We’re all familiar with the reputation of viniculture and its association with the inexplicable terminology and impossible rhetoric of pretentious wine pseudos. But at Mr.Wheeler, we feel that fine wine and the lexicon that orbits it really needn’t be so impenetrable. Wine often speaks for itself when you sip.
Because we choose better wine at Mr.Wheeler, we think some wine terms are worth defining in an accessible and understandable way. We want to help wine lovers expand their oenological vocabulary along with their palate. This is why we have created an A to Z wine glossary which covers all the important terms every wine lover should know. Without further ado here’s complete wine lexicon:
Abboccato: Italian term used to describe slightly sweet wines with medium body.
ABV: abbreviation that stands for alcohol by volume. It can be found listed by prevent on the wine label (e.g. ABV: 15%)
Acescence: describes sharp, vinegar-like tang that can be tasted in wines with increased levels of volatile acidity.
Acidity: the quintessential ingredient determining the freshness of a wine. Wines with excessive acidity can taste tar and sour. Too little acidity, on the other hand, will result in a dull, heavy tasting wine.
Aftertaste: one of the top components of a good wine. It’s a term used as a synonym for length, finish or end note. The amount of time you’re able to taste the wine after drinking it is much of what defines a fine wine.
Age: the ability to develop in flavour with age is an essential indicator of high quality wine. Aged wines have been cellared for a period of time to allow for their taste to develop.
Angular: a term that describes wines sharper in taste in comparison to round, fleshy wines. They are defined by their high acidity that hits your mouth in specific places with high impact.
Anthocyanins: A term which describes the pigments that give red wine its distinct ruby colour.
Appellation: a legally defined area where wine grapes are grown and made into wine, for example Napa in California or Pomerol in Bordeaux.
Aroma: the specific scent of a wine. The bouquet of a wine is made up of aromatic components of the same variety. For example, cherry is a component of a fruity bouquet.
Balance: one of the essential traits of the best wines. Balance refers to the harmonious blend between a wine’s acidity, tannins, fruitiness and alcohol levels. Winemakers consider this the holy grail.
Barrique: French word for ‘barrel’. Typically used to describe a 225 litre oak barrel which is used to store wine. The highest quality barriques originate in Bordeaux and the surrounding forests of Limoges.
Beaujolais Nouveau: the first Beaujolais wine of the harvest. It’s released on the third Thursday in November every year.
Big: not a reference to the size of a wine bottle, but a term used to describe the size of flavour in your mouth. A big one is normally one that is filled with a great amount of ripe fruit taste and tannins.
Blanc de Blancs: a name used to describe Champagne made entirely from Chardonnay grapes.
Blanc de Noirs: a name used for Champagne made entirely from red grapes, either Pinot Meunier or Pinot Noir or a mix of both.
Blend: a wine that is made of two or more grape varieties that are combined after separate fermentation. Some popular blends include red and white Bordeaux and Côtes du Rhône.
Bodega: Spanish word meaning wine cellar or wine warehouse. A wine estate producing wine for example Bodegas Benito Urbina.
Body: the impression of weight on one’s palate when tasting wine. The common body qualifiers are light, medium and full-bodied.
Bond: a wine that’s held ‘under bond’ is being stored in a customs approved warehouse with no duty or VAT payable until it’s removed from this facility.
Bordeaux: one of the largest wine regions in France with over a dozen subregions; a red wine made mostly of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon; also a white wine made from Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc.
Breathe: the process of allowing a wine to take in air which can improve the texture and aroma of the wine.
Bright: a term used to describe red fruits with high acidity.
Brooding: wines with darker colour and intense concentration of flavours.
Brut: a French term used to describe the driest variety of sparkling wines.
Burgundy: a prominent French wine region which stretches from Chablis to Lyons. Red Burgundy wine is typically made from Pinot Noir grapes and White from Chardonnay.
Cabernet Franc: red grape variety common to the wine region of Bordeaux. Cabernet Franc is characterised by an intense herbal, leafy flavour and fleshy texture.
Cabernet Sauvignon: an aromatic red grape with high tannins and noble heritage. The base grape for many Bordeaux reds and some of the best red wines from around the world. It can be aged for decades.
