Glossary

SWCT Glossary

Sonoma’s Wine Country Tours Glossary of Wine Terms
A
Acetic Acid  All wines contain acetic acid, or vinegar, but usually the amount is quite small—from 0.03 percent to 0.06 percent—and not perceptible to smell or taste. Once table wines reach 0.07 percent or above, a sweet-sour vinegary smell and taste becomes evident. At low levels, acetic acid can enhance the character of a wine, but at higher levels (over 0.1 percent), it can become the dominant flavor and is considered a major flaw. A related substance, ethyl acetate, contributes a nail polish-like smell.
Acid  A compound present in all grapes and an essential component of wine that preserves it, enlivens and shapes its flavors and helps prolong its aftertaste. There are four major kinds of acids–tartaric, malic, lactic and citric–found in wine. Acid is identifiable by the crisp, sharp character it imparts to a wine.
Acidic  Used to describe wines whose total acid is so high that they taste tart or sour and have a sharp edge on the palate. Acidification The addition of acid to wine by a winemaker. The goal is to balance the wine’s soft components (sugar, alcohol and fruit). It is legal in some areas—such as Bordeaux, Burgundy, Australia and California—to correct deficient acidity by adding acid. When overdone, acidity leads to unusually sharp, acidic wines. It is illegal in Bordeaux and Burgundy to both chaptalize (add sugar to) and acidify a wine. Acidity Identified as the crisp, sharp character in a wine. The acidity of a balanced dry table wine is in the range of 0.6 percent to 0.75 percent of the wine’s volume.
Acrid  Describes the harsh, bitter taste or pungent, nose-biting odor caused by excessive amounts of sulfur added during winemaking. When used properly, sulfur dioxide plays a beneficial role in winemaking; it kills unwanted organisms, protects wines from spoilage and cleans equipment.
Aeration This process of encouraging a wine to absorb oxygen is also called breathing. Simply pulling the cork out of a bottle may not allow for sufficient air contact; decanting or even swirling the wine in a glass are preferred methods. The goal is to allow the wine to open up and develop, releasing its aromas into the air. Ten to 30 minutes of aeration can help open tight young red wines that are meant to age. Some wines can also develop off odors or a bottle stink that blows off with a few minutes of aeration. Since older (15-plus years) red wines are more delicate and can lose their fruit during aeration, aeration is not recommended; the wines can evolve quite quickly in the glass.
Aftertaste  The taste or flavors that linger in the mouth after the wine is tasted, spit or swallowed. The aftertaste or “finish” is the most important factor in judging a wine’s character and quality. Great wines have rich, long, complex aftertastes.
Ageworthy  Describes the small number of top wines that have sufficient flavor, acidity, alcohol and tannins to gain additional complexity with time in the bottle. Most popular wines are meant to be enjoyed shortly after release and will only diminish with age.
Aggressive  Unpleasantly harsh in taste or texture, usually due to a high level of tannin or acid. Aging Storage in barrels, tanks or bottles for a period of time allows wine components to knit together or harmonize and develop additional complexity, sometimes referred to as secondary and tertiary aromas and flavors.
Alcohol  Ethyl alcohol, a chemical compound formed by the action of natural or added yeast on the sugar content of grapes during fermentation. Alcohol by Volume As required by law, wineries must state the alcohol level of a wine on its label. This is usually expressed as a numerical percentage of the volume. For table wines the law allows a 1.5 percent variation above or below the stated percentage as long as the alcohol does not exceed 14 percent. Thus, wineries may legally avoid revealing the actual alcohol content of their wines by labeling them as “table wine.” Alcoholic Used to describe a wine that has too much alcohol for its body and weight, making it unbalanced. A wine with too much alcohol will taste uncharacteristically heavy or hot as a result. This quality is noticeable in aroma and aftertaste.
Alcoholic Fermentation  Also called primary fermentation, this is the process in which yeasts metabolize grape sugars and produce alcohol, carbon dioxide and heat. The final product is wine.
Allier  A forest in France that produces oak used for wine barrels. An alternative to French oak for making barrels in which to age wine. Marked by strong vanilla, dill and cedar notes, it is used primarily for aging Cabernet, Merlot and Zinfandel, for which it is the preferred oak. It’s less desirable, although used occasionally, for Chardonnay or Pinot Noir. New American oak barrels can be purchased for about half the price of French oak barrels.
American Viticultural Area (AVA)  A delimited, geographical grape growing area that has officially been given appellation status by the Alcohol and Tobacco, Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB). Two examples of AVAs are Russian River and Dry Creek. Ampelography The study of and identification of grape varieties.
Amtliche Prüfungsnummer  The tracking number that appears on German wines indicating that the wine has passed a number of tests and meets all German legal requirements.
Anthocyannins  The pigments found in red grape skins that give red wine its color.
Appearance  Refers to a wine’s clarity, not color. Common descriptors refer to the reflective quality of the wine; brilliant, clear, dull or cloudy for those wines with visible suspended particulates.
Appellation  Defines the area where a wine’s grapes were grown, such as Bordeaux, Gevrey- Chambertin, Alexander Valley or Russian River Valley. Regulations vary widely from country to country. In order to use an appellation on a California wine label, for example, 85 percent of the grapes used to make the wine must be grown in the specified district. Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC or A.O.C.) The French system of appellations, begun in the 1930s and considered the wine world’s prototype. To carry an appellation in this system, a wine must follow rules describing the area the grapes are grown in, the varieties used, the ripeness, the alcoholic strength, the vineyard yields and the methods used in growing the grapes and making the wine.
Aroma  Aromas are smells, which originate with the grapes, in contrast to bouquet, which defines smells acquired during bottle-aging. In the process of sensory evaluation, purists also discriminate between wine’s aroma (smells sensed by sniffing the wine through the nose) and its flavor (smells sensed via the mouth).
Aromatic  Describes a wine with intense, often floral, aromas. Particularly aromatic varieties include Gewürztraminer, Muscat and Viognier.
Aspersion  The process of using water sprinklers to protect budding vines from late-spring frosts. The sprinklers are turned on just as temperatures dip below freezing, forming a protective barrier of ice that shields young vine buds from colder temperatures.
Assemblage  French term for blending various lots of wine before bottling, especially in Champagne.
Astringent  Describes wines that leave a coarse, rough, furry or drying sensation in the mouth. Astringency is usually attributed to high tannin levels found in some red wines (and a few whites). High tannin levels are frequently found in Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.
Auslese  German classification based on the ripeness level and sugar content of the grapes. Auslesen are made from individually-selected bunches of very ripe grapes that have higher sugar concentrations than those selected for spätlesen, but lower than those selected for beerenauslesen. Auslesen are nearly always sweet wines but can be fermented in drier styles.
Austere  Used to describe relatively hard, high-acid wines that lack depth and roundness. Usually said of young wines that need time to soften, or wines that lack richness and body.
Awkward  Describes a wine that has poor structure, is clumsy or is out of balance.
B
Bacchus  Roman god of wine.
Backbone  Describes the structure of a wine, referring to balanced acidity, alcohol and, in red wines, tannin. Wines lacking structure are thin or flabby.
Backward  Describes a young wine that is less developed than others of its type and class from the same vintage.
Balance  A wine is balanced when its elements are harmonious and no single element dominates. The “hard” components—acidity and tannins —balance the “soft” components— sweetness, fruit and alcohol.
Balthazar  A large-format bottle that holds the equivalent of 12 to 16 standard bottles.
Barbaresco  Nebbiolo-based red wine made in Italy’s Piedmont region.
Barolo  One of Italy’s most important wines, Barolo is made from 100 percent Nebbiolo grapes in Piedmont.
Barrel Aged  Denotes a wine that has spent a period of time in barrels before bottling. This affects wine in numerous ways—the flavors in newly blended wines knit together, tannins in red wines soften and white wines become richer and more full-bodied. Aging in new oak barrels (barrels used for the first few times) can add aromas and flavors of vanilla, spice and smoke.
Barrel Fermented  Denotes wine that has been fermented in small casks (usually 55-gallon oak barrels) instead of larger tanks. Advocates believe that barrel fermentation contributes greater harmony between the oak and the wine, increases body and adds complexity, texture and flavor to certain wine types. Its liabilities are that more labor is required and greater risks are involved. It is mainly used for whites.
Barrel Making  After the wood for a barrel is cut and dried, the cooper heats the wood while shaping it into a barrel. Steam, natural gas, boiling water, the burning of oak chips or some combination of these is used in the three-part heating process. The first application of heat (the warming stage) is called chauffage, the bending of the wooden staves into a barrel shape is called cintrage and, finally, the toasting of the wood for flavor is called bousinage.
Barrique  French term for small oak barrel. Bâtonnage French term for stirring the lees during the aging and maturation of wine.
Baumé  A measurement of the dissolved solids in grape juice that indicates the grapes’ sugar level and ripeness and therefore the potential alcohol in the wine. Commonly used by winemakers in France and Australia. Other sugar measurement scales include Oechsle and Brix.
Bead  The stream of tiny bubbles found in sparkling wines; a small, persistent bead is an indicator of quality.
Beans  Small bean-shaped pieces of wood added to wine during winemaking to impart oak flavors. Less expensive than oak barrels, beans are used primarily in inexpensive wines. They are rounder in shape and thought to add fewer harsh flavors than oak chips.
Beerenauslese (BA)  German classification based on the ripeness level and sugar content of the grapes. Beerenauslesen are made from individually selected grapes that are very ripe. Usually these grapes have been affected by Botrytis cinerea, or noble rot, further concentrating their high sugars. These wines are rare and costly.
Bentonite  A clay compound used in the fining process of white wines. The clay binds with solids that might otherwise cause a white wine to become cloudy, removing them from the wine, although some molecules that would contribute to the wine’s flavor profile are also removed in the process.
Berry  This term has two meanings. An individual grape is called a berry by grapegrowers. It also describes the set of fruit flavors found in many wines, which includes strawberry, raspberry, blueberry, etc.
Bin Number  A term sometimes used to designate special wines, but often applied to ordinary wines to identify a separate lot or brand.
Bite  A marked degree of acidity or tannins. An acid grip on the finish should be more like a zestful tang, and is in general prized only in richer, fuller-bodied wines.
