Wine words

Wine Education grey Dot Wine Words grey Dot

Wine words, like wine, can seem tricky. So, review some of the wine words we think are most important in building your wine knowledge and helping you make the most informed buying decisions when shopping for your next bottle of vino.


Acidity: Acidity is how tart or sour flavors are described in wine. High acid wines can make your mouth water, while low acid wines are often uninteresting.

Alcoholic Fermentation: The primary fermentation in winemaking when yeast converts sugar to alcohol.

American Viticultural Area (AVA): As defined by the United States Alcohol Tax and Trade Bureau who administers the program, an AVA is “a delimited grape-growing region with specific geographic or climatic features that distinguish it from surrounding regions and affect how grapes are grown.”

Anthocyanin: Anthocyanins are the water-soluble coloring compounds in the skins of wine grapes and other fruits and flowers. The color range can include red, pink, purple to blue. However, colorless anthocyanins are present in the skins of Viognier grapes. These colorless anthocyanins help stabilize the rich purple wine color when co-fermented with Syrah.

Appellation: An appellation is defined by as a geographical name (as of a region, village, or vineyard) under which a winegrower is authorized to identify and market wine also: the area designated by such a name. 

Appellation d’Origine Controlee (AOC): In France, the Appellation d’Origine Controlee (AOC) system establishes boundaries based on geography, geology, and climate but goes further specifying specific grape varieties, viticultural practices including yields and ripeness levels, winemaking procedures, and aging requirements. There are also rigorous labeling requirements for wines grown inside an AOC, especially those with Premier Cru or Grand Cru designation. 

Aroma: The smell of the wine in the glass. The aroma can be floral, citrus, fruity, vegetal, earthy, or any number of familiar scents depending on the grape variety used, the winemaking process implemented, and the wine’s storage conditions.



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: This is a 12L bottle of wine or the equivalent of 16 standard 750mL bottles. 

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

Batonnage: Stirring of the fermentation lees.

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

Bentonite: A clay mineral used both post – fermentation in fining wine and occasionally used during fermentation of high protein white varietals to promote protein stability.

Biodynamic: Biodynamics is a homeopathic manner of farming that uses natural composts or preparations and times farming work, including harvests, with celestial (moon and sun) cycles. There are two certifying bodies for wine: Demeter International and Biodyvin. Certified Biodynamic wines contain up to 100 mg/L sulfites and do not necessarily taste differently than non-biodynamic wines.

Blanc de Blancs: A white sparkling wine made with 100% white grapes.

Blanc de Noirs: A white sparkling wine made with 100% black grapes. 

Body: Body is the perceived weight of wine from light and refreshing to full and mouth-filling.

Bourgogne: Burgundy in French. We refer to all other French wine regions by their French names in the US. We support efforts to use the proper name Bourgogne when referring to the region.

Bouquet: The characteristics of smell resulting from the method of winemaking. 

Brix: Wine is measured in degrees Brix, which is the relative amount of sugar in grape juice. 


Cap: Mat of grape skins, seeds and stem fragments pushed to the top of fermenting juice by carbon dioxide gas.

Cap Classique: A South African producers association that focuses on promoting traditional method sparkling wines that are bottle fermented and aged “en tirage.”

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

Cépage: The grapes included in the wine. Encépagement is the proportions of the wine blend.

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

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

Château: French word for “castle” (aka Castello). Its often used alongside the name of an estate winery.

Citric Acid: Not as prevalent as tartaric or malic acid in wine, citric acid plays a part in wine tasting, contributing to flavors familiar in citrus fruits.

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

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

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

Cool Site: Cool sites are places where climatic or other conditions challenge the ability of the vine to ripen fruits. Exposed slopes are subject to cold winds or fog, higher elevation, and short growing days or seasons. Cool site wines are usually crisp with high acidity and often delicate aromatics.

Cool Soils: Limestone and clay are cooler soils that can retain water.

Cooperage: Oak (or other wood) barrels. Also, the term for where they are made.

Complexity: The number of different smells and tastes in a single wine.

Corked: Wine that has been affected by cork taint, caused by mold in the cork bark that gives an off-flavor to the wine. 

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

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

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

Crush: A common term for harvest and also the act of crushing grapes to release juice.

Cuvée: French for “vat” and used to denote a specific blend or batch.



Decanting: Pouring wine from a bottle into a vessel allowing the wine to “breathe.”

Destemming: Removing the stems from grapes prior to fermentation.

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

Double Magnum: The name for a 3L bottle of wine. This is equivalent to 4 standard 750mL bottles of wine. 

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

Dry Wine: A dry wine has no residual sugar and isn’t sweet. When grape juice converts to wine, alcohol is produced in the fermentation process because yeast eats the sugar present in the juice.



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

En Tirage: A French term used to describe aging sparkling wines in the bottle with autolytic yeast particles left after secondary fermentation.