Cap: the grape solids that rise to the top during fermentation, such pits, grape skins and stems.
Carbonic Maceration: a method in winemaking where uncrushed grapes are placed in a sealed vat and topped with carbon dioxide. Wines created using this method have low tannins and colour with juicy flavours of fruit and bold aroma. This is a process commonly used with Beaujolais wines.
Champagne: denominated region of north-east Paris, where Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier are made into fine sparkling wines.
Chaptalisation: the process in winemaking of adding sugar to fermenting grapes to increase alcohol percentage. This helps the fermentation process and produces sweeter, full-bodied wines.
Chardonnay: arguably the most popular variety of white grapes in the world.
Chateau: French term for a wine estate. Most often used in Bordeaux.
Chenin Blanc: a variety of white grapes commonly grown in the Loire Valley of France.
Chewy Tannins: ingredients in certain wines that dry out your mouth as the wine passes over your tongue, making you salivate to clear the tannins from the sides of your mouth.
Claret: a term for Bordeaux wine used predominantly in Great Britain. The term originates from the phonetic melding of clear red wine.
Classic: a term most often used when referring to California or Bordeaux wine that is less ripe, less alcoholic and more austere than the wine modern tasters enjoy.
Closed: wines described as closed do not allow the taster to experience all the aromatics and flavours the wine has to offer. This is particularly common with young wines, especially Bordeaux wines which can experience a closed period before developing secondary aromatics.
Clunky: the opposite of balanced. A clunky wine has either too little acidity and too much fruit or not enough fruit and tannins and too much acidity.
Crisp: similar to bright. Crisp wines are usually high in acidity and have a fresh fruit flavour.
Cru: a French term used to rank a winery’s inherent quality, for instance premier cru, grand cru or cru classe.
Decant: decanting is the process of transferring wine from the bottle into another container. This is generally done to aerate a young wine or separate any sediment from older wine.
Delicate: a wine quality found in light wines. It’s a common trait of white wines and Pinot Noir.
Dense: synonymous term for a ‘bold red wine’. Dense wines are filled with high levels of raw material to give them a concentrated flavour. Take a sip of Côtes du Rhône, Brunello di Montalcino or cabernet sauvignon and you’ll know what this term means.
Depth: wines with depth have layers of flavour and concentration to them. It’s a common quality of a good red wine.
Dessert Wine: dessert wines are sweet wines that are high in alcohol with ABV ranging from 14% to 24%.
Domaine: French term that means estate. This is most commonly used for wineries in the Rhone Valley and the region of Burgundy.
Dry Wine: a red or white wine where almost all of the residual sugar has been fermented. True dry wines should have no more than 0.2 percent of unfermented sugar.
Duty: in the UK duty is due on every bottle of wine, Champagne or spirit we sell. It’s a flat fee that is calculated based on alcohol strength by the hectolitre. Our typical duty rates are as follows: Wine (5.5-15% ABV) - £2.16 per 75cl; Sparkling Wine - £2.77 per 75cl and Fortified Wine £2.89 per 75cl.
Earthy: although this term can sometimes be used in a positive context (some older wines are described as having “lovely earthy character”), this is usually a polite way of saying that a wine is under-ripe.
Elegant: wines that are described as elegant are balanced with soft, refined characteristics and flavour. But it could also mean that the wine is not fruity, it’s not big and it’s not bold. In other words it can be used as a polite synonym for “underwhelming”.
Endnote: this is the sensation of flavours your palate experiences after you have enjoyed and swallowed the wine. In most cases, the longer the end note - the better the wine.
En Primeur: the method of buying wine before it is bottled and sold for general purchases. Wine is usually released in spring and shipped two springs after its initial release.
Expansive: term that describes wines that progressively expand their range of flavours and textures, especially towards the end.
Extract: the raw materials other than water, sugar, acidity or alcohol that is found in wine. Those make up the actual essence of the wine. On average they are between 1% to 1.5% of a wine.
Exuberant: a term most often used to describe young wines that are fresh and lively in flavour.