Bitter  Describes one of the four basic tastes (along with sour, salty and sweet). Some grapes —notably Gewürztraminer and Muscat—often have a noticeable bitter edge to their flavors. Bitterness can also be imparted by the use of underripe or green stems during the fermentation and aging processes. If the bitter quality dominates the wine’s flavor or aftertaste, it is considered a fault. In sweet wines a trace of bitterness may complement the flavors. In young red wines it can be a warning signal, as bitterness doesn’t always dissipate with age. Normally, a fine, mature wine should not be bitter on the palate.
Black Grapes  Another term for red grapes. Also, in medieval times, used specifically in reference to Malbec in Bordeaux and Cahors in France.
Blanc de Blancs  “White from whites,” meaning a white wine made entirely of white grapes, such as Champagne made only of Chardonnay instead of a mix of white and red grape varieties.
Blanc de Noirs  “White from blacks,” meaning a white wine made of red or black grapes, where the juice is squeezed from the grapes and fermented without skin contact. The wines can have a pale pink hue. This term is used for Champagne that is made entirely from Pinot Noir and/or Pinot Meunier instead of a mix of both red and white grape varieties.
Blending  Wines are blended for many reasons. To make a more harmonious or complex wine, wines with complementary attributes may be blended. For example, a wine with low acidity may be blended with a high-acid wine or a wine with earthy flavors may be blended with a fruity wine. To create a uniform wine from many small batches is another goal, since grapes from different vineyards, stages of the harvest and pressings are frequently vinified separately and the small batches differ slightly. Red Bordeaux offers a prime example; five different grapes may be used, each contributing its own nuances to the blend.
Blunt  Strong in flavor and often alcoholic, but lacking in aromatic interest and development on the palate.
Blush  Also known as rosé, this term describes a pink or salmon-colored wine made from red grapes. The wine may be dry or sweet.
Body  The impression of weight, fullness or thickness on the palate; usually the result of a combination of alcohol, sugar, dissolved solids (including sugars, phenolics, minerals and acids) and, to a lesser extent, glycerin. Common descriptors include light-bodied, medium- bodied and full-bodied. For example, skim milk could be considered “light- bodied,” whole milk “medium-bodied” and cream “full- bodied.” Although a fuller-bodied wine makes a bigger impression in the mouth, it is not necessarily higher in quality than a lighter- bodied wine.
Botrytis Cinerea  Also known as “noble rot,” it is a beneficial mold that grows on ripe wine grapes in the vineyard under specific climatic conditions. The mold dehydrates the grapes, leaving them shriveled and raisinlike and concentrates the sugars and flavors. Wines made from these berries have a rich, complex, honeyed character and are often high in residual sugar. Botrytis contributes the unique, concentrated flavors in such wines as BA and TBA Rieslings from Germany, Sauternes from Bordeaux, Aszú from Hungary’s Tokay district and an assortment of late-harvest wines from other regions.
Bottle Aging  A period of time spent in bottle prior to release and/or consumption; a small percentage of wines gain complexity and bouquet during extended bottle aging. The vast majority of wines produced are meant to be consumed shortly after release.
Bottle Shapes  Although a standard wine bottle holds 750 milliliters, or 25.4 ounces, wine bottles vary in shape, depending on regional, cultural and marketing considerations. The basic shapes identify wines by type in most parts of the world. Bordeaux-style wines (red wines made of blends relying on Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and/or Cabernet Franc; whites made of Sauvignon Blanc and/or Sémillon) are put in Bordeaux-style bottles with straight sides and high shoulders. Burgundy’s traditional varieties (Pinot Noir and Chardonnay) go into slope-shouldered Burgundy-style bottles. Aromatic wines (such as Riesling and Gewürztraminer) usually go into tall, narrow German-style bottles and sparkling wines go into thick, heavy Champagne bottles with deep punts designed to withstand the gas pressure inside.
Bottle Shock  A temporary condition characterized by muted or disjointed flavors. It often occurs immediately after bottling or when wines (usually fragile, older wines) are shaken in travel; a few days of rest is the cure.
Bottle Sickness  A temporary condition characterized by muted or disjointed fruit flavors. It often occurs immediately after bottling or when wines (usually fragile, older wines) are shaken in travel. A few days of rest is the cure.
Bottled  By Means the wine could have been purchased ready-made and simply bottled by the brand owner, or made under contract by another winery. When the label reads “produced and bottled by” or “made and bottled by” it means the winery produced the wine from start to finish.
Bottling  Putting wine into bottle is an automated process. The bottle is washed, dried and then filled with wine. Before the cork is inserted, a puff of inert gas displaces any oxygen remaining in the bottle to prevent spoilage.
Bouquet  The smell that a wine develops after it has been bottled and aged. Most appropriate for mature wines that have developed complex flavors beyond basic young fruit and oak aromas.
Brawny  Describes wines that are hard, intense and tannic with raw, woody flavors. The opposite of elegant.
Breathe  See Aeration.
Brettanomyces (Brett)  A spoilage yeast that can cause what are commonly described as barnyard aromas and flavors in a wine. Some people feel that, in small amounts, it can add a pleasant spicy, leathery component or complexity to a wine. Others feel that it is a flaw in any amount. Sensory thresholds and tolerance of brett vary.
Briary  Describes young wines with an earthy or stemmy wild berry character.
Bright  Used for fresh, ripe, zesty, lively young wines with vivid, focused flavors.
Brilliant  Describes the appearance of very clear wines with absolutely no visible suspended or particulate matter. Not always a plus, as it can indicate a highly filtered wine from which many of the components that contribute flavor have been stripped.
Brix  A measurement of the sugar content of grapes, must and wine, indicating the degree of the grapes’ ripeness (meaning sugar level) at harvest. Most table-wine grapes are harvested at between 21 and 25 Brix. To get an alcohol conversion level, multiply the stated Brix by .55.
Browning  Describes a wine’s color, and is a sign that a wine is mature and may be faded. A bad sign in young red (or white) wines, but less significant in older wines. Wines 20 to 30 years old may have a brownish edge yet still be enjoyable.
Brut  General term used to designate a relatively dry-finished Champagne or sparkling wine.
Budbreak  Refers to the start of the new growing season, when tender green buds emerge in early spring’s warm temperatures; typically March in the Northern Hemisphere and September in the Southern Hemisphere. The vines are especially vulnerable to frost at this stage.
Bung  The rubber, glass or plastic stopper that can be placed into a barrel’s bung hole, similar to a cork placed in a wine bottle. Barrels are usually filled through the bung hole.
Burnt  Describes wines that have an overdone, smoky, toasty or singed edge. Also used to describe overripe grapes.
Buttery Indicates the smell of melted butter or toasty oak. Also a reference to texture, as in “a rich, buttery Chardonnay.”
C
Canopy  The green foliage of a grapevine is called the canopy. The canopy can be trimmed or thinned to manage the amount of air and sun reaching the fruit, improving fruit quality, increasing yield and controlling disease.
Cap  The thick layer of skins, stems and seeds that forms at the surface of fermenting red wine. Cap management, or breaking up the cap to increase contact between the skins and the liquid, is important since red wines extract color and flavor from the skins.
Capsule  The metal or plastic protective coating that surrounds the top of the cork and the bottle. Before pulling out the cork, at least the top portion should be removed to expose the cork and the lip of the bottle.
Carbonic Maceration  Most frequently associated with Beaujolais, this is a method of producing light-bodied, fresh and fruity red wines. Instead of crushing the grapes and releasing the juices to be fermented by yeasts, whole grape bunches are placed in a tank and the oxygen is displaced by carbon dioxide. Fermentation starts on an intracellular level inside the berry, producing some alcohol as well as fruity aromatics. In practice, the weight of the grapes on the top crushes the grapes on the bottom and yeasts ferment the juice; the wine is partly a product of carbonic maceration and partly of traditional yeast fermentation.
Case  A case of wine in the United States typically contains 9 liters or 12 standard 750ml bottles of wine. The size of wineries is most frequently measured in the number of cases produced annually.
Casein  Dairy-based protein used in the fining process. Casein is particularly effective at clarifying cloudy or off-colored white wines.
Cask Number  A term sometimes used to designate special wines, as in Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Cask 23, but often applied to ordinary wines to identify a separate lot or brand. Synonymous with bin number.
Cava  Spanish term for sparkling wine made using the traditional méthode Champenoise.
Cedary  Denotes the smell of cedar wood associated with mature Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet blends aged in French or American oak.
Cellared By Means the wine was not produced at the winery where it was bottled. It usually indicates that the wine was purchased from another source.
Cépage French term for grape variety.
Chaptalization  The addition of sugar to juice before and/or during fermentation, used to boost sugar levels in underripe grapes and alcohol levels in the subsequent wines. Common in northern European countries, where the cold climates may keep grapes from ripening, but forbidden in southern Europe (including southern France and all of Italy) and California.
Charmat  A less expensive, mass-production method for producing bulk quantities of sparkling wine. The second fermentation takes place in a pressurized tank, rather than in a bottle, decreasing lees contact and producing larger, coarser bubbles. The wine is filtered under pressure and bottled. Also known as the bulk process or tank method. Wines made this way cannot be labeled méthode Champenoise.
Chewy  Describes highly extracted, full-bodied and tannic wines that are so rich they seem as if they should be chewed, rather than simply swallowed.
Cigar Box Aroma frequently associated with mature Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet blends, this descriptor refers to the cedary and tobacco leaf scents associated with cigar boxes.
Claret  The British term for red wines from Bordeaux. Originally the wines were quite pale or nearly clear in color, giving rise to the term clairet.
Clarity  Referring to the amount of suspended particulate matter in a wine, clarity is described in terms of the wine’s reflective quality; brilliant, clear, dull or hazy. A pronounced haziness may signify spoilage, while brilliant, clear or dull wines are generally sound.
Clean  Fresh on the palate and free of any off-taste.
Climate  The long-term weather pattern—including temperature, precipitation and hours of sunshine—in a specific region. In contrast, weather is associated with a specific event, such as a hailstorm.
Clone  A group of vines originating from a single, individual plant propagated asexually from a single source. Clones are selected for the unique qualities of the grapes and wines they yield, such as flavor, productivity and adaptability to growing conditions.
