Wine Glossary

Our ever-expanding list of wine terms. Click on a category below to sort the list.

A

Abboccato

Italian wine term to describe an "off-dry" or slightly sweet wine with medium body.

ABV

The abbreviation of alcohol by volume, listed by percent on a wine label (e.g., 13.5% ABV).

Acescence

Used to describe a sharp, sweet-sour, and vinegar-like tang in wines with increased levels of volatile acidity (acetic acid).

Acetaldehyde

A toxic organic chemical compound that is produced in our bodies in order to metabolize ethyl alcohol. The cause of alcohol poisoning.

Acidification

A wine additive process common in warm- and hot- climate growing regions to increase acidity by adding tartaric or citric acid. Acidification is less common in cool-climate regions and more common in hot climates in the United States, Australia, and Argentina.

Amabile

Italian wine term to describe a semi-sweet wine.

Amino Acids

Organic compounds; the building blocks of proteins. Red wine contains 300–1300 mg/L of amino acids, of which proline accounts for up to 85%.

Appellation

A legally defined geographical location used to identify where (and how) grapes are grown and made into wine.

Aroma Compounds

Chemical compounds with very low molecular weights, making it possible for them to be carried into the upper nasal passage. Aroma compounds are derived from grapes and fermentation and are volatilized by the evaporation of alcohol.

Astringent

A drying mouthfeel typically caused by tannins, which bind to salivary proteins, causing them to depart the tongue/mouth. It results in a rough sandpapery sensation in the mouth.

AVA (American Viticultural Area)

AVA stands for American Viticultural Area and is a legally designated grape-growing region in the United States.

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Azienda Agricola

An Italian wine term for an estate winery (a winery with vineyards).

Azienda Vinicola

Italian wine term for a winery.

B

Balthazar

A 12 liter wine bottle. Equal to 16 standard bottles.

Barrique

A French word for "barrel" that is typically used to describe a 225 liter oak barrel that originated in Bordeaux and the surrounding forests of Limoges.

Beerenauslese (BA)

Meaning "berry select harvest," this wine label term is used to indicate a quality tier in the Prädikatswein systems used in Austria and Germany. In both countries grape berries are hand-selected for the presence of noble rot (Botrytis cinerea). BA wines are typically dessert wines. For wines to qualify as Beerenauslese in Germany, grape must density is between 110–128 ºOe (between 26–29.8 ºBx) with a potential alcohol of 15%–17.6% ABV. For wines to qualify as Beerenauslese in Austria, grape must density must be at or above 127 ºOe (29.6 ºBx) with a potential alcohol level at or above 17.5% ABV.

Biodynamic

Biodynamics is a homeopathic manner of farming that uses natural composts, or preparations, and times farming work, including harvests, with celestial (moon and sun) cycles. It was first popularized in the 1920s by an Austrian philosopher name Rudolf Steiner. There are two certifying bodies for wine: Demeter International and Biodyvin. Certified biodynamic wines contain up to 100 mg/L sulfites and do not necessarily taste differently than non-biodynamic wines.

Biologique

An organically produced wine.

Brix (symbol °Bx)

Relative density scale for sucrose dissolved in grape juice used for determining the potential alcohol level of a wine. ABV is about 55–64% of the Brix number. For example, 27°Bx will result in a dry wine with 14.9–17.3% ABV.

C

Cantina

Italian wine term for winery (cellar).

Cap Classique

A South African producers association that focuses on the promotion of traditional method sparkling wines that are bottle fermented and aged "en tirage."

Carbonic Maceration

A winemaking method where uncrushed grapes are placed in a sealed vat and topped with carbon dioxide. Wines created without oxygen have low tannin and color with juicy fruit flavors and bold yeast aromas. This practice is common with entry-level Beaujolais wines.

Cascina

A winery farmhouse.

Castello

Italian word for castle (aka Château).

Cépage

("say-paj") The grapes included in the wine. Encépagement is the proportions of the wine blend.

Chaptalization

A wine additive process common in cool climates where sugar is added when grape sweetness isn’t high enough to produce the minimum alcohol level. Chaptalization is illegal in the United States but common in cool climate areas such as regions in France and Germany.

Château

French word for castle (aka Castello). Often used alongside the name of an estate winery.

Clarification and Fining

A process after fermentation where proteins and dead yeast cells are removed. To clarify, either a protein, such as casein (from milk) and egg whites or a vegan clay-based agent like bentonite or kaolin clay are added to wine. These fining agents bind to suspended particles and cause them to drop out of the wine.