Fermentation: the process which transforms sugars into alcohol. This is also how grape juice interacts with yeast to become wine.
Filtration: the process of clarifying the wine of any sediments and impurities before it’s bottled.
Food-Friendly: another positive-sounding word which is actually code for, “Without food, it falls flat on its face”. If a wine must be consumed with food to taste passable, it’s lacking that je ne sais quoi that all fine wines should possess.
Fortified Wine: a type of wine that is produced by the addition of brandy or other spirits during fermentation.
Fresh: freshness in wine comes from acidity. A crisp, fresh wine has bright acidity.
Frizzante: Italian term for sparkling wine.
Full-Bodied: full-bodied wines are often higher in concentration and alcohol.
Gamay: a variety of red grape popular in the Beaujolais region of France.
Gewürztraminer: a sweet white grape with spicy notes popular in the regions of eastern France, Austria, Germany, northern Italy and California.
Glycerine: one of the by-products of fermentation that adds to the texture and body of a wine.
Grainy: the somewhat gauzy texture of some wines.
Grand Cru: a French term meaning “great worth”. It’s used to describe the very best vineyards.
Grand Reserva: Spanish terms for wines that are barrel-aged or bottled for at least five years prior to release.
Grip (or “Grippy tannins”): this term describes the type of wines that can only be sipped slowly, because the kind of tannins they contain can dry your mouth with every sip.
Herbaceous: the pleasant presence of herbaceous flavours in a wine. This can range from thyme to lavender to fennel.
Hint: when someone uses the phrase “This wine has a hint of…” they mean that a subtle but detectable flavour (e.g. oak, citrus, herbs, fruits, earthiness, etc.) can be tasted upon sipping, especially towards the endnote.
Hollow: a term used to describe a wine that lacks any depth or body.
Honeyed: a common wine quality found in sweet wines, particularly whites, which have a honey character.
Ice Wine: a sweet wine that’s low in alcohol made from frozen grapes. Ice wine is mainly produced in Germany, Austria and Canada.
Imperial: a wine bottle that contains six litres of wine (equivalent to eight standard bottles).
Intensity: a reference to the sensual impact of a wine’s balance of fruitiness, fragrance, alcohol and tannin levels.
Irrigation: the process of adding water to wines. In most areas of Europe this is not legal for wines that are more than 3 years old.
Jammy: wines that taste jammy are extremely ripe at best and overly ripe at worst. Sommeliers tend to not like this word. Most wine enjoyers, however, find their hearts lifting upon seeing it with its evocation of a syrupy, cooked berry sweetness and notes of raisins and prunes.
Jeroboam: a wine bottle that can hold 3 litres of sparkling wine or Champagne, or 4.5 litres of still wine. A 3 litre bottle of wine is also often referred to as a jeroboam, but it’s technically a double magnum.
Lactic Acid: a smooth acid that is formed during malolactic fermentation. This same acid is also found in milk.
Late Harvest Wine: this wine is luxuriously sweet (usually a dessert wine) because the grapes have been left on the vine until late in the picking season and are particularly ripe.
Lay(ing) Down: the process of keeping the wine in storage to mature, either to be enjoyed or re-sold in the future.
Lees: the heavy sediment left in the barrel after fermentation. It’s made of yeast cells, tartrates, seeds, stems and pulp from grapes.
Linear: wine that possesses a pleasantly defined level of acidity that delivers a focused lively taste.
Lively: the refreshing sensation offered from wines with high acidity. This is a great quality in wines as without it a wine would feel fat on your palate.
Maceration: the process of allowing grape juice to ferment together with grape skins, imparting the colour tannins and aroma of the wine.
Magnum: a wine bottle with 1.5 litre capacity. A double magnum contains 3 litres of wine (equivalent to four standard bottles of 750ml).
Malolactic Fermentation: the process of secondary fermentation, whereby harsher malic acid is transformed into creamier lactic acid. This often occurs in barrels.
Mature(ing): the ageing process that develops the depth of flavours and aromas in wines. A wine at “the peak of its maturity” is often at its best, with just the right balance of flavours and aromas.
Medium-Bodied: a term that describes wines which lack the same level of concentration that’s found in full-bodied wines.