Clos A French term used to describe a walled vineyard, such as Clos du Vougeot in Burgundy. Closed  Describes wines that are concentrated and have character, yet are shy in aroma or flavor. Closed wines may open up to reveal more flavors and aromas with aging or aeration.
Cloudiness Lack of clarity to the eye. Fine for old wines with sediment, but it can be a warning signal of protein instability, yeast spoilage or re-fermentation in the bottle in younger wines. Cloudiness may also represent a deliberate choice by the winemaker not to filter a wine.
Cloying  Describes ultra-sweet or sugary wines that lack the balance provided by acid, alcohol, bitterness or intense flavor.
Coarse  Usually refers to texture, and in particular, excessive tannin or oak. Also used to describe harsh bubbles in sparkling wines.
Cold Stabilization  A clarification technique that can prevent the formation of crystals in wine bottles. Prior to bottling, the wine’s temperature is lowered to approximately 30° F for two weeks, causing the tartrates and other solids to precipitate out of solution. The wine is then easily racked off (separated from) the solids.
Commune  French term for village.
Complexity  An element in all great wines and many very good ones; a combination of richness, depth, flavor intensity, focus, balance, harmony and finesse.
Cooked  Describes a dull, stewed flavor associated with wines adversely affected by excessive heat during shipping or storage.
Cooper  A wine barrel maker.
Cooperage  The facility where wine barrels are made.
Corkage Fee The fee charged by restaurants when guests bring their own bottle of wine rather than ordering from the wine list.
Corked  Describes a wine having the off-putting, musty, moldy-newspaper flavor and aroma and dry aftertaste caused by a tainted cork.
Coulure  During flowering in the spring, wind and rain as well as chemical deficiencies can keep the flowers from being properly fertilized, causing these flowers to drop off the cluster. This dropping of flowers is called coulure. Since each flower is responsible for a grape, the cluster of grapes that eventually forms is loose and missing grapes. If the improperly fertilized flower stays attached, it produces a puny, seedless grape called a “shot” grape. Although the yield is reduced, there is a corresponding benefit; loose clusters that allow for increased air circulation are less susceptible to rot in humid conditions.
Crianza  One of Spain’s quality classifications, it requires that reds are aged for two years, with at least a year in wood, and whites a total of six months.
Crisp  Describes a wine with moderately high acidity; refreshing and bright with a clean finish.
Cru  Meaning “growth” or “vineyard” in French, this term is often used in quality classifications. In Bordeaux, the highest quality wines are called Premiers Crus and in Burgundy, Grands Crus.
Crush  Harvest season when the grapes are picked and crushed.
Cuvée  A blend or special lot of wine.
D
Decanting  A technique that removes sediment from wine before drinking. After allowing the sediment to settle by standing the bottle upright for the day, the wine is poured slowly and carefully into another container, leaving the sediment in the original bottle.
Deep  Essentially the same as concentrated, expressing the fact that the wine is rich, full of extract, and mouth filling.
Degree Days  A method of classifying the climate based on the number of days the temperature is within a range that vines can grow. In California, climates are rated from coolest (Region I) to the warmest (Region V). This classification can help winemakers determine where to plant which variety.
Délestage  French term for racking and returning a wine back to the tank. Wine is pumped out of the fermenting tank and back over the cap to facilitate extraction of color and flavor.
Delicate  Used to describe light- to medium-weight wines with good flavors. A desirable quality in wines such as Pinot Noir or Riesling.
Demi-Muid  A French term for 600-liter capacity oak barrels, typically used in the Rhône Valley. Demi-Sec  A term describing sweetness in Champagne. It can be misleading; although demi-sec literally means “half-dry,” demi-sec sparkling wines are usually slightly sweet to medium- sweet. The scale, from driest to sweetest, is: Extra Brut, Brut, Extra-Dry, Sec, Demi-Sec and Doux. Denominatión de Origen Calificada (D.O.Ca.)  Spain’s highest quality classification, created in the early 1990s.
Denominazione d’Origine Controllata (D.O.C.)  The Italian system for defining wine regions and wine names. In addition, the D.O.C.G. (Denominazione d’Origine Controllata Garantita) covers regions willing to submit their wines to tougher requirements, including tasting approval.
Dense  Describes a wine that has concentrated aromas on the nose and palate. A good sign in young wines.
Depth  Describes the complexity and concentration of flavors in a wine, as in a wine with excellent or uncommon depth. Opposite of shallow.
Destemming  The process of removing the grape berries from the stems once the grapes have been harvested and brought into the winery. The goal is to minimize the amount of astringent tannins that stems can add to wine.
Desuckering  The removal of young, non-fruit-bearing shoots from a vine. Deutscher Tafelwein A wine classification within Germany’s lowest level of wines, Tafelwein; indicates that the grapes were grown in Germany. Dirty Covers any and all foul, rank, off-putting smells that can occur in a wine, including those caused by bad barrels or corks. A sign of poor winemaking.
Disgorgement (or dégorgement)  When making sparkling wine, this technique is used to remove frozen sediment remaining in the bottle after the second fermentation. Sediment settles in the bottle neck and the neck is then dipped into a brine solution and frozen. Working quickly, the bottle is turned upright and the crown cork removed. The plug of frozen sediment is ejected by the pressure of the carbon dioxide.
Disjointed  Describes wine with components that are not well-knit, harmonious or balanced. The timing of the components may be off; upon tasting, a disjointed wine might first reveal big fruit, followed by a blast of screeching acidity and finishing off with a dose of tannins.
Diurnal Temperature Difference  The difference between daytime and nighttime temperatures, which can affect the speed of ripening and grape quality. Shifts can be considerable; parts of Sonoma Wine Country regularly experience a 40-degree difference.
Dolce  Italian term for “sweet.”
Dosage  In bottle-fermented sparkling wines, a small amount of wine (usually sweet) that is added back to the bottle once the yeast sediment that collects in the neck of the bottle is removed.
Doux  Designates a sweet Champagne or sparkling wine. Doux is the sweetest level of Champagne. The scale, from driest to sweetest is: Extra Brut, Brut, Extra-Dry, Sec, Demi- Sec and Doux.
Drip Irrigation  An irrigation process associated with grape growing. Hoses with individual spouts for each vine deliver precise amounts of water, drop by drop. This saves water and allows grape growers to carefully control the water vines receive in dry areas.
Dry  Having no perceptible taste of sugar. Most wine tasters begin to perceive sugar at levels of 0.5 percent to 0.7 percent.
Drying Out  Losing fruit (or sweetness in sweet wines) to the extent that acid, alcohol or tannin dominate the taste. At this stage the wine will not improve.
Dumb  Describes a phase young wines undergo when their flavors and aromas are undeveloped.
E
Early Harvest  Denotes a wine made from early-harvested grapes, usually lower than average in alcoholic content or sweetness.
Earthy  Describes wines with aromas or flavors of soil or earth. In small amounts the aromas or flavors can add complexity and be positive characteristics, but become negative as the intensity increases. Frequently associated with Pinot Noir.
Ébourgeonnage  French term for debudding vines. This is performed early in the growing season as part of yield control and canopy management.
Éclaircissage  French term for green harvest, or crop thinning. Grape bunches are removed to improve air flow through the canopy, facilitate the ripening of the remaining bunches and reduce the crop yield.
Edelfäule  German term for Botrytis cinerea, or noble rot.
Eiswein  Wine made from grapes that have frozen on the vine. Since only the water in the grapes freezes, the super-concentrated grape pulp produces a wine that is very sweet and often high in acidity.
Eiswein  is an official German classification; such wines from other regions are called ice wine. Elegant  Describes balanced, harmonious, refined wines; subtle rather than a highly-extracted blockbuster.
Élevage French term for the progression of wine between fermentation and bottling. Comparable to the term “raising” in English; think of élevage as a wine’s adolescence or education. The raw fermented juice is shaped during this period into something resembling its final form, through techniques such as barrel aging, filtering and fining. Good winemaking decisions during élevage can help the juice achieve its full potential; bad decisions can leave it flawed.
Empty  Similar to hollow; devoid of flavor and interest.
En Primeur  Also known as “futures” in the American market, en primeur sales typically refer to Bordeaux, but not exclusively. The en primeur offerings are a winery’s first offer of a particular vintage, when the initial price is set, and offers buyers the opportunity to purchase wines before they are released.
Enologist  A scientist involved with winemaking.
Enology  The science and study of winemaking. Also spelled oenology.
Enophile  A lover of all things vinous.
Estate-Bottled  A term once used by producers for those wines made from vineyards that they owned and that were contiguous to the winery “estate.” Today it indicates the winery either owns the vineyard or has a long-term lease to purchase the grapes.
Esters  The fragrant chemical compounds responsible for the aromas and flavors found in food and wine.
Ethyl Acetate  A sweet, vinegary smell that often accompanies acetic acid. It exists to some extent in all wines and in small doses can be a plus. When it is strong and smells like nail polish, it’s a defect.
Extra Brut  The driest Champagne or sparkling wine. The scale, from driest to sweetest, is: Extra Brut, Brut, Extra-Dry, Sec, Demi-Sec and Doux. Extra-Dry A common Champagne term not to be taken literally. Most Champagnes so labeled are slightly sweet.
Extract Richness  depth and concentration of fruit flavors in a wine. Usually a positive quality, extract adds to wine’s body, yet highly extracted wine can also be very tannic. To calculate extract levels, some winemakers measure the dry residue remaining after the wine is boiled off.
Exuberant  wines too can be gushing with fruit and seem nervous and intensely vigorous.
F
Fading  Describes a wine that is losing color, fruit or flavor, usually as a result of age.
Fat  Full-bodied, high alcohol wines low in acidity give a “fat” impression on the palate. Can be a plus with bold, ripe, rich flavors; can also suggest the wine’s structure is suspect.
Feminine  Describes wines with qualities such as smoothness, roundness, gentleness, finesse, elegance and delicacy. Usage of “feminine” is in decline in favor of these more specific terms.
Fermentation  The process by which yeast converts sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide; turns grape juice into wine.
Field Blend  When a vineyard is planted to several different varieties and the grapes are harvested together to produce a single wine, the wine is called a field blend.