Classico

Typically used to describe the classic or historic boundaries of a wine zone which was later amended. For example, Chianti Classico is within the larger Chianti zone and indicates the original boundaries.

Clone

A genetic copy of a cultivar of wine grapevine. For example, there are more than 1,000 registered clones of the Pinot cultivar.

Clos

A walled vineyard or vineyard on the site of an ancient walled vineyard. You'll find this term commonly used in Burgundy, France.

Colli

Italian term for hills. (e.g. Colli Orientali – "eastern hills").

Côteaux

A French label term for wines from slopes or non-contiguous hillside vineyards. (e.g. Côteaux du Languedoc).

Côtes

A French label term for wines from a slope or hillside (contiguous) vineyard – such as along a river. (e.g. Côtes du Rhône)

Cru

This French word translates to "growth" and indicates a vineyard or group of vineyards that are recognized for quality. Cru is usually used alongside a quality level determined by the appellation rules such as "premier cru" or "grand cru."

Cuvée

French for "vat" and used to denote a specific blend or batch.

D

Diacetyl

An organic compound found in wine that tastes like butter. Diacetyl comes from oak aging and malolactic fermentation.

Dolce

Italian wine term to describe a rich, sweet wine.

Domaine

An unofficial French label term for winery estate with vineyard property. You'll find this term used frequently in Burgundy and the Loire Valley.

Double Magnum

A 3 L wine bottle. Equal to 4 standard bottles.

Doux

French word for sweet. A sweet wine.

E

Eiswein

"Ice wine" in German and Austrian. Grapes for ice wines are harvested and pressed while still frozen.

Élevage

[Means "raising" in French. Élevage is the process of shaping the wine into its final form post-fermentation including aging, fining, filtering, and blending.

Élevé en Fûts de Chêne

French for "aged in oak."

En Tirage

("on teer-ahj") A French term used to describe aging sparkling wines in the bottle with autolytic yeast particles left after secondary fermentation.

Esters

Esters are one type of aroma compound found in wine, which are caused by alcohol reacting with acids in wine.

F

Fattoria

Italian term for wine farm.

Fortified Wine

A wine that’s stabilized by the addition of spirits, typically made of neutral, clear grape brandy. For example, about 30% of Port wine is spirit, which raises the ABV to 20%.

Frizzante

("frizz-zan-tay") An Italian term for a lightly sparkling wine.

G

Glycerol

A colorless, odorless, viscous, sweet-tasting liquid that is a byproduct of fermentation. In red wines there are about 4–10 g/L and noble rot wines contain 20+ g/L. Glycerol has been considered to add a positive, rich, oily mouthfeel to wine, however, studies have shown that other traits, like alcohol level and residual sugar, have a greater effect on mouthfeel.

Grape Must

Freshly pressed grape juice that still contains the seeds, stems, and skins of a grape.

H

Halbtrocken

In Austrian and German halbtrocken means "half-dry." In Austria, wines may have between 10–18 g/L RS (depending on acidity level). In Germany, wines may have 10–18 g/L RS unless they are labeled "Classic" and then they will have no more than 15 g/L RS.

I

Imperial

A 6 liter wine bottle. Equal to 8 standard bottles (aka Methuselah).

J

Jennie

A 500ml wine bottle. A common bottle size used for dessert wines.

Jeroboam

A bottle sized either 3 L (sparkling wines) or 4.5 L (still wines).

K

Kabinett

A German and Austrian wine term. In Austria, Kabinett is a Qualitätswein with slightly higher production standards. In Germany, Kabinett is the first tier of the Pradikat quality wine system which quantifies wine quality by ripeness of grapes (measured in Oechsle or °Oe). Kabinett wines are harvested between 67-82 °Oe.

Klassik

An Austrian wine term to describe a wine made in a traditional light and zesty style. This term is commonly associated with Austrian white wines such as Grüner Veltliner.

L

Landwein

In Austria, Landweins are table wines made with one (or a blend) of the country's 36 official grapes. There are 3 Landwein regions that you may see used on Austrian wine labels: Weinland, Stiererland, and Bergland.

Lees

Sediment from dead yeast particles left in wine after the fermentation. Lees stirring or as they say in French, "sur lie" can add a richer body and creaminess to wine.

Lieblich

An Austrian and German term describing medium-sweet wines with up to 45 g/L residual sugar (RS).

M

Magnum

A 1.5 L wine bottle. Equal to 2 standard bottles.

