Wine Terms

Wine terminology can be a real barrier to understanding. Here are some useful definitions

Acidity / Acid – a ‘taste’ sensation of sourness, like lemon or vinegar, perceived most vividly along the sides of the tongue.

Appellation – a regulated label statement of a wine’s region of origin; in Europe appellation laws govern grape varieties and minimum quality standards in addition to regional provenance.

Aroma – an ‘olfactory’ sensation, or smell, which translates into perceptions of ‘flavor’ when we taste wine.

Astringent – a harsh drying tactile sensation, as from the tannins found in red wines.

Balance – the harmony of a wine’s major sensory characteristics. 

Body – the tactile sensation of weight or thickness on the palate, increases with wine’s alcohol content or viscosity.

Complexity – a descriptor for wines projecting multi-faceted aromas or flavors.

Dessert Wine – a sweet wine customarily served with dessert or after a meal.

Dry / Dryness – a wine’s lack of perceptible sweetness; the absence of a &rlsquo;taste’ sensation of sugar on the tip of the tongue.

Fermentation – the conversion of sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide by the action of micro-organisms called yeasts, the main process of winemaking.

Finish – aftertaste of wine that lingers in the mouth after it is swallowed. Both the character and the length of the finish are considered in evaluating wine – the longer a pleasant finish lasts, the better its wine’s quality.

Fortified Wine – a wine whose alcohol content has been boosted with distilled spirit.

Fruit – an umbrella term for aromas and flavors that come from grapes and their fermentation.  Includes most ‘olfactory’ sensations found in wine other than those imparted by the use of new oak.

Fruity / Fruit Forward – descriptors for wines with a strong aromas or flavors of ripe fruit.

Green – herbal aroma qualities reminiscent of under-ripe fruit or vegetables.

Late Harvest – a wine style where grapes were picked at a later date and a higher level of ripeness than for the normal harvest, generally for dessert wines.

Lees – the sediment of spent yeasts that remains after fermentation.

Nose – another term for the olfactory sensations of a wine.

Oak / Oaky – ‘olfactory’ sensations of aroma or flavor imparted by fermenting or aging wine in new oak barrels. Like those of cognac and bourbon, oak characteristics in wine can smell like vanilla, caramel, nuts or dessert spices in addition to wood. 

Olfactory – of the sense of smell, the means by which most wine and food flavors are perceived.

Residual Sugar – unfermented grape sugar in a finished wine.

Rich – wine descriptor used describe body and texture in wine; may also describe concentrated flavor, high alcohol, sweetness, low acid, or a combination of these.

Sweet/ Sweetness – a ‘taste’ sensation perceived at the tip of the tongue in wines where not all grape sugar has been converted to alcohol.  Most often described in terms of its opposite, called ‘dryness.’

Tannin – an astringent compound found in grape skins and stems, only found in red wines, perceived as a lingering drying tactile sensation in the mouth.

Variety / Varietal – a grape variety within the vine species vitis vinifera, or system of wine labeling emphasizing dominant grape variety.

Vintage – year in which the grapes were grown and harvested, usually printed on a wine’s label.

Vitis Vinifera – the European grape species which encompasses all high quality wine grape varieties, like Chardonnay, Merlot, Shiraz etc…