Fighting Varietal  This term was coined in the 1980s to describe a new category of wines, labeled as varietals but priced nearly as inexpensively as generics (e.g., “Mountain Chablis” or “Hearty Burgundy”). Glen Ellen was one of the first to sell good quality Chardonnay and Cabernet for $4 to $6 per bottle. Since then, the category has expanded; it includes varietals such as Merlot, producers from regions as far-flung as Chile, Australia and the south of France, and prices up to nearly $10 per bottle. But the concept is the same: a varietal wine of good quality at an everyday price.
Fill Level  The amount of wine in a bottle is gauged by its height in the bottle. Common descriptors are good fill, high shoulder (the wine level is even with the sloping part of the bottle just below the neck), or low shoulder. Important since fill level is an indicator of the wine’s condition and whether it has been properly stored. The air space in the bottle, called ullage, can cause harmful oxidation. Filtering  Pumping wine through a screen or pad to remove leftover grape and fermentation particles. Most wines are filtered for both clarity and stability, although many winemakers believe that some flavors and complexity are also stripped from the wine.
Fining  A technique for clarifying wine using agents such as bentonite (powdered clay), isinglass (fish bladder), casein (milk protein), gelatin or egg whites, which combine with sediment particles and cause them to settle to the bottom, where they can be easily removed.
Finesse  Describes a wine that possesses smoothness, intrigue and elegance.
Finish  One key to judging a wine’s quality is finish—a measure of the taste or flavors that linger in the mouth after the wine is tasted. Great wines have rich, long, complex finishes.
Flabby  Describes a wine that is unbalanced due to insufficient acidity, lacking backbone.
Flat  Describes a wine that is dull in flavor and unbalanced due to insufficient acidity. Can also refer to a sparkling wine that has lost its bubbles.
Fleshy  Describing a wine with good extract and a smooth texture. The sensation of drinking the wine recalls biting into ripe, fleshy fruit such as a plum.
Flight  A set of wines that are compared and contrasted with one another. A single flight can include as few as two wines, but three to six wines are common.
Flinty  A descriptor for extremely dry white wines such as Sauvignon Blanc, whose bouquet can be reminiscent of flint struck against steel.
Floral (also Flowery)  Literally, having the characteristic aromas of flowers. Mostly associated with white wines.
Flowering  The emergence of tiny blossoms on grapevines in late spring. An important time of year, since spring rains and winds can disrupt flowering, reducing the potential crop.
Focused  Both a fine wine’s bouquet and flavor should be focused. Focused simply means that the scents, aromas, and flavors are precise and clearly delineated. If they are not, the wine is like an out-of-focus picture-diffuse, hazy, and possibly problematic.
Fortified  Denotes a wine whose alcohol content has been increased by the addition of brandy or neutral spirits.
Forward  Used to describe wines that are (1) delicious, evolved, and close to maturity, (2) wines that border on being flamboyant or ostentatious, or (3) unusually evolved and/or quickly maturing wines.
Foudre  A large wooden vat, popular in France’s Rhône Valley, significantly larger than typical oak barrels, often with the capacity to hold more than a thousand liters of wine.
Foxy  A term used to describe the unique musky and grapey character of many native American labrusca grape varieties.
Free-Run Juice  The juice released by a pile of grapes as their skins split under their own weight, before they are mechanically pressed. With white wines, this initial juice is considered to be the highest quality since it has the least amount of contact with bitter elements in the pips, skins and stems.
French Oak  The traditional wood for wine barrels, which supplies vanilla, cedar and sometimes butterscotch flavors. Used for red and white wines. Much more expensive than American oak, new French oak barrels can cost twice as much as new American barrels.
French Paradox  Despite a high-fat diet, the French have low rates of coronary heart disease. An explanation may be found in scientific evidence that points to the benefits of moderate wine consumption.
Fresh  Having a lively, clean and fruity character. An essential for young wines.
Frizzante  Italian term for sparkling wines with lighter effervescence and fewer bubbles than found in ordinary sparkling wines. Not a fault, it is a stylistic choice in many Italian sparklers.
Frost  Subfreezing temperatures, which can damage or kill vines, are especially harmful in the early spring after budbreak. Heaters known as smudge pots, wind machines that keep cold air from settling in the vineyard and aspersion (using water sprinklers to form a protective barrier of ice around young vine buds) may be used when frosts are forecast. In the winter, before budbreak, a moderate frost can be a blessing; it hardens the vine’s wood and also kills spores and pests living under the bark.
Fruit Set  In late spring or early summer, fertilized flowers swell into tiny bunches of grapes.
Fruity  Having the aroma and taste of fruit or fruits.
Full-Bodied  A rich, extracted wine with a mouthfilling sensation of weight or mass.
G
Garagiste  A micro-négociant specializing in very limited-production wines, often known as “vins de garage,” or garage wines, because their production size is such that they could be made in a garage. The movement began on Bordeaux’s Right Bank in St.-Emilion with Châteaus Le Pin and Valandraud, but the term is now often applied to micro-négociants the world over.
Gelatin  The same active gel found in Jell-O, this animal product is used in the fining process to bind with excess tannins so that they may be removed during filtration.
Generic  Lower-quality blends with names like “Mountain White” that are frequently made from inexpensive varieties. New World wines using place names such as Chablis or Burgundy as generic terms have largely disappeared thanks to international trade agreements; understandably, wine producers in those places do not appreciate the use of their name on wines from other areas that may be made from different grape varieties or according to different standards.
Glycerin  Produced during fermentation, glycerin contributes to the wine’s body.
Goüt de Terroir  French for “the taste of terroir,” meaning the unique characteristics imparted by a specific site.
Graceful  Describes a wine that is harmonious and pleasing in a subtle way.
Grafting  Uniting two plants so they grow as one. Most often used to join phylloxera-resistant rootstock with vitis vinifera buds that will bear fruit.
Gran Reserva  The highest level of Spain’s quality categories, is only made in the best vintages. This distinction requires reds to be aged at least five years with a minimum of two in oak.
Grand Cru  French, literally “great growth,” or the top tier of vineyards and their wines in regions that use the term. For example, in Burgundy, these wines are one step above Premier Cru.
Grand Cru Classé  French term used to categorize vineyards by quality. In Bordeaux’s Médoc region, for example, five levels of Grand Cru Classé were established in 1855. Grapey Characterized by simple flavors and aromas associated with fresh table grapes; distinct from the more complex fruit flavors (currant, black cherry, fig or apricot) found in fine wines.
Grassy  A signature descriptor for Sauvignon Blanc and a pleasant one unless overbearing and pungent. Green Tasting of unripe fruit. Wines made from unripe grapes will often possess this quality. Generally not considered a positive attribute but may be pleasant in Riesling and Gewürztraminer.
Green Harvest  The trimming of unripe grapes to decrease crop yields, thereby improving the concentration of the remaining bunches.
Grenache  Planted widely around the world this grape variaty is probably best known for its part in some of the best wines from the Rhone region of France. in California it is also known as a blending grape and increasingly in some rose wines.
Grip  A welcome firmness of texture, usually from tannin, which helps give definition to wines such as Cabernet and Port. Grown, Produced And Bottled Means the winery handled each aspect of wine growing.
H
Halbtrocken  German term meaning “half-dry.” Contains some residual sugar, but not more than 18g/l. Half-bottle Holds 375 milliliters or 3/8 liter.
Hard Firm   A quality that usually results from high acidity or tannins. Often a descriptor for young red wines.
Harmonious  Well balanced, with no component obtrusive or lacking.
Harsh  Used to describe astringent wines that are tannic or high in alcohol.
Harvest  The process of picking the grapes, whether by hand or machine. Also the time period when the grapes are picked; usually September through October in the northern hemisphere and March through April in the southern hemisphere.
Hazy  Used to describe a wine that has small amounts of visible matter. Characteristic of wines that are unfined and unfiltered.
Heady  Used to describe high-alcohol wines
Hearty  Used to describe the full, warm, sometimes rustic qualities found in red wines with high alcohol.
Hectare  A quantity of land equivalent to 10,000 square meters or 2.47 acres. Used frequently in Europe to measure vineyard size.
Hectoliter  A quantity of liquid equivalent to 100 liters or 26.4 gallons. In most of Europe, yield is measured in hectoliters per hectare vs. tons per acre in the U.S.
Herbaceous  Describes the aromas and flavors of herbs in a wine. A plus in many wines such as Sauvignon Blanc and, to a lesser extent, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Herbal is a synonym, though when the concentration of the aroma is high, and becomes less than pleasant, the term herbaceous is often used.
Hollow  Lacking in flavor, especially in the midpalate. Describes a wine that has some flavor on the beginning of the sip and on the finish, but is missing intensity or distinct flavors in between.
Horizontal Tasting  An evaluation of wines from a single vintage; the wines may highlight producers from a single region or the same grape variety from many regions, among other permutations.
Hot  High alcohol, unbalanced wines that tend to burn with “heat” on the finish are called hot. Acceptable in Port-style wines.
I
Imperial  A large-format bottle holding 6 liters; the equivalent of eight standard 750ml bottles. The Bordelaise equivalent of Burgundy’s Methuselah.
Inox vats  This is the French term for stainless steel vats that are used for both fermentation and storage of wine.
Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT)  Italian quality classification meaning “wine typical of a region.” Indicazione Geografica Tipica is one level above the base category, Vino da Tavola. It can also be used by super Tuscans.
Intensity  Relates to appearance and aroma. When evaluating appearance, intensity describes the concentration of color. The more concentrated and opaque a wine’s color, the higher its intensity. Common descriptors for color intensity are pale, medium or dark. When evaluating aroma and flavor, the more pronounced or evident the characteristic, the more intense the wine.
Irrigation  Watering the vines. Banned in some regions, yet indispensable to establishing and maintaining vineyards in arid regions, especially where soils retain little moisture. Two methods include drip irrigation and the less precise flood irrigation.
Isinglass  A protein derived from the bladders of sturgeon and other fish and used in the fining process. The protein binds with excess tannins, pulling them from overly harsh wines.
 J
Jammy When wines have a great intensity of fruit from excellent ripeness they can be jammy, which is a very concentrated, flavorful wine with superb extract. In great vintages such as 1961, 1978, 1985, 1989, 1990, and 1995, some of the wines are so concentrated that they are said to be jammy.