Esters: One type of aroma compound found in wine caused by alcohol reacting with acids in wine.



Finish: The length of time a wine’s aftertaste lingers on the tongue. 

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

Free-run juice: The wine fraction collected before pressing has begun. This is often considered superior to the press fraction.

Frizzante: An Italian term for a lightly sparkling wine.



Garrigue: A term for the complex aroma that develops from the resinous shrub vegetation and dwarf oaks that grow on extremely poor limestone terrains in the baking sun along the Mediterranean coast. Garrigue aromas include thyme, rosemary, bay, juniper, lavender, and mint.

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

Grand Cru: Grand Cru refers to the quality of a particular vineyard and the terroir the grapes grow. It is the highest and most well-respected wine classification within the Appellation d’Origine contrôlée (AOC), the governing board over the wines produced in Burgundy and Alsace, France.

Grape Must: Freshly pressed grape juice that still contains the seeds, stems, and skins.

Growing Degree Days (GDD): The average heat accumulation for an area. The GDD is calculated by subtracting 50° from the daily temperature during the growing season, typically April 1 to October 31 in the United States. Grapevines are metabolically active above 50°, so this represents the heat available to the growing vine. GDD is used to characterize a region’s general character (e.g., cool climate) and monitor stages in development like bud break and veraison during a single season.

GSM Blend: A blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre grapes to create a wine. This blend is prominent in the Rhône Valley. 



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



Ice Wine: Also known as Eiswein in German and Austrian. Grapes for ice wines are harvested and pressed while still frozen.



Jammy: A term used to describe a rich, concentrated fruit flavor in the wine. This can typically apply to California Zinfandel and Australian Shiraz. 

Jennie: A 500ml wine bottle. A typical bottle size used for dessert wines.

Jerobaum: For still wines, this is a 4.5L bottle of wine or 6 standard 750ml bottles. For sparkling wines, a Jerobaum is 3L of wine. 



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

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



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

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

Legs: The viscosity or streams of wine that form on the inside of the glass. 

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



Malic Acid: One of the 2 primary acids in wine grapes. Malic acid levels change in grapes as the growing season progresses. In wine, malic acid levels are reduced through malolactic fermentation, yielding a softer, smoother wine. 

Malolactic Fermentation: The secondary fermentation in winemaking where bacteria convert naturally occurring malic acid to lactic acid. This typically softens the wine as the sharp malic acid is reduced.

Magnum: The name for a 1.5L bottle of wine. This is equivalent to 2 standard 750ml bottles. 

Methuselah: This is also known as Imperial. The Methuselah is equivalent to 2 double magnums at 6L or 8 standard 750mL of wine. 

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



New World: New World refers to wines from Australia, South Africa, the United States, and South America.

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

Nebuchadnezzar: This is a 15L bottle of wine or the equivalent of 20 750mL standard bottles of wine. 

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

Non-Vintage (NV): When a winemaker blends wine from several vintages to produce a consistent style. 



Oenophile: Lover or connoisseur of wine. 

Old World: Old World refers to wines primarily from Europe and other places around the Mediterranean where wine has been made historically.

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

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

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



pH: The inverse log of the Hydrogen ion concentration in the liquid. Um yeah, there’s better living through chemistry.

Pét-nat: An abbreviation for “pétillant naturel” — a French term that roughly translates to “naturally sparkling.”

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

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

Pomace: The remaining solids left after the primary fermentation composed of skins, seeds and stems.

Pressing: Separating the fermented wine from the solids.

Primary Aromas: Aromas that primarily come from the grape variety. These help in blind tasting identification.

Pump-over: Using a pump and hose to spray the cap with fermenting juice from below instead of doing a punch down. Pump over is used more often with thicker skinned grapes.

Punch down: Pushing the floating cap of wine skins and seeds back into the fermenting liquid. This promotes color extraction, keeps the cap moist, and helps manage the heat generated during fermentation. Punch- downs are done several times a day.



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



Racking: The process of pumping a wine off the residual fermentation lees that collect after pressing to improve wine clarity. Racking is typically done a number of times as a wine ages.

Refractometer: A refractometer is a small, handheld tool that uses a prism to measure the amount of sugar in a grape. The prism shows us how the liquid affects the bending of light. Different substances bend light in varying amounts.

Rehobaum: (Also known as Jerobaum) A 4.5L bottle of sparkling wine, equivalent to 6 standard 750ml bottles of sparkling wine.

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

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

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

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



Saignee – Prior to fermentation this is drawing off (bleeding) a portion of the juice. This can be done to improve the juice to skin ratio for fermenting a red wine or to collect a portion for making rose wine.

Salmanazar: This is a 9L bottle of wine. It’s the equivalent of 12 standard bottles or an entire case of wine.