Merlot: a renowned red grape variety popular in the region of Bordeaux, France and around the world. Large amounts of Merlot are grown in the United States, Italy and South America.
Minerality: the aroma or flavour that comes from grapes grown in rocky, mineral laden soils. This is a unique and desirable quality found only in certain wines.
Must: freshly pressed unfermented grape juice, seeds, stems and skins about to go or going through fermentation.
Nebbiolo: a red grape variety popular in the Piedmont region of northwest Italy. It’s commonly used to produce Barolo and Barbaresco.
Nebuchadnezzar: the largest wine bottle size, storing 15 litres of wine (equivalent to 20 standard bottles).
New World Wine: wines produced in countries or regions outside the traditional wine-growing areas (Europe and the Middle East) where winemaking originated. Those include Argentina, Australia, Chile, New Zealand, South Africa and the United States.
Nose: synonymous with bouquet. The combination of all prominent aromas in a wine.
Nutty: a term often used to describe oxidised wines. It can also be used when describing certain sweet wines.
Oaky: a term that describes woody aromas and flavours found commonly in barrel-aged wines. Some of the notes found in oaky wines include butter, popcorn and toast.
Off-Dry: a wine that is only slightly sweet.
Old World Wine: wine produced in regions where the art of viniculture originated, notably France, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Greece and Germany.
Open: young wines that display character and flavours early. The opposite of closed wines.
Opulent: wines that are smooth, rich and bold in textures.
Organic: grapes that are grown without the help of any chemical-based pesticides, herbicides or fertilisers.
Oxidised: a wine that has lost its quality due to being exposed to too much air. An oxidised wine can be brown or bricky in colour.
pH: a term of measure for acidity in wine. Wines with high pH are low in acidity, while wines high in acidity have low pH. The average pH range for wines is between 2.5-4.5.
Phenols: a group of chemical compounds that affect the colour, taste and feel of a wine. Tannin is a type of phenol which is also known as polyphenol.
Pinot Blanc: variety of white grape popular in Germany, Alsace and other parts of the world.
Pinot Gris: also known as Pinot Grigio. This is a white grape with a distinct greyish-purple colour. It yields a white wine with bright acidity and refreshing taste.
Pinot Noir: the prime red grape variety of the regions of Champagne and Burgundy in France, and Oregon in the United States.
Piquant: a simple, easy-to-drink white wine with appealing fruit flavours and just the right amount of acidity to give it some liveliness.
Port: sweet, fortified wine produced in the Douro Valley in Portugal and aged near the coast in the town of Vila Nova de Gaia. The popular variations of Port include Vintage, Late Bottled Vintage, Tawny and others.
Premier Cru: French term for “first growth”.
Press Wine: the product of the second pressing of the pomace, which is made of seeds, pulp and grape skins after the fermented juice is drained from the solid materials. Press wine is higher in tannins, with a more vibrant colours and potential flavours that can be blended or not.
Quaffer: an inexpensive wine that’s good to drink on release
Qualitätswein: the designation given to Austrian wines as a mark for quality.
Reductive: a wine with a somewhat sulphurous aroma, usually caused by being kept in an airtight container during fermentation.
Reserve/Riserva/Reserva: high quality wine that has been aged longer and has higher alcohol levels. Only the Spanish term “reserva”, however, has any official requirements.
Riddling: the process of rotating Champagne bottles to shift any sediments toward the cork.
Riesling: one of the most popular white grapes along with Chardonnay. Most commonly grown in Germany, Austria and Alsace.
Rioja: a renowned region in Spain, known for its traditional red wines made from the Tempranillo grape.
Rosé: a popular category of wines that are pink in colour and refreshing in taste, typically made from red grapes.
Sangiovese: variety of red grape native to Tuscany. It’s the base grape used in Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino, Morellino di Scansano and other popular Italian wine varieties.
Sauvignon Blanc: one of the most popular white grapes, planted all over the world. The signature wine of New Zealand.
Secondary Fermentation: the process that takes place to change still wine into sparkling wine or Champagne. This can also sometimes take place in the bottle due to remaining sugars, which can ruin the wine.