K
Kabinett  German classification based on the ripeness level and sugar content of the grapes. At the entry level of QmP, the highest group of quality German wines, kabinette are usually low in alcohol, with crisp acidity. The wines can be dry, halbtrocken (half-dry) or sweet.
Kisselguhr filtration system  This is a filtration system using diatomaceous earth as the filtering material, rather than cellulose, or in the past, before it was banned, asbestos.
Kosher Wine  Wine made according to Jewish dietary laws (the kashrut) and certified by rabbinical authorities. Only observant orthodox Jews can handle kosher wine during the winemaking process, including tasks such as racking and drawing samples from barrels. Common fining agents forbidden in the production of kosher wine include casein and isinglass, though the use of egg whites is permitted.
L
Lactic Acid  A smooth (not sharp) acid created during malolactic fermentation. This acid is also found in milk.
Landwein  German quality classification. Landwein is a slightly higher quality level within the Tafelwein, the lowest designation.
Late Harvest  On labels, indicates that a wine was made from grapes picked later than normal and at a higher sugar (Brix) level than normal. Usually associated with botrytized and dessert- style wines.
Leafy  Describes the slightly herbaceous, vegetal quality reminiscent of leaves. Can be a positive or a negative, depending on whether it adds to or detracts from a wine’s flavor.
Lean  Describes wines made in an austere style. Not necessarily a critical term, but when used as a term of criticism, it indicates a wine is lacking in fruit.
Leather  The aroma of old leather club chairs, most frequently associated with older red wines.
Lees Sediment  Dead yeast cells, grape seeds, stems, pulp and tartrates (harmless tartaric acid crystals)—remaining in a barrel or tank during and after fermentation. “Sur lie” is a French term for aging a wine on its lees.
Legs  The viscous droplets that form and ease down the sides of the glass when the wine is swirled.
Length  The amount of time that taste, flavor or mouthfeel persist after swallowing a wine. The longer the finish, the better the wine quality. Common descriptors are short, long and lingering.
Lieu-Dit  French term, place name, or named vineyard, the smallest parcel that can be named in an appellation.
Limousin  A forest near Limoges, France, that produces oak for barrels. The loose-grained wood from this area readily imparts flavors to wine.
Lingering  Used to describe the persistence of flavor in a wine after tasting. When the aftertaste remains on the palate for several seconds, it is said to be lingering.
Lively  Describes wines that are fresh and fruity, bright and vivacious.
Long  A very desirable trait in any fine wine is that it be long in the mouth. Long (or length) relates to a wine’s finish, meaning that after you swallow the wine, you sense its presence for a long time. (Thirty seconds to several minutes is great length.) In a young wine, the difference between something good and something great is the length of the wine.
Luscious (or Lush)  Describes wines that are soft, viscous, fleshy and round; more often associated with sweet white wines than rich red wines.
M
Maceration  This process, used primarily in making red wine, involves steeping grape skins and solids in wine after fermentation, when alcohol acts as a solvent to extract color, tannins and aroma from the skins (aided by heat, the amount of skin contact and time). Cold maceration (steeping when the must is not heated), takes place before fermentation.
Made and Bottled By  On U.S. labels, this indicates only that the winery crushed, fermented and bottled a minimum of 10 percent of the wine in the bottle.
Maderized  Describes the brownish color and slightly sweet, somewhat caramelized and often nutty character found in mature dessert-style wines.
Magnum  An oversized bottle that holds 1.5 liters.
Malic Acid  A sharp, tart acid found in grapes as well as in green apples. Less-ripe grapes or grapes grown in cooler climates can contain high levels of malic acid; the resulting wines often contain aromas and flavors reminiscent of green apples. It is converted to smoother lactic acid during malolactic fermentation.
Malolactic Fermentation (ML)  A bacterial fermentation occurring in most wines, this natural process converts sharper malic acid (found in green apples) into softer lactic acid (found in milk). Total acidity is reduced; the wines become softer, rounder and more complex. In addition, malolactic fermentation stabilizes wines by preventing an undesirable fermentation in the bottle. Often called the secondary fermentation. Frequently associated with big, rich, buttery Chardonnay, malolactic fermentation is prevented when fresher, crisper styles are desired.
Massive  In great vintages where there is a high degree of ripeness and superb concentration, some wines can turn out to be so big, full-bodied, and rich that they are called massive. A great wine such as the 1961 or 1990 Hermitage La Chapelle is a textbook example of a massive wine.
Masculine  Describes wines with firmness, power and strength.
Mature  The stage at which the wine will not gain any additional complexity with further bottle aging and is ready to drink. Also describes grapes when they are fully ripe.
Meaty  Describes red wines that show plenty of concentration and a chewy quality. They may even have an aroma of cooked meat.
Meniscus  The thin rim at the edge of a wine’s surface where the wine meets the glass.
Mercaptans  An unpleasant, rubbery smell of old sulfur; encountered mainly in very old white wines.
Meritage  An invented term, used by California wineries, for Bordeaux-style red and white blended wines. Combines “merit” with “heritage.” The term arose out of the need to name wines that didn’t meet minimal labeling requirements for varietals (i.e., 75 percent of the named grape variety). For reds, the grapes allowed are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec; for whites, Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon. Joseph Phelps Insignia and Flora Springs Trilogy are examples of wines whose blends vary each year, with no one grape dominating.
Méthode Champenoise  The labor-intensive and costly process whereby wine undergoes a secondary fermentation inside the bottle, creating bubbles. All Champagne and most high-quality sparkling wine is made by this process. Also known as méthode traditionnelle.
Méthode Traditionnelle See Méthode Champenoise.
Methuselah  An extra-large bottle holding 6 liters; the equivalent of eight standard bottles.
Microoxygenation  This technique, used almost exclusively on red wines, allows winemakers to control the amount of oxygen that wines in tank are exposed to. The apparatus involves chambers connected by tubes and valves to an oxygen tank. Small, measured amounts of oxygen are allowed to pass through the wine via a porous stone or ceramic plate at or near the base of the tank. The benefits of this type of oxygen exposure include prevention of oxidation and reduction as well as promotion of healthy yeast cultures, which prevent stuck fermentations. Microoxygenation  is also believed to soften tannins and, in conjunction with the use of oak chips, is frequently practiced as an alternative to oak barrel aging.
Monocepage  This term describes a wine made totally of one specific varietal.
Monopole  Used to denote a vineyard owned exclusively by one proprietor, the word monopole appears on the label of a wine made from such a vineyard.
Morsellated  Many vineyards are fragmented, with multiple growers owning a portion of the same vineyard. Such a vineyard is often referred to as a morsellated vineyard.
Mousse  The frothy head that forms at the surface of sparkling wine.
Mouthfeel  Describes the sensation of wine in the mouth. Most descriptors are related to texture, for example: silky, smooth, velvety and rough. Mouthfeel is influenced by wine components, as acidity can be sharp, alcohol can be hot, tannins can be rough and sugar can be thick or cloying.
Mourvedre  Also know as mataro, this is a rhone grape used as a blending grape as well as in some varietal bottlings.
Murky  More than deeply colored; lacking brightness, turbid and sometimes a bit swampy. Mainly a fault of red wines.
Muscat Also called Muscat Blanc and Muscat Canelli, this spicy white grape can make a wide range of wines from dry to dessert.
Musty  Having an off-putting moldy or mildewy smell. The result of a wine being made from moldy grapes, stored in improperly cleaned tanks and barrels, or contaminated by a poor cork.
N
Nasal Fatigue  Diminished sensory perception; not uncommon after sniffing the same scent a number of times.
Natural Yeasts  These are yeasts that occur naturally on the grapes, rather than commercially cultured yeasts; both are used for fermentation. Many feel that the natural yeasts add more complexity to the wine. Large-scale producers shy away from natural yeasts, which can be unreliable since they are less controlled than cultured varieties.
Nebuchadnezzar  A giant wine bottle holding 15 liters; the equivalent of 20 standard bottles.
Négociant (négociant-éléveur)  A French wine merchant who buys grapes and vinifies them, or buys wines and blends them, bottles the result under his own label and ships them. Particularly found in Burgundy. Two well-known examples are Jadot Drouhin, and Bouchard Père & Fils.
Nevers  A forest in France that produces hard, medium-grained oak for barrels.
New Oak  Refers to the first time a barrel is used, when it has the greatest impact on wine. With successive uses, the wood imparts fewer flavors and tannins. Flavors associated with new oak include vanilla, cedar, toast and smoke. The wood tannins in newer barrels add firmness to the wine’s structure. As with most components in wine, moderation and balance are key; new oak can be a positive or a negative influence, depending on whether it subtly enhances the wine or overpowers the fruit flavors.
New World  The New World is comprised of countries that have started producing wine more recently than the countries of Europe, including the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Argentina Mexico, Peru and South Africa.
Noble Rot  Also known by its scientific name, Botrytis cinerea, noble rot is a beneficial mold that grows on ripe wine grapes in the vineyard under specific climatic conditions. The mold dehydrates the grapes, leaving them shriveled and raisinlike and concentrates the sugars and flavors. Wines made from these berries have a rich, complex, honeyed character and are often high in residual sugar. Noble rot contributes the unique, concentrated flavors in such wines as BA and TBA Riesling from Germany, Sauternes from Bordeaux, Aszu from Hungary’s Tokay district and an assortment of late-harvest wines from other regions.
Noble Varieties  Considered the classic grape varieties, originating in the Old World, which have the ability to make outstanding wines. Reds include Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Nebbiolo, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese and Syrah (Shiraz in the Southern Hemisphere). Whites include Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Gerwürztraminer, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillion.
Non-Vintage  A wine blended with grapes grown in more than one vintage. This allows the vintner to keep a house style from year to year. Many Champagnes and sparkling wines are non- vintage. Also, Sherry and the non-vintage Ports, the tawnies and the rubies.
Nose  The character of a wine as determined by the olfactory sense. Also called aroma; includes bouquet.
Nouveau  A style of light, fruity, youthful red wine bottled and sold as soon as possible. Applies mostly to Beaujolais. Nutty Used to describe oxidized wines. Often a flaw, but when it’s close to an oaky flavor it can be a plus.
O
Oak Chips  Instead of gaining complexity in expensive oak barrels during the aging process, some popularly-priced wines are aged with small pieces of wood to gain their oaky flavors. Also called beans.
