the finish of a wine, it is the taste of the wine left in your mouth after swallowing and is a major determinant of a wine’s overall quality. High quality wines are generally those that have long aftertastes with pleasant aromas.

American Viticultural Area (AVA)- A designated wine grape-growing region of the United States distinguishable by geographical features. If an AVA is designated on a wine bottle, than at least 85% of the grapes used to make that wine must have come from that AVA.

Aroma- The scents that are present in wines, and is also called a wine’s “nose” or “bouquet.” It is through the aromas that wine is actually tasted, because many of the flavors of a wine are more distinguishable by smelling the wine rather than tasting. This is why many people sniff wine before they take a drink.

Bouquet-A wine’s combination of secondary aromas that form new aromas, developed in the post-fermentation and maturating process. A high-quality wine will most likely have a complex bouquet that is developed through years of aging.

Breathe- Mixing wine with oxygen to release aromas that become more pronounced as time passes. You let wine breathe by pouring it into another container and letting it sit. Red wines usually benefit from breathing the most before serving.

Balance-A wine’s culmination of alcohol, tannin, acidity, and residual sugar. A well-balanced wine has all of these components without one overpowering another. Acids should be balanced with sweetness, fruity is balanced with oak and tannin, and alcohol is balanced with acidity and flavor.

Blush Wine-A pinkish wine made from darker-colored grapes whose skins are removed after fermentation begins. These wines are light, slightly sweet or sometimes dry, and can be either white or rosé. Many people use rosé and blush interchangeably, but rosé is never a blend of red and white grapes (which can be done for blush wines). Therefore, all rosé wines are blush wines, but not all blush wines are rosé wines.

Bottle Aging- Maturing wine in the bottle as opposed to a tank or barrel. Some wines may improve in the bottle for ten or more years before reaching its full flavor potential. Every wine that ends up in a bottle obviously goes through some form of both bottle aging and bulk aging.

Corked- A wine fault that occurs when a cork becomes contaminated with TCA, and leaves the wine spoiled with an undesirable smell and taste. Many producers are now switching to screw caps or synthetic corks, which have fewer TCA contamination problems.

Decanting- Process of transferring wine from a bottle to another holding vessel. The purpose is usually to ventilate a young wine or to separate an older wine from any sediment.

Chambrer-A French term meaning to bring to room temperature.

Complexity- Wine that exhibits several layers of odors and flavors.

Crush- A term used to indicate a grape harvest.

Dry Wine- A technical term referring to the amount of residual sugars present in a wine.  Dry wines have up to 4 grams of sugar per liter. A dry wine is opposite of sweet wine and causes a puckering sensation in the mouth.

Enology- Also spelled oenology, this is the science of wine and winemaking. 

Fermentation- The process of sugar transforming into alcohol. When grape juice interacts with yeast, it becomes wine.

Full Bodied Wine-Wine that is high in alcohol and flavors. Full-bodied wines have rich, complex, well-rounded flavors that linger in the mouth. 

Glycerin- A thick, colorless, odorless compound that is a byproduct of the fermentation process.

Late Harvest- Refers to grapes left on the vines for an extra-long period, until the grapes begin to shrivel and the sugars concentrate. This term is used to describe dessert wines.

Lees- Sediment that is left in the barrel consisting of dead yeast cells, grape pulp, seeds, and other grape matter that accumulate during the fermentation process.

Legs- A term used to describe when wine sticks to the inside of a glass after drinking or swirling. The syrupy remnants indicate the body and texture of the wine.

Mash-The combination of pulp, skins and seeds of a grape that settle at the bottom of the fermentation tank or barrel.

Must- Freshly squeezed wine juice that contains wine skins, seeds and stems. This is the state of grapes before they go through the fermentation process.

Non-Vintage-A term used for wine that does not have a vintage year and did not come from a specific harvest. Non-vintage is most often used in regard to Champagne and sparkling wines.

Nose- This is a tasting term to describe the aroma of a wine.

Oxidation- A chemical changed that occurs in wine after it has been exposed to too much air. The wine will exhibit stale smells and turn a brown color. 

pH Value-A numerical range of 2.9 to 4.2 that indicates the acidity levels of a wine based on how much hydrogen it holds. The smaller the pH value number, the higher the concentration would be. For example, a typical California Chardonnay would have a pH value of about 3.6. 

Phenolics- natural compounds, including tannin and color pigments, found in grape skins and seeds.

Pressing-The process of extracting grape juice from the grape before the fermentation process.

Residual Sugar-The sugar that is leftover after the fermentation process.

Rosé-Used to describe a category of refreshing wines with a pink color that are made from red grapes. They are light to medium-bodied and are best to enjoy during the summer.

Sediment-Tiny particles that are remnants of the wine making process. Sediment can also form at the bottom of a bottle of wine over time, and will contain tannins and color agents. This is why a wine becomes lighter in color and less tannic as it ages.

Stabilization-Any number of wine-making procedures that make wine more stable. For example, filtering and fining are methods of stabilization used to improve and maintain the clarity of wine.

Tannin- Phenolic compounds usually found in grape skins and pits. They are astringent and provide structure to wine, leaving a bitter, dry, puckery feeling in the mouth. Over time, tannins die off, and this causes the wine to become less harsh.

Varietal- A slang term referring to a wine made from just one type of grape, and is named after that grape.

Vinification- The art and science of making wine.

Vintage- A particular year in the wine business that relates to a specific harvest.

Vintage Date- When the vintage date is printed on the label, it indicates that all the grapes used to make that wine were harvested during that year.

Wine Tasting-Tasting wine and describing the range of flavors, aromas, and other general characteristics of a wine. This may be done to examine the wine or simply for a more general, personal appreciation.

Yeast- a microorganism that triggers the fermentation process and converts grape sugars into alcohol. Yeast can be natural or commercial ingredient in the wine-making process.

Viticulture- The science and business of growing wine grapes.