Secondary Aromas: Aromas that primarily result from fermentation-related microbial reactions. These help in identifying the region the wine comes from. 

Sideways: A 2004 wine film that drastically impacted the California wine industry with its references to Merlot and Pinot Noir. 

Solomon: This is an 18L bottle of wine or the equivalent of 24 standard 750 mL bottles of wine. It’s also known as Melchoir. 

Sommelier: A sommelier (pronounced suh-mel-yay) is a wine steward, also known as a knowledgeable wine professional who typically works in a fine dining establishment. A sommelier should have formal training to be able to specialize in all aspects of wine service, wine and food pairings, and wine storage.

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

Super Tuscan: A red wine from Tuscany that is not made in accordance with established DOC rules; often a blended wine of superior quality containing Cabernet Sauvignon and/or Merlot.

Sur Lie: Meaning “on the lees” in French and used to describe resting a wine with its autolytic yeast particles that remain after the fermentation.



Tannin: Tannins are marked by sometimes powerful astringency or bitterness and a mouth-drying character, especially in young red wines. They are present in grape skin and seeds and can be further augmented by aging in oak barrels. Tannin is a polyphenol, one of those compounds that contribute to the potential health benefits of wine.

Tartaric Acid: One of the 2 primary acids in wine grapes. Tartaric acid is only found in vine fruits such as grapes. Tartaric acid contributes to the crisp, acidic nature of wine and is not reduced during fermentation. Tartaric acid levels are relatively stable in grapes. Tartaric acid crystals can form in wines that are not fully cold stabilized.

Terroir: Terroir encompasses the influences of soil, topography, and mesoclimate on the vine and grapes it produces. The result is a wine made from these grapes, unique from all others with nuances replicated vintage after vintage. It also accounts for human interaction in the vineyard and winery.

Tertiary Aromas: Aromas primarily caused by oxidation and aging, such as the use of oak. 

Topping: Periodic addition of finished wine to barrels to fill any headspace in barrels.

The Judgement of Paris: A 1976 wine competition that placed California wines on the international wine scene. 



Ullage: The amount of air that results in a barrel or bottle due to evaporation. In the barrel, the missing wine is replaced (topping) to keep the wine from becoming oxidized. In theory, the same could be done with old bottles of wine (this is called recorking). However, it is rare to see recorked bottles of wine, and if it is done, there needs to be a complete explanation of the process and a certificate from the company that performed the task. The amount of ullage in a bottle dramatically influences the value of the wine at auction.

Uvaggio: Italian wine term for wine blend or grape blend.



Varietal: A wine that is made with one predominant grape.

Vieille Vignes: French term for “old vines.” A mostly unregulated term to describe wines made with grapes from old vines.

Vinification: The creation of wine by fermentation of grape juice.

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

Vintage: The year when a wine’s grapes were harvested. 

Vin Santo: A rare Italian dessert wine often served with almond biscotti. 

Volatile Acidity (VA): Acetic acid is the volatile acid in wine that turns wine into vinegar. In small amounts, it adds to the complexity of flavor, and in high levels, it causes the wine to spoil.



Walla Walla: The Walla Walla Valley AVA is an American Viticultural Area located within Washington state and extending partly into the northeastern corner of Oregon. The wine region is entirely included within the larger Columbia Valley AVA. 

Warm Sites: Warm sites are areas that allow wine grapes to ripen more fully quickly. Warm sites can be located in climatically warmer areas but also include slopes that are more favorably expected to absorb sun, such as topographic bowls, places where soils are stony which reflect heat back to the canopy, or that have been augmented with added cobble or black material. Warm site wines are typically richer and lower in acid.

Warm Soils: These are silty and sandy soils that retain heat and water.

Willamette Valley: Oregon’s leading wine region, has two-thirds of the state’s wineries and vineyards, and is home to more than 700 wineries. It is recognized as one of the premier Pinot Noir–producing areas globally.

WSET: Wine & Spirits Education Trust. A certification in the wine industry is typically attained by sommeliers, educators, and hospitality professionals. 



Xarel-lo: A Spanish grape variety from Catalunya. It is used to produce various styles of wine but is most often associated with sparkling Cava. In the vineyard, the Xarel-lo grape is thick-skinned.

Xeres: The old name for the town of Jerez de la Frontera in Spain, where Sherry is produced. The mispronunciation of Xeres led to the name of Sherry.

Xylem: The vine’s woody tissue inside the vascular cambium layer (includes heartwood and sapwood) that transports water and nutrients from the roots towards the leaves.



Yeast: Organisms that issue enzymes that trigger the fermentation process; yeasts can be natural or commercial.

Yield: The quantity of grapes harvested in a particular year.



Zinfandel: A popular grape in California of disputed origin; scientists say it is related to grapes in Croatia and southern Italy.

Zweigelt: Austria’s most planted red wine grape. It’s typically bright, tart, and fruity.