Oaky  Describes the aroma or taste quality imparted to a wine by the oak barrels or casks in which it was aged. Can be either positive or negative. The terms toasty, vanilla, dill, cedary and smoky indicate the desirable qualities of oak; charred, burnt, green cedar, lumber and plywood describe its unpleasant side. See also American oak, French oak.
Oechsle Scale  Used in Germany to measure sugar levels and other solids in grapes or must to determine ripeness and potential alcohol. This scale is based on the density or specific gravity of the must. See also Baumé and Brix.
Off  If a wine is not showing its true character, or is flawed or spoiled in some way, it is said to be”off.”
Off-Dry  Indicates a slightly sweet wine in which the residual sugar is barely perceptible, usually 0.6 percent to 1.4 percent.
Olallieberry  A hybrid berry resulting from the crossing of loganberry and youngberry, all of which are descended from the blackberry.
Old Vine  Some wines come from vines that are 50, 70 or even 100 years of age, which yield small quantities of concentrated fruit, and make a more concentrated and complex wine. Because this is an unregulated term, the wine can come from relatively young vines.
Old World  The Old World refers to the countries of Europe where winemaking dates back centuries. The Old World was once associated primarily with traditional winemaking techniques, while the New World was known for modern winemaking, though those stereotypes are no longer as accurate.
Olfactory Epithelium  A dime-sized patch of nerve endings situated in the retronasal passage that connects the nose to the mouth. As we inhale through the nose or mouth, this little patch captures airborne aromas and flavors as they pass by and transmits the information to the olfactory bulb, which can distinguish the presence of and identify nearly 10,000 unique aromas even at very low concentrations.
Organic Wine  The rules and methods for producing organic grapes and wine are still evolving. The answer usually depends on the country of origin and the various governing organizations involved. France, for example, legally defined organic farming in 1981 as “farming which uses no synthetic chemical products.” In most cases, organic wines are fermented from grapes grown without the use of synthesized fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides. In organic wines, natural yeasts and minimal amounts of sulfur are often used in the fermentation process.
Overripe  An undesirable characteristic; grapes left too long on the vine become too ripe, lose theiracidity, and produce wines that are heavy and balance. This can happen frequently in the hotviticultural areas of the Rhône Valley if the growers harvest too late.
Oxidized  Describes wine that has been exposed too long to air and taken on a brownish color, losing its freshness and perhaps beginning to smell and taste like Sherry or old apples. Oxidized wines are also called maderized or sherrified.
P
Palate  The flavor or taste of a wine; also referred to as different sections of taste in the mouth. As the wine travels through the mouth, it first contacts the front palate, then the midpalate and finally the back palate, all which can process different tastes, such as sweet, sour and bitter.
Passe-Tout-Grains  A red Burgundy made from Pinot Noir blended with Gamay.
Peak  The time when a wine tastes its best–very subjective.
Peppery  A peppery quality to a wine is usually noticeable in many Rhône wines that have an aroma of black or white pepper and a pungent flavor.
Perfumed  Describes the strong, usually sweet and floral aromas found in some wines, particularly white wines.
Petillant  A French term for lightly sparkling.
PH  A chemical measurement of acidity or alkalinity; the higher the pH the weaker the acid. Used by some wineries as a measurement of ripeness in relation to acidity. Low pH wines taste tart and crisp; higher pH wines are more susceptible to bacterial growth. A range of 3.0 to 3.4 is desirable for white wines, while 3.3 to 3.6 is best for reds.
Phenolics Tannins  Color pigments and flavor compounds originating in the skins, seeds and stems of grapes. Phenolics, which are antioxidants, are more prevalent in red wines than in whites.
Phylloxera  Tiny aphids or root lice that attack Vitis vinifera roots. These vineyard pests were widespread in both Europe and California during the late 19th century, and returned to California in the 1980s.
Physiological Ripeness See Polyphenolic Ripeness.
Pierce’s Disease  This bacterial disease, frequently spread by insects such as glassy-winged sharpshooters and blue-green sharpshooters, kills vines within a few years of infestation; there are no known preventatives (other than quarantine) and no known cures. It is a problem in California; both grapegrowers and government organizations are working to find solutions to stop the disease from spreading to healthy vineyards.
Pigéage  French term for punch down.
Pip  Another term for a grape seed.
Plateau  The time during which a wine is at its peak.
Plummy  Rich, concentrated wines can often have the smell and taste of ripe plums. When they do,the term plummy is applicable.
Polyphenol  Chemical compounds found in plant life. In grapes, polyphenols are responsible for skin pigment, tannins and flavors—all of which fall under the category of flavonoids—as well as resveratrol, the compound associated with many of wine’s health benefits, and which falls under the much smaller polyphenol category of non-flavonoids. Pertaining to wine, grape skins, seeds and stems contain the highest concentrations of polyphenols.
Polyphenolic Ripeness  Also known as physiological ripeness, is the concentration of polyphenols in grape skins, seeds and stems, in contrast to the traditional form of measuring ripeness based on sugar content (Brix, Baumé, Oechsle). It has become a trend among vintners to rely more on polyphenolic ripeness than on sugar levels in recent years, as polyphenols are the source of wine’s color, flavor and mouthfeel. As grapes mature, particularly in warmer climates, sugar levels frequently rise faster than polyphenol concentrations. Leaving grapes on the vine longer to achieve polyphenolic ripeness has led to an increase in alcohol levels due to higher sugar contents, particularly in California.
Pomace  The mass of grape solids—skins, stems and seeds—remaining after pressing (for whites) and after the wine has been drained from the fermentation vessel (for reds).
Ponderous  Ponderous is often used as a synonym for massive, but in my usage a massive wine is simply a big, rich, very concentrated wine with balance, whereas a ponderous wine is a wine that has become heavy and tiring to drink. Potent Intense and powerful.
Press Wine (or Pressing)  The juice extracted under pressure after pressing for white wines and after fermentation for reds. Press wine has more flavor and aroma, deeper color and often more tannins than free-run juice. Wineries often blend a portion of press wine back into the main cuvéefor added backbone.
Private Reserve  This description, along with Reserve, once stood for the best wines a winery produced, but lacking a legal definition many wineries use it or a spin-off (such as Proprietor’s Reserve) for rather ordinary wines. Depending upon the producer, it may still signify excellent quality.
Produced And Bottled By  Indicates that the winery crushed, fermented and bottled at least 75 percent of the wine in the bottle.
Pruning  The process of trimming the vine. Determining how many buds to leave on the vine, the grower decides the number of bunches and the maximum quantity of fruit each vine can bear in the coming year.
Pruny  Having the flavor of overripe, dried-out grapes. Can add complexity in the right dose.
Puckery  Describes highly tannic and very dry wines.
Pump Over  Also known as rémontage, the process of pumping red wine up from the bottom of the tank and splashing it over the top of the fermenting must; the purpose is to submerge the skins so that carbon dioxide is pushed to the surface of the must and released.
Punch Down  Also known as pigéage, the process of breaking up the thick layer of skins, stems and seeds that forms at the surface of fermenting red wine and submerging it during fermentation to extract color, tannins, flavor and aromas from the grape solids.
Pungent  Having a powerful, assertive smell linked to a high level of volatile acidity.
Punt  The dimple or indentation in the bottom of a bottle, originally meant to strengthen hand- blown glass containers; now mostly for show, except in sparkling wine bottles. Bottles for Champagne and sparkling wines, which must withstand extra pressure, have especially deep punts.
Q
Qualitat mit Pradikat (QmP)  German quality classification meaning “quality with distinction” and includes Germany’s best wines. QmP is divided into six classes of ascending ripeness at harvest: kabinett, spätlese, auslese, beerenauslese, eiswein and trockenbeerenauslese. Sugar is never added to these wines.
Qualitätswein Bestimmter Anbaugebiete (QbA)  German quality classification meaning “quality wine from designated cultivation areas.” Producers may add sugar to these wines when grapes don’t meet the minimum levels of natural ripeness at harvest time. Usually a producer’s basic level wine, inexpensive and meant for everyday drinking, though there are some exceptions.
R
Racking  The practice of moving wine from one container to another for aeration or clarification, leaving sediment behind.
Racy  A tasting term referring to a style, rather than a smell or taste, generally marked by lively acidity and light juiciness.
Raisiny  Having the taste of raisins from ultra-ripe or overripe grapes. Can be pleasant in small doses in some wines.
Raw  Young and undeveloped. A good descriptor of barrel samples of red wine. Raw wines are often tannic and high in alcohol or acidity.
Recently Disgorged  Indicates that the lees have been removed from a sparkling wine just prior to release. After sparkling wine has undergone the second fermentation in the bottle, the wine can remain on the lees for many years to develop additional complexity and richness.
Recioto  Extremely concentrated Italian wine made from grapes that have been dried or raisined in special drying rooms for a few months after harvest before being crushed. The wine can be dry or slightly sweet.
Recorking  The practice of replacing corks that have become fragile during extended cellaring. Once the old cork is removed, the bottle may be topped up with wine from the same or a similar vintage and a new cork inserted.
Reduced  Commonly used to describe a wine that has not been exposed to air. Wine that has not been exposed to air can develop stinky aromas due to reductive chemical reactions (as opposed to oxidation). Off aromas usually dissipate after exposure to air.
Refractometer  A handheld instrument that gauges grapes’ ripeness by measuring the ratio of sugar and other solids in the grape juice. Used extensively during harvest by grape growers.
Rehoboam  Oversized bottle equivalent to 4.5 liters or six regular bottles.
Rémontage French term for pump over.
Reserva  A quality classification in Spain. Red reservas must be aged at least three years, with a minimum of one year in oak.
Reserve  An unregulated term on U.S. wine labels; sometimes indicates the best wine of the lot, sometimes over-zealous marketing.
Residual Sugar  Unfermented grape sugar in a finished wine.
Resveratrol Polyphenol  Found in grape skins and wine as well as in other foods such as peanuts, blueberries and cranberries. It is believed to be the source of wine’s health benefits; studies have linked resveratrol with improved heart health and endurance as well as reduced risk of age-related degeneration, Alzheimer’s disease, arthritis, blindness, cancer, obesity and type 2 diabetes.
