Wine has a unique and beautiful language all its own. But from tasting terms to industry jargon, translating it can be overwhelming. Below you’ll find my essential wine glossary – broken down into tasting terms, wine words 101, and expert vocabulary to impress even your most bougie wine friends. Pour yourself a glass and break out the flashcards, you’ll be fluent in no time.
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Descriptors of taste meant to help you understand your own preferences and decipher new sips, these are the words you may already have in your lexicon. A great place to begin or refresh your wine know-how.
Acid – Acidity is one of the fundamental taste traits of wine, giving it that puckering “tartness” that encourages you to keep sipping.
Aged – Aging refers to the process of storing wine in a cool, dark place for several years to improve or change the flavor. Not all wines benefit from this process so make sure you do your research before tossing bottles in the cellar.
Astringent –Astringent describes a wine that leaves the inside of your mouth feeling “fuzzy” or coarse.
Balanced – Balance refers to a wine in which the acid, tannins, sweetness, alcohol, and fruit flavors all blend harmoniously. No single component outweighs another, creating a pleasant drinking experience.
Body – Body is the feeling or weight of the wine in your mouth, commonly broken down into three categories: lean, medium and full.
Brambly – Imagine an entire blackberry bush squeezed into a bottle of wine. The vegetal, woodsy, and fruity flavors of the shrub all come together in a taste that can only be described as brambly.
Brut/Dry – A wine without noticeable residual sugar. Typically less than 7 grams per liter.
Chewy – Exactly as it sounds, a chewy wine is viscous and heavy in the mouth.
Closed – A wine that isn’t living up to its flavor potential, a closed wine may need additional aging before drinking.
Corked – Corked wine is wine tainted by the compound TCA, resulting in a soggy, wet cardboard flavor. While not unsafe to consume, it is unpleasant and not recommended.
Crisp – A term used to describe a dry, white wine.
Elegant – A wine that is light-bodied, lean, and tart.
Finish – Also called “aftertaste,” finish refers to the lingering flavors and textures of a wine in your mouth. Finish can last anywhere from 20-50 seconds depending on the quality of the wine.
Fruity – Not to be confused with sweet, these wines have a predominantly fruity flavor or aroma. Also called “fruit-forward.”
Grippy – Grip is the firmness or backbone of a wine, referring to a tactile sensation and not a flavor.
Herbaceous – Herbaceous wines have strong aromas and flavors of herbs, a common descriptor of a Cabernet Sauvignon.
Jammy – A bright, juicy red wine with overripe fruit flavors. It can be ideal for chilling – much like its namesake.
Mouthfeel – Exactly as it sounds, mouthfeel is the physical sensation of wine in your mouth. Common descriptors are velvety, smooth, rough, thick, etc.
Nose – A wine’s aroma or “nose” refers to the unique scents that emanate from a pour.
Oak – Wine aged in oak barrels that embodies the natural flavors of smoke, vanilla, or spice, found in the wood.
Open – The opposite of closed, an open wine expresses the full potential of its bouquet from sip to finish.
Spicy – A wine made with a grape variety with “peppery” aromas.
Sweet – Wines with a fair amount of residual sugar and a cloying mouthfeel.
Tannins – Derived from the skins, stems and seeds of the grapes, tannins give wine its bitter and astringent qualities.
Wine Words 101
Here you’ll find vocabulary you may be less familiar with relating to techniques, geography, and specific types of wine. Consider them context to your tasting terms above.
Aeration – The process of exposing wine to air or letting it “breathe.”
ABV – A standard measure of the percentage of alcohol by volume a beverage contains.
Blend – Mixing two or more varieties of grape to create a complete, complex wine.
Burgundy – Refers to a specific winemaking region of France, famous for its dry red wines.
Cava – Spanish sparkling wine made in a similar manner as champagne, but with different grapes.
Champagne – Sparkling wine produced in a specific winemaking region of France. All Champagne is sparkling wine, but all sparkling wine is not Champagne.
Decant – The process of removing clear wine from sediment in the bottle, used in older or more delicate wines.
Dessert – A wine with a high sugar and (sometimes) high alcohol content, typically consumed after dinner.
Ferment – The process in which yeast transforms the sugars found in grape juice to alcohol.
Fortified – A wine with distilled spirits added to increase the alcohol content.
Legs – Legs are the droplets or streaks that form inside a wine glass when swirled and can indicate the body or alcohol content of the pour.
Natural Wine – A movement among winemakers to produce wine using the simplest and most traditional methods.
New World – Wines produced outside the traditional winemaking regions of Europe and the Middle East.
Old World – Wines produced inside the traditional winemaking regions of Europe and the Middle East.
Oenology (Oenophile) – The study and love of all things wine.
Pairing – The process of serving wine with complimentary foods and flavor profiles to enhance the dining experience.
Red – Wines made from dark-skinned grape varieties.
Sommelier – A steward of wine, trained in all aspects of wine service.
Sulfites – A chemical byproduct of the fermentation process.
Table Wine – An inexpensive, easy-to-drink, and nonsparkling wine with an ABV of 14% or less.
Varietal – A type of wine made primarily from a single named grape variety.
Viniculture – The cultivation of grapes to make wine.
Vintage – Refers to the year in which the grapes were harvested.
White – Wines made from light-skinned grape varieties.
These are the wine words you may never need to trot out, but they might help you impress those aforementioned friends – or win a game of trivia.
Bacchus – The Greek God of wine and vegetation, Bacchus showed the mortals how to cultivate grapevines and create wine.
Barrique – The most common type and size of a wine barrel, traditionally holding 225 liters of wine.
Clos – Refers to a French vineyard enclosed by a wall.
Jeroboam – Also known as a “double magnum” a Jeroboam contains the equivalent of 4 standard-size wine bottles.
Lees – Dead yeast cells that form sediment in the bottom of a wine-making vessel.
Must – The freshly crushed grape juice before it is fermented and turned into wine.
Negociant – A wine merchant or trader who purchases the raw materials to produce and bottle wine under their own label.
Phylloxera – An aphid that feasts on the roots of grapes, destroying the vines.
Plonk – A derogatory term for a cheap, low-quality wine.
Pomace – The solid remains of the grapes after pressing the juice.
Terroir – The characteristics of a region that give the grapes grown there a distinct flavor –including soil, climate, sunlight, and terrain.