Malolactic Fermentation (MLF)

MLF isn’t technically a fermentation but a bacteria called Oenococcus oeni that converts one type of acid (malic acid) to another type of acid (lactic acid). MLF makes wine taste smoother and creamier. Nearly all red wines and some white wines, like Chardonnay, go through malo. The process produces a compound called diacetyl, which smells like butter.

Medium Plus Barrel Toast

A moderately well-singed oak barrel (wood is burned to release oak lactone).

Melchoir

An 18 liter wine bottle. Equal to 24 standard bottles (aka Solomon).

Methuselah

A 6 liter wine bottle. Equal to 8 standard bottles (aka Imperial).

Minerality

A non-scientific term used to describe flavors that smell or taste like rocks or organic matter (soil). Minerality was thought to be presence of trace minerals in wine. Recent research suggests the majority of mineral-like aromas in wine are due to sulfur compounds derived from fermentation.

N

Natural Wine

A generalized term used to describe wines that are produced with sustainable, organic, and/or biodynamic viticulture. Wines are processed using minimal or no additives, including sulfur dioxide (sulfites). Because of the lack of clarification and fining, natural wines are typically cloudy and some may still contain yeast sediment. Generally speaking, natural wines are fragile and sensitive and should be stored carefully.

Nebuchadnezzar

A 15 liter wine bottle. Equal to 20 standard bottles.

Noble Rot

Noble rot is a fungal infection caused by Botrytis cinerea, common in areas with high humidity. It is considered a flaw in red grapes and wines but in white grapes it is appreciated for making sweet wines with flavors of honey, ginger, marmalade, and chamomile.

O

Oak: American

American white oak (Quercus alba) grows in the Eastern United States and is primarily used in the Bourbon industry. American oak is known for adding flavors of coconut, vanilla, cedar, and dill. Since American oak tends to be more loose-grained, it’s known to impart robust flavors.

Oak: European

European oak (Quercus robur) is sourced primarily in France and Hungary. Depending on where it is grown it can range from medium grained to very fine grained. European oak is known for adding flavors of vanilla, clove, allspice, and cedar.

Off-Dry

A term to describe a wine that is slightly sweet.

Orange Wine

A term used to describe a style of white wine where the grape must is fermented with the skins and the seeds, much like a red wine. The lignin in the seeds dyes the wine a deeper orange color. While this style is very old, wines from eastern Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Italy, and in Brda, Slovenia have created recent interest in this style.

Organic Wine

Organic wine must be made with organically grown grapes and processed using a short list of acceptable additives. EU allows organic wines to use sulfur dioxide (SO2) and US organic wines do not allow the use of SO2.

ÖWT

ÖWT stands for Österreichische Traditionsweingüter and is an association of traditional Austrian winemakers founded in 1992 in Kremstal, Kamptal, Traisental, Wagram, and Carnuntum (starting in 2019). Wines labeled with 1ÖWT indicate the wine was from an ERSTE LAGEN or first vineyard site, which signifies a special vineyard site classification. In 2018, there were 72 Ersten Lagen.

Oxidation / Oxidized

When wine is exposed to oxygen, a chain of chemical reactions occur that alter the compounds. One obvious change is an increased level of acetaldehyde, which smells similar to bruised apples in white wine and nail polish remover in red wines. Oxidation is the opposite of reduction.

P

Pétillant

A French term for lightly sparkling wine.

pH

A figure that expresses the acidity or alkalinity in a substance numbered from 1–14, where 1 is acid, 14 is alkaline, and 7 is neutral. Wine’s average range is about 2.5–4.5 pH and a wine with a pH of 3 is ten times more acidic than a wine with a pH of 4.

Phenols

A group of several hundred chemical compounds found in wine that affect the taste, color, and mouthfeel of wine. Tannin is a type of phenol called a polyphenol.

Phylloxera

A microscopic louse that eats Vitis vinifera roots and kills vines. It first spread throughout Europe in the 1880s and devastated the majority of the world’s vineyards except for a few places with sandy soils (the louse cannot thrive in sand). The only solution was to graft Vitis vinifera vines onto other vine species’ rootstocks, including Vitis aestivalis, Vitis riparia, Vitis rupestris, and Vitis berlandieri (all native American species). To date, there is still no cure for grape phylloxera.

Podere

Italian wine term used to describe a rural wine farm.

Poggio

Italian wine term for hill or elevated place.