Retronasal Passages  The retronasal passages are the airways that connect the nose and the mouth. Also home to a dime-sized patch of nerve endings called the olfactory epithelium. As we inhale through our nose or mouth, this little patch captures airborne aromas and flavors as they pass by, helping us identify thousands of unique aromas.
Rich  Describes wines with generous, full, pleasant flavors, usually sweet and round in nature. In dry wines, richness may be supplied by high alcohol and glycerin, by complex flavors and by an oaky vanilla character. Decidedly sweet wines are also described as rich when the sweetness is backed up by fruity, ripe flavors.
Riddling  In making sparkling wine, the process of moving the sediment remaining in the bottle from the second fermentation to rest on the cap for easy removal. The process of riddling is unique to méthode traditionelle and was developed by Madame Clicquot (Veuve Clicquot) in the early 1800s to remove the cloudy lees from the bottles. The bottles are loaded in a horizontal position onto wooden racks called pupitres. At this point, the sediment rests on the side of the bottle. As the bottles are riddled, or given a sharp quarter-turn daily and gradually tilted upside-down, the sediment works its way to the bottle neck. Today, most producers use efficient mechanical riddlers.
Rim  Where the wine meets the edge of the glass, useful in describing color variation in a wine.
Ripe  The stage at which the grapes’ many components have reached maturity. As a grape ripens, sugar content increases and acidity decreases. Flavor compounds develop and the stems turn from green to brown, indicating that the tannins in the stems, seeds and skins are softening.
Riserva  Italian term indicating that the wine has been aged for an extra period of time prior to release.
Robust  Describes a wine that is full-bodied, intense and vigorous; can be a bit overblown.
Rootstock  Disease-resistant native American grapevine grown specifically to provide a root system on which to graft Vitis vinifera varieties. Most of the world takes these measures to prevent attacks of phylloxera.
Rosé  Rosés, also known as blush wines, range in color from muted salmon-orange to bright pink. These wines are made from red grapes, colored through limited skin contact or, in rare cases, the addition of small quantities of red wine.
Rough  Describes the drying, gritty or furry mouthfeel associated with higher levels of tannins and coarse tannins.
Round  Describes a texture that is smooth, not coarse or tannic.
Rustic  Describes wines made by old-fashioned methods or tasting like wines made in an earlier era. Can be a positive quality in distinctive wines that require aging. Can also be a negative quality when used to describe a young, earthy wine that should be fresh and fruity.
S
Saignée  A French term meaning literally “to bleed,” saignée refers to the process of bleeding or pulling juice from a tank of red must that is just beginning fermentation. The goal is two- fold. First, the lightly-colored juice that is bled out of the tank produces a rosé. Second, the must remaining in the tank has a higher proportion of grape skins to juice; the resulting wine will be richer and more concentrated.
Salmanazar  An oversized bottle holding 9 liters, the equivalent of 12 regular bottles.
Sec  French term for dry, not sweet.
Second Label  Estate wineries often bottle excess production, lesser wines or purchased wines under a label other than the one that made them famous, often at a lower price.
Secondary Fermentation  The process that creates the bubbles in sparkling wine. As the wine is bottled, a small amount of yeast and sugar is added before the bottle is sealed with a sturdy crown cap. The yeasts quickly start fermenting the sugars, producing alcohol and carbon dioxide. Since the gas cannot escape, it dissolves into the wine.
Sediment  As red wines age, color pigments and tannins bond together and fall out of solution, producing a natural sediment. While the sediment is not harmful, it tastes bitter and adversely affects the wine’s mouthfeel. Sediment is most frequently found in older (10- plus years), darker red wines, which typically have more color pigments and tannins, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Bordeaux and Port. Rarely will lighter reds throw sediment.
Sensory Threshold  For any given aroma, flavor or taste, there is a concentration below which we are no longer able to detect it. This point is called the sensory threshold, and where it occurs varies considerably from person to person, determining our ability to taste and explaining why tasting wine is such a personal, highly subjective experience.
Shallow  A weak, feeble, watery or diluted wine lacking concentration is said to be shallow.
Sharp  An undesirable trait, sharp wines are bitter and unpleasant with hard, pointed edges. Shoulder  The area where the bottle slopes outwards, just below the narrow, straight neck.
Silky  A synonym for velvety or lush, silky wines are soft, sometimes fat, but never hard or angular. Sin Crianza  A Spanish quality classification indicating that the wines are not aged in wood, but may be bottle-aged.
Skin Contact  Refers to the process of grape skins steeping in juice or fermenting must to impart color and flavor to the wine.
Smoky  Usually the result of fermenting or aging in oak barrel, a smoky quality can add flavor and aromatic complexity to a wine.
Smudge Pot  Oil-burning heaters used to prevent or reduce frost damage in orchards and vineyards. Typically consisting of a wide base topped by a chimney, smudge pots may be lit when frost threatens. They offer some protection by creating air currents that can disrupt settled colder air at ground level. Due to their consumption of oil and smoke production, as well as labor requirements, use of smudge pots is in decline in favor of other frost- protection methods such as wind machines and aspersion.
Soft  Describes wines low in acid or tannin (sometimes both), making for easy drinking. Opposite of hard.
Sommelier  Provides a professional credential to show their skills have been evaluated at a high level of proficiency by the world’s leading authority on service with a high standard of the knowledge of wine. The sommelier is a professional that has been provided with the knowledge of wine and hospitality having a thorough knowledge of the world of wines and spirits at the highest professional standards having received intensive instruction and training.
Sorting  Checking the grape clusters for soundness during harvest. When bins loaded with grapes come in from the vineyard, they may contain overripe grapes, underripe grapes, moldy grapes, leaves and other debris. Many quality-oriented wineries sort through the grape bunches to remove these unwanted items.
Soutirage  French term for racking, or moving wine from one container to another for aeration or clarification, leaving sediment behind.
Spätlese  German classification based on the ripeness level and sugar content of the grapes. Meaning “late harvest,” spätlesen are usually richer than kabinette-level wines because the grapes contain a higher concentration of sugar at harvest. The wines can be dry or sweet.
Spicy  A descriptor for many wines, indicating the presence of spice flavors such as anise, cinnamon, cloves, mint and pepper which are often present in complex wines.
Spumante  Italian term for sparkling wine.
Stale  Wines that have lost their fresh, youthful qualities are called stale. Opposite of fresh.
Stalky  Smells and tastes of grape stems or has leaf- or hay-like aromas.
Steely  Bracing, with intense mineral character. Usually a white-wine characteristic.
Stemmy  Describes a wine with green flavors of unripe fruit or wood, frequently a result of a wine being fermented too long with the grape stems.
Structure  Related to the mouthfeel of a wine, provided by acidity, tannin, alcohol, sugar and the way these components are balanced. Wines with low, unbalanced levels of acidity or tannin can be described as “lacking in structure” or “flabby.” When the acidity or tannin levels are sufficiently high, a “firm structure” is the result.
Style  Refers to the character, not the quality, of a wine, which is determined in the vineyard and in the winery. Common styles at two ends of a continuum are fresh and fruity at one end and big and oaky at the other end. Style is not strictly correlated with quality; one style is not inherently better than another. Rather, style is a matter of personal preference for both the winemaker and the wine lover.
Subtle  Describes delicate wines with finesse, or flavors that are understated rather than full- blown and overt. A positive characteristic.
Sulfites  Winemakers all over the world use sulfur dioxide to clean equipment, kill unwanted organisms on the grapes and protect wines from spoilage. A tiny amount remains in the bottle, and U.S. label laws require a statement to announce its presence. Sulfites also occur naturally during fermentation process.
Super Second Bordeaux’s  1855 Classification, which established a five-tiered system of Grands Crus Classées, or growths, has remained relatively unchanged. In recent years, the quality of several second-growths has improved to the point that they can now challenge the first- growths in every way but price. These super seconds include Cos-d’Estournel, Ducru-Beaucaillou, Léoville Las Cases, Palmer (actually a third-growth) and Pichon- Longueville-Lalande.
Super Tuscan  Wines from Tuscany made using international varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah rather than relying primarily on local varieties such as Sangiovese. Although their quality can be outstanding, these wines must be labeled with the lower levels of Italy’s classification system, Vino da Tavola or Indicazione Geografica Tipica, since they do not conform to Tuscany’s traditional winemaking practices.
Supple  Describes texture, mostly with reds, as it relates to tannin, body and oak. A positive characteristic.
Sur Lie  Wines aged sur lie (French for “on the lees”) are kept in contact with the dead yeast cells and are not racked or otherwise filtered. This is mainly done for whites, to enrich them. (It is a normal part of fermenting red wine, and so is not noted.) The concept originated in Burgundy, with Chardonnay, but is now popular around the world with numerous white grape varieties. Sur lie aging can be overdone, leading to an off-putting leesy flavor.
Sweet  Describes the sugar content in a wine, found at higher levels in late-harvest and sweet wines. Not to be confused with fruity wines. Most people begin to perceive sweetness at concentrations of 0.3 to 0.7 percent residual sugar.
T
Table Wine  Still wines containing 7 percent to 14 percent alcohol. The term is also a quality classification in many European Union countries, indicating the lowest level of quality: Vin du Table in France, Vino da Tavola in Italy and Tafelwein in Germany.
Tafelwein  German quality classification meaning “table wine,” the lowest category recognized in the European Union, indicates only that the wine was bottled in Germany. When the grapes are grown in Germany, the term Deutscher Tafelwein is used. Landwein is a slightly higher quality level within the Tafelwein designation.
Tank Method  Also known as charmat, a less expensive method for making sparkling wine. The tank method is used to produce bulk quantities of inexpensive sparkling wines. The second fermentation takes place in a pressurized tank, rather than in a bottle, decreasing lees contact and producing larger, coarser bubbles. The wine is filtered under pressure and bottled. Wines made this way cannot be labeled méthode Champenoise.
Tanky  Describes dull, dank qualities that show up in wines aged too long in tanks.
Tannic  Used to describe a wine high in tannins or with a rough mouthfeel.
Tannins The mouth-puckering substance–found mostly in red wines–that is derived primarily from grape skins, seeds and stems, but also from oak barrels. Tannin acts as a natural preservative that helps wine age and develop.