Sherry: a fortified wine from a denominated region in the southwest of Spain. The popular styles of sherry include fino, Manzanilla, amontillado and oloroso.
Silky: a term that describes a wine that feels particularly smooth in the mouth.
Sommelier: a person with excessive knowledge in wine. Technically the term refers to wine stewards who can recommend wine pairings in fine dining restaurants, but oftentimes sommeliers can also have a diploma of some kind in wine studies.
Standard: The most common wine bottle size, holding 750ml.
Structured: a wine that’s hard to drink due to high tannin levels. Unripe tannins can deliver an unpleasantly aggressive quality in wines. In contrast, riper, softer tannins produce a pleasantly rounded drinking experience.
Table Wine: term used to describe wines with alcohol contents between 10 to 14 percent. In Europe, table wines are wines produced outside of regulated regions or by unapproved methods.
Tannins: found predominantly in red wines, tannins are the chemical compounds that produce the drying sensation drinkers experience when tasting wines. Tannins provide structure to a wine and can die off over time, making the wine taste less harsh.
Tart: a common acidic flavour found in wine produced from unripe fruit, or fruit that is overly acidic.
Tartaric Acid: small crystals sometimes found at the bottom of a wine bottle. These crystals are harmless, without any smell or taste. They occur naturally when certain wines age.
Terroir: a French term that describes the combination of climate, soil and all other factors that influence the taste of a wine.
Toasty: a wine that has been oak-aged in medium-plus toasted oak barrels. Don’t expect a “toasty” taste though, you’ll get a lightly burned caramel flavour in the finish.
Typicity: wines that taste typical of a particular region or style.
Unctuous: unctuous wines tend to be distinctly oily. But they’re also rich, intense and lush.
Ullage: the space between the surface of the wine and the top of the barrel, or between the wine and the bottom of the cork or cap.
Varietal: a wine produced from a single type of grape and named after that specific variety.
Velvety: a wine with a smooth, sumptuous taste. This type of wine feels like a velvety, melted chocolate being poured into a mould when you drink it.
Veneto: one of the biggest wine-producing regions in northern Italy.
Vertical Tasting: a vertical tasting features the same wines from a single producer, vineyard, or winery in multiple vintages.
Vibrant: a term that describes fresh, energetic and lively wines with good acidity and rich in depth.
Vin de Paille: a sweet wine made from extremely dry grapes that have been let to dry on straw mats to decrease their juices while increasing their sugar levels.
Vintage: the particular year in which grapes are grown and harvested. French wines with 2017 on the bottle for example will be produced from grapes grown from spring to late summer 2017 and harvested from late August to early October depending on the region.
Viticulture: the science, production and study of grape varieties.
Vinification: the process of turning unfermented grape juice into wine through fermentation.
Volatile Acidity: a volatile acidity in wine makes it smell like vinegar due to the abundance of acetic bacteria. In some wines a tiny amount of it can be seen as a positive trait because it adds a bit of sharpness. In excessive amounts, however, it ruins a good wine.
Whole Bunch Vinification: a method of fermentation with the stems still attached.
Woody: wines that are described as woody have a distinct oaky aroma. They feature prominent scents of vanilla, coffee and smoke. This can be seen as a flaw as it means the wine can come across a bit dry and overwhelming.
Woolly: a term often used to describe Chenin Blanc in particular. It refers to the distinct aroma of lamb’s wool in a wine.
Yeast: micro-organisms that issue enzymes which can trigger a faster fermentation process by helping convert sugar to alcohol.
Yield: a term of measurement used for the quantity of grapes collected in a harvest. Low yields are often believed as having the potential to produce better wine due to the increased concentration.
Zinfandel: a popular grape variety commonly grown in California. It is believed to be related to grape varieties that originate in Croatia and southern Italy.
We hope that our glossary of wine has helped you learn some new terms as well as familiarise yourself with the wine industry. You can use your newly acquired knowledge to wow your friends at the next dinner party. Or if you were already familiar with some of the terms we’ve mentioned throughout the article why not browse our beautifully crafted mixed wine cases and host your very own taste test session.