Produttori

Producers in Italian. Used on wine labels to describe a cooperative wine business.

Q

Qualitätswein

Austria's mark for quality wine. Qualitätswein wines are demarcated by a red-and-white striped bottle seal (typically found on the top of the capsule) that indicates the wine passed 2 inspections (a chemical and tasting analysis). Wines are made with 36 official grapes and labeled with one of the 16 wine regions or 9 Austrian states (e.g. Niederösterreich, Burgenland, Wien, Steiermark, etc).

R

Reduction

When wine doesn’t receive enough air during fermentation, the yeast will substitute its need of nitrogen with amino acids (found in grapes). This creates sulfur compounds that can smell like rotten eggs, garlic, burnt matches, rotten cabbage, or sometimes positive traits like passionfruit or wet flint rocks. Reduction is not caused by “sulfites” being added to wine.

Reserva

A Spanish wine term that's used to describe a wine that's been aged for longer than the standard denomination. Aging varies from region to region.

Reserve

A wine label term that has many meanings depending on what country the wine is from. In the United States, Reserve is a non-regulated term. Some wineries use this term to describe a special quality level, others for marketing. In Austria, Reserve is used to describe wines made in a rich style with more than 13% ABV made with hand-harvested grapes.

Residual Sugar (RS)

The sugar from grapes left over in a wine after a fermentation stops. Some wines are fermented completely dry, and some are stopped before all the sugar is converted to alcohol to create a sweet wine. Residual Sugar ranges from nothing to upward of 400 grams per liter for very sweet wines.

Riserva

An Italian wine term that's typically used to describe a wine that's been aged for longer than the standard denomination. Aging varies from region to region.

S

Salmanazar

A 9 liter wine bottle. Equal to 12 standard bottles.

Sans Soufre

French term for "without sulfur." Usually on bottle labels indicating a wine with absolutely no added sulfur (but not necessarily 100% sulfite free).

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Secco

Italian word for "dry".

Solomon

An 18 liter wine bottle. Equal to 24 standard bottles (aka Melchoir).

Sommelier

(“Sa-muhl-yay”) A French word used for wine steward. A “master sommelier” is a US trademark term owned by Court of Masters Sommeliers that’s reserved for those who pass the 4th level of their certification exam.

Split

A small, 187.5 ml sparkling wine bottle that is one quarter standard bottle size.

Standard Bottle

A 750 ml wine bottle.

Sulfites

Sulfites, sulfur dioxide, or SO2 is a preservative that is either added to wine or present on grapes before fermentation. Wines range from about 10 ppm (parts per million) to 350ppm—the legal US limit. Wines must label if they contain more than 10 ppm.

Sulfur Compounds

Sulfur compounds affect the aroma and taste of wine. In low levels they offer positive aroma characteristics, including mineral-like flavors, grapefruit, or tropical fruit. In higher levels, sulfur compounds are considered a fault when they smell of cooked eggs, garlic, or boiled cabbage.

Superiore

Found on Italian wine labels and most commonly associated with a regional classification that typically have more rigorous production quality standards.

Sur Lie

Meaning "on the lees" in French and used to describe resting a wine with its autolytic yeast particles that are left after the fermentation.

Süss (Süß)

A German wine term for a sweet wine with more than 45 g/L residual sugar (RS).

T

Tenuta

Italian for "estate".

Terroir

(“Tear-woh”) Originally a French word that is used to describe how a particular region’s climate, soils, aspect (terrain), and traditional winemaking practices affect the taste of the wine.

Trocken

A German and Austrian wine term for dry wines which may contain up to 9 g/L RS (depending on their level of acidity). In Germany, when Trocken is used in combination with "Selection" (and is a wine from Rheingau) it means the grapes were hand-harvested.

Typicity / Typicality

A wine that tastes typical of a particular region or style.

U

Uvaggio

Italian wine term for wine blend or grape blend.

V

Vanillin

The primary extract of the vanilla bean, also found in toasted oak barrels.

Vecchio

Italian term for "old".

Vieille Vignes

("vee-yay-ah vehns") French term for "old vines." A mostly unregulated term to describe wines made with grapes from old vines.

Vigneto

Vineyard.

Vinification

The creation of wine by fermentation of grape juice.

Vinous

A tasting term to describe a wine that has a freshly fermented flavor.

Volatile Acidity (VA)

Acetic acid is the volatile acid in wine that turns wine to vinegar. In small levels it adds to the complexity of flavor and in high levels it causes the wine to spoil.

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