Tart  Sharp-tasting because of acidity. Occasionally used as a synonym for acidic.
Tartaric Acid  The principal acid in grapes and wine; contributes to taste and stabilizes color. Unlike malic acid, tartaric acid does not decline as grapes ripen. Tartaric acid can precipitate out of solution in bottled wine to form harmless tartrate crystals resembling shards of glass.
Tartrates  Harmless crystals resembling shards of glass that may form during fermentation or bottle aging (often on the cork) as tartaric acid naturally present in wine precipitates out of solution. Components of tartaric acid, including potassium bitartrate and cream of tartar, they are less soluble in alcoholic solutions than in grape juice and solidify at cooler temperatures (such as those found in a refrigerator); can be avoided in finished wines through cold stabilization. Decanting and careful pouring can prevent transferring the crystals from the bottle into the glass.
Tastevin  A shallow saucer still used by some sommeliers and wine merchants to taste wine. Originally used by winemakers and wine merchants in dimly-lit cellars, the shiny, dimpled surfaces were helpful in evaluating appearance since they reflect the small amount of light.
TCA (2,4,6-Trichloroanisole)  A chemical compound that can give wine a musty, dirty, bitter, chalky character often described as moldy newspapers or damp cardboard. TCA can be formed in many ways; most consumers associate it with “corky” bottles, because corks are particularly susceptible to contamination by the compound. One common catalyst is chlorine, a widespread cleaning agent, coming into contact with plant phenols (which are found in cork and wood) and mold.
Temperature of Fermentation  As yeasts convert grape sugars into alcohol, they also produce heat. Excessively high temperatures can kill the yeasts and make the wine’s fruit flavors seem stewed or dull, whereas cooler temperatures maintain the freshness of the fruit. Just the right amount of warmth can contribute a richer, rounder mouthfeel.
Terroir  A term describing the interaction of soil, climate, topography and grape variety in a specific site, imprinting the wine and making each wine from a specific site distinct. Derived from the French word for earth, “terre.”
Thick  Rich, ripe, concentrated wines that are low in acidity are often said to be thick.
Thin  Lacking body and depth.
Tight  Describes a wine’s structure, concentration and body, as in a “tightly wound” wine. Closed or compact are similar terms. Tightly knit Young wines that have good acidity levels, good tannin levels, and are well made arecalled tightly knit, meaning they have yet to open up and develop. Tinny Metallic tasting.
Tired  Describes wines that are limp, feeble or lackluster.
Toasted Barrels  As a barrel is being constructed, but before the heads at either end are added, the cooper (barrel maker) chars the inside edges of the staves. This final treatment imparts aromas of vanilla, spice and smoke to the wood and then the wine. Char levels include light, medium and heavy toast. Winemakers order barrels with their favorite levels of toast to influence their wine styles.
Toasty  Describes a flavor derived from the oak barrels in which wines are aged. Also, a character that sometimes develops in sparkling wines.
Tobacco  Some red wines have the scent of fresh tobacco. It is a distinctive and wonderful smell inwine.
Torréfaction  Wines exhibiting torréfaction show a roasted aroma or flavor, not unlike roasted coffee beans. Torréfaction is literally the process by which coffee, cocoa and other beans are roasted. Transfer Method  Technique for making sparkling wine in which, after the second fermentation in the bottle and a short period of sur lie aging (but before riddling), the wine is transferred— with sediment—to a pressurized tank. The wine is then filtered under pressure and bottled. With the enormous savings in labor and time, the wines are slightly less intense and less creamy than those produced using the more time-consuming and expensive méthode Champenoise.
Trellising  The process of tying up the annual green growth of vines on wires; a vine naturally wants to sprawl, but trellising organizes the new shoots, to expose more leaves and grape bunches to the sun and encourage air circulation to prevent rot.
Trocken  German term for dry, describing a wine with little or no residual sugar. Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA)  German classification based on the ripeness level and sugar content of the grapes. Trockenbeerenauslese means literally “dry berry selection.” This very sweet dessert wine is made from individually selected shriveled grapes that have the highest sugar levels with flavors concentrated further by the fungus Botrytis cinerea, or noble rot. Trockenbeerenauslesen rank among the greatest sweet wines in the world.
Troncais oak  This type of oak comes from the forest of Troncais in central France.
U
Ullage  Refers to the small air space in a wine bottle or barrel. Excessive air in the bottle increases the speed of oxidation.
Umami  Although there is no direct English translation, umami is essentially the fifth taste. Discovered and noted by Chinese gourmets more than 1,200 years ago, the concept is fairly new to western scientists and gourmets alike. Mushrooms, consommés, long- cooked meats, cured meats, shrimp, dried tomatoes and soy sauce all contain umami. This taste tends to bring out tannins or the oaky character in wines.
V
Varietal  Refers to a wine labeled: made from or belonging to a single specified variety of grape. Variety  A variety refers to the grape itself, whereas the term varietal refers to the wine made from that grape variety. For example, “Chardonnay is an early-ripening variety.”
Vegetal  Some wines contain elements in their smell and taste which are reminiscent of plants and vegetables. In Cabernet Sauvignon a small amount of this vegetal quality is said to be part of varietal character. But when the vegetal element takes over, or when it shows up in wines in which it does not belong, those wines are considered flawed. Wine scientists have been able to identify the chemical constituent that makes wines smell like asparagus and bell peppers.
Velvety  Having rich flavor and a silky, sumptuous texture.
Vendange  French term for harvest.
Vendange Tardive  French term for late harvest.
Veraison Occurs in late summer or early fall, when grapes start to lose their green color and take on mature hues, which can range from greenish yellow to red to almost black, depending on the variety.  This also represents the transition from berry growth to berry ripening, and many changes in berry development occur at veraison.
Vigneron  French term for grapegrower or winemaker.
Vigorous  Describes a wine that is young and lively.
Vin de Pays  French quality classification meaning “country wine”; it is one level above vin de table. Vin de Table  France’s lowest level of wine classification, meaning “table wine.” There are no limits on vineyard yields for wines labeled vin de table, and they do not require a vintage date.
Vine Spacing  The distance between vines in a vineyard; can vary from about three feet to eight feet. Generally, tighter spacing increases the competition between vines, producing fewer, more flavorful grapes.
Vine Training  The process of shaping the vine’s permanent wood. In cool regions, vines trained low absorb more heat reflected off the ground, which helps ripen the fruit. In warmer regions, vines are trained higher so they don’t absorb reflections.
Viniculture  The science or study of grape production for wine and the making of wine.
Vinification  Loosely synonymous with “winemaking,” the act of creating wine from grapes, beginning with the crushing of grapes at harvest and ending when the fermented juice is barreled. Vinify  The act of Vinification, or creating wine from grapes.
Vino da Tavola  Italy’s quality category equivalent to table wine; mass quantities of ordinary wines are produced at this level. Some of the country’s most expensive wines made outside the DOC/DOCG regulations are sold at this level, such as super Tuscans.
Vino de la Mesa  Spain’s quality category equivalent to table wine; mass quantities of ordinary wines are produced at this level. As in Italy, some of the country’s most expensive wines made outside the DO/DOCa regulations are sold at this level.
Vino de la Tierra  One of Spain’s quality categories; wines produced in a specific region; an average level of quality.
Vino Joven  One of Spain’s quality categories; green or young wine meant to be drunk as soon as it is bottled.
Vinous  Literally means “winelike” and is usually applied to dull wines lacking in distinct varietal character.
Vintage  Indicates the year in which the grapes were grown. For vintage dated wines made in the United States, 95 percent of a wine must come from grapes that were grown and picked in the stated calendar year. In the southern hemisphere where the grapes may grow in the year preceeding a February through March harvest, the vintage date refers to the year of harvest. Also refers to the time of year in which the harvest takes place.
Vinted By  Largely meaningless phrase that means the winery purchased the wine in bulk from another winery and bottled it.
Vintner  Translates as wine merchant, but generally indicates a wine producer/or winery proprietor. Vintner-grown  Means wine from a winery-owned vineyard situated outside the winery’s delimited viticultural area.
Viscous  Describes full-bodied, thick, rich wines.
Viticultural Area  Defines a legal grape-growing area distinguished by geographical features, climate, soil, elevation, history and other definable boundaries. Rules vary widely from region to region, and change often. Just for one example, in the United States, a wine must be 85 percent from grapes grown within the viticultural area to carry the appellation name.
Viticulture  The cultivation, science and study of grapes. Vitis Labrusca The species of grape native to the eastern U.S. that includes the Concord and Catawba varieties.
Vitis Vinifera  Classic European winemaking species of grape. Examples include Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay and most of the famous varieties grown around the world.
Volatile (Volatile Acidity; VA)  Describes an excessive and undesirable amount of acidity, which gives a wine a slightly sour, vinegary edge. At very low levels (0.1 percent), it is largely undetectable; at higher levels it is considered a major defect.
Vosges Oak  Tight-grained French oak from the Vosges Mountains in Alsace used to make wine barrels.
W
Weather  Temperature, precipitation and sunshine hours associated with specific events such as a hailstorm. In contrast, climate refers to long- term patterns.
Winemaking  Largely synonymous with “Vinification,” winemaking is the process by which harvested grapes are crushed, fermented (and otherwise manipulated through yeast inoculations, temperature control, punch-downs, pump-overs, racking, oak-chip additions, filtering, etc.), aged in barrel, steel tank or other vessel, and finally bottled.
Woody  When a wine is overly oaky it is often said to be woody. Oakiness in a wine’s bouquet and taste is good up to a point. Once past that point, the wine is woody and its fruity qualities are masked by excessive oak aging.
Y
Yeast  Micro-organisms that convert sugar to alcohol and carbon dioxide in the process known as fermentation. The predominant wine yeast, saccharomyces cerevisiae, is the same micro-organism that ferments beer and makes bread dough rise. Three categories of yeasts are common, including cultured, natural and wild.
Yield  The quantity of grapes or wine produced measured in tons per acre or hectoliters per hectare. Although it is true that overcropped vines with high yields produce less- concentrated grapes, it is not true that lower yields always mean higher quality. Different soils, vineyards and varieties are able to successfully carry different levels of crop.
Z
Zinfandel  Probably one of the most widely known grapes in California, Zinfandel has been a part of California winemaking